Time to open the ECB black box
Former Greek Finance Minister of and co-founder of DiEM25 Yanis Varoufakis and Fabio De Masi, MEP for Germany’s left party Die Linke have launched what they describe as “mass freedom of information request” to the European Central Bank (ECB).
Prominent supporters come from various political backgrounds including radical left, centre left and green parties. Supporters include Jean-Luc Mélenchon, MEP, left candidate for the French presidency, Sahra Wagenknecht, MP, Chair of Die Linke’s group in the German parliament), as well as a former Italian Vice Minister of Economy and Finances and a former president of the Greek parliament.
The freedom of information request was prompted by events in Greece. In 2015, the newly elected Greek government requested a renegotiation of its public debt obligations, fiscal policy and reform program with its ‘Troika’ of official creditors, the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Troika refused and, instead, forced the Greek government, against its democratic mandate, to accept the country’s third ‘bailout’, together with new austerity measures and new reductions in national sovereignty.
The ECB played a key role in forcing the Greek government’s hand. Two decisions of the ECB’s Governing Council led to the closure of Greek banks, and the subsequent imposition of capital controls, on 29th June 2015. The first decision, taken on 4 February 2015, denied Greek banks access to ECB liquidity, referring them instead to the more expensive liquidity provided by the Greek central bank’s Emergency Liquidity Assistance facility (ELA).
The second decision, taken on 28 June 2015, denied Greek banks access even to ELA thus forcing their closure the next day. This decision came immediately after the Greek government announced that it was putting the creditors’ ultimatum to the Greek people in a referendum. Following the closure of Greece’s banks by the ECB, capital controls were imposed which are still in place.
These decisions inflicted huge costs on Greece’s ailing economy and paved the way for new austerity measures which, added to five years of crippling austerity, further damaged Greek society. To assess the legality of these decisions the ECB had commissioned an external legal opinion. German MEP Fabio De Masi (GUE/NGL) requested from the ECB copies of this legal opinion. The ECB’s President Mr Mario Draghi refused the request. The GUE/NGL has commissioned a legal study by Andreas Fischer-Lescano of the University of Bremen which finds that the ECB was not entitled to refuse access to the requested documents. This will serve as a basis for a potential law suit against the ECB if the refusal is upheld.
In view of these Varoufakis and De Masi have begun a campaign that involves a broad coalition of citizens, MEPs, national MPs (from several Member States and different political groups), and prominent academics, to demand that the ECB releases the withheld legal opinion. The complete list of supporters will be made public during the campaign.
The campaign will unfold in three stages:
The first stage, which began on February 20th, DiEM25 launched a petition to collect signatures from members of the public who want to add their voices to the request to the ECB. On March 8th, Varoufakis and DeMasi will hold a Press Conference in the European Parliament in Brussels to present the arguments in support of their freedom of information request. DiEM25’s petition will close soon after the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, 25th March 2017, at which time the freedom of information request along with the complete list of signatories will be presented to the Bank. .
Commenting on the campaign and freedom of information request, De Masi, who is a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament said that “Blackmail is not the job of the ECB. By restricting liquidity to the Greek banking sector to force cuts in pensions, tax increases and fire-sale privatizations the ECB overstepped its mandate. If the ECB felt that its actions were legal, it should disclose the legal opinion it obtained rather than hiding it from the public eye.”
You can read and – if you agree – sign the petition at this website