Open Europe Blog

This is the question which is now holding global financial markets on the edge – could it really happen and what would it mean, we assess the possible scenarios below.

Could the Cypriot parliament vote against the levy?

According to Reuters, Cypriot government spokesman Christos Stylianides told state radio that the vote “looks like it won’t pass”. Meanwhile, via Zerohedge:

As we were tweeting yesterday, the DIKO party (junior coalition member with 8 MPs) had said it would not vote for the deal without some improvements, although we suspect reducing the burden on small depositors could help convince them. The European Party (2 MPs) had previously said it would not support he levy, however, according to CYBC, it has now said it would support the levy if depositors are compensated with interest bearing government bonds (we assume linked to gas revenues, something which the government has already offered).

That said, according to the Cypriot press, the latest proposal sees deposits below €20,000 exempt, deposits between €20,000 and €100,000 taxed at 6.75% and deposits over €100,000 taxed at 9.9% – this is unlikely to satisfy demands to exempt smaller depositors. It also seems unlikely to raise the required €5.8bn, not least because it applies the same rate as the original to a smaller pool of deposits.
Separately, there are conflicting reports this morning on whether the vote will be delayed again. The government is unlikely to put this to a vote until it is almost near certain of getting it through.
What would the fallout be?
The fallout of voting down the package could be explosive and we can only speculate about what could happen next, but its eurozone membership would likely be brought into doubt. As we noted in our flash analysis, there are few other alternatives for Cyprus to raise the necessary cash, while the eurozone has made it clear it cannot foot the entire bill (such an option would make Cypriot debt unsustainable anyway).
The eurozone would likely give Cyprus a few days either to change its mind or come up with an alternative way of financing the €5.8bn. Another parliamentary vote could be held (the EU of course has form when it comes to demanding the ‘correct’ vote).
The ECB has already reportedly warned that rejecting a levy would have dire consequences. Specifically, the two largest Cypriot banks would go without recapitalisation and could see their liquidity from the ELA (sanctioned by the ECB via the Bank of Cyprus) cut off, leading to them becoming insolvent and collapsing – putting their €30bn of deposits at risk, since the government obviously cannot guarantee them. This would likely bring down most if not the entire Cypriot financial system.
With the financial sector close to or in the process of collapsing and no support forthcoming from the eurozone or ECB, since Cyprus rejected their terms, Cyprus could even be forced to leave the eurozone and begin printing its own new currency, one that would have little international trust and could lead to a spiral of hyperinflation, etc, etc (i.e. a very nasty scenario).
There is, of course, a chance that if faced with the prospect of Cyprus leaving the euro, the rest of the eurozone could blink and find an alternative way to bailout Cyprus but the politics of such a scenario would get very ugly indeed. The ECB may not follow through on its threat to withdraw liquidity for Cypriot banks but this would only be a temporary reprieve. The Cypriot government will run out of cash at the start of June when it needs to pay off a €1.4bn bond, while the banks’ position could be worsened by the likely deposit outflows once banks open, even if the tax is not applied.
What are these “other plans”?
It’s not clear exactly what Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades meant when he suggested the government is making ‘other plans’. We have long noted that deeper connections to Russia remain a viable option for Cyprus. With Russia angry at the eurozone for trying to burn some of its depositors, some more financial support could be forthcoming (but maybe only for Cyprus outside the eurozone) – with significant geopolitical implications as we noted here.
Other options which have been bandied around include: a financial transaction tax and the recent proposal from Lee C. Buchheit and Mitu Gulati (the men partly behind the Greek restructuring) to convert deposits into deposit certificates with fixed long term maturities. However, the former has been widely rejected by Cyprus and may not yield sufficient funding. The latter is an interesting proposal but may only offer liquidity support rather than solvency, while the banks would still remain under-capitalised. Such a proposal would still require significant backing from the eurozone and Russia – both of which are likely to come with onerous terms – and present similar obstacles to a deal.
So, all in all a ‘No’ vote, however tempting to Cypriot MPs, only leaves more drastic alternatives, hence it remains a possible but not probable outcome.
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