The good news was that this kept the troika committed to the €10 billion loan. That would, said Anastasiades, be enough to stave off bankruptcy. More modest than most euro-zone politicians, he did not claim that his particular chapter of the currency union’s interminable crisis was over, merely that it had been “contained,” an idea echoed by the fact that draconian “temporary” controls on the movement of money out of the country have been put in place. Even so, the president was being too optimistic. The banking sector is shrinking rapidly. Many other businesses have been badly damaged by the calamities of recent weeks and are now facing the prospect of operating in a near-siege economy — conditions that are, in addition, unlikely to attract the foreign investment that Cyprus will now desperately need. Making matters worse still, money will leak out, despite the controls. GDP will contract sharply, perhaps by as much as 20 percent over the next couple of years. Unemployment will soar.
With the economy in free fall and government debt-to-GDP set to rise to some 140 percent after the bailout, it will take a miracle for Cyprus to avoid a return to the begging bowl — a miracle so far-fetched that even Cyprus’s most senior cleric, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, cannot believe in it. The influential archbishop, admittedly long a strong nationalist, is urging abandonment of the euro, which would trigger the nation’s outright default. That won’t happen for now. Anastasiades has pledged to stick with the single currency. A majority of his fellow citizens are probably behind him in that, at least for the moment, for reasons that are easy to guess. A reversion to the Cypriot pound would mean a devaluation that would wipe out much of what’s left of the republic’s shredded savings, threaten massive inflation, and further disrupt an economy that has already lost its bearings. But the argument is not all one way: There’s a decent case to be made that an eventual exit from the single currency would, for all the pain, be the best possible way of repricing Cyprus back into the global economy. This is a debate that is far from closed.
In any event, the most intense phase of the Cypriot storm appears to have subsided for now, but it has left the euro zone even more battered than before. The two most dangerous threats to the survival of the currency union in its current form are a massive bank run and voter revolt. The disaster in Nicosia has made both more likely.
Let’s start with the banks. Depositors throughout the currency union have now been given a sharp lesson. Deposits above € 100,000 are riskier than they had previously assumed, a message reinforced by a series of comments from various euro-zone leaders who in the wake of the Cyprus deal, despite some hemming and hawing, made it clear that a new template is being put in place. Large depositors, bondholders, and other sources of wholesale money to a euro-zone bank are being warned that they should expect to take a hit if that bank runs into trouble. Properly tweaked, that’s a good principle — moral hazard and all that — but, with confidence in the euro zone and its often undercapitalized banks still shaky, now was not the moment to assert it. That was especially so in a week that had seen the introduction of strict controls on the free movement of capital — supposedly temporary (time will tell; precedents are not encouraging) — within a currency union that had allegedly consigned such restrictions to history.
This will mean that banks seen as vulnerable (or banks located in countries seen as vulnerable) will find it even more difficult — and more expensive — to attract funds. (Well, would you deposit more than € 100,000 with an Italian bank?) This is a perception that feeds upon itself, and, in the right wrong circumstances, can easily set the stage for panic. Even those with (supposedly insured) deposits below € 100,000 will have been left uneasy by those few days in which it appeared that the euro zone’s leadership was prepared to go along with a deal in which smaller depositors took a hit. Since then, there have been repeated reassurances that such deposits are safe. Protesting too much? Just maybe, and there’s no getting away from one uncomfortable truth: Those insured deposits are guaranteed at the national level, not by the euro zone as a whole. A guarantee is only as good as the guarantor. Insured depositors in Greece have, therefore, to hope that, in the event of a crisis, the Hellenic Republic is good for the money, or at least for a third bailout.