A group of campaigners including Positive Money Europe handed a petition to EU finance ministers demanding that Greece gets back the profits made off of its debt.

On Friday October 18th, nonprofit organisations Wemove.EU, Eurodad, and Positive Money Europe handed over a petition signed by more than 117,000 citizens to the Eurogroup’s spokesperson in Brussels.

The petition was organised by WeMove.EU and calls for Eurozone governments to return the interest it has accrued on Greek government bonds under the Securities Market Programme (SMP) launched by the European Central Bank in 2010.

As a consequence of this programme, a large part of the Greek public debt was held by the ECB and therefore excluded from the debt restructuring of 2012. Still today, every time Greece pays back the expensive SMP bonds owned by the ECB, it has to borrow more money from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) or financial markets, at an additional cost for the Greek taxpayers.

While Greece incurred a larger debt because of the ECB’s SMP programme, other member states were distributed very large profits out of it via the ECB. In October 2017 the ECB confirmed that it had profited €7.8bn from its holdings of Greek government debt purchased through its Securities and Markets Programme (SMP) and Agreements on Net Financial Assets (ANFAs) between 2012 and 2016.

However research by Positive Money Europe estimates that total profits will likely exceed €17.6bn between 2010 and 2022.

Eurozone governments owe Greece 8 billion euros

Campaigners argue that Greece, which has been crushed by years of austerity, should receive the interest on its government bonds, as was agreed in 2012, rather than creditor states such as France and Germany.

Although the Eurogroup agreed in June 2018 to return part of the profits to Greece through semi-annual payments until 2022, it appears from our research that €8 billion are still missing out from the deal.

After handing in the petition, we had the opportunity to discuss the matter directly with Mr. Luis Rego, the Eurogroup’s spokesperson. During the meeting, Mr Rego did not deny our claim that profits went missing from past and future refunding agreements. However he stressed that refunding agreements were always future-oriented, implying that the Eurogroup’s finance ministers were not willing to look back at the lost profits.

Nevertheless, we demanded that the Eurogroup reviews the June agreement in light of the evidence that around 8 billion euros profits are not included in the current refunding deal.

Positive Money Europe wants to thank the Eurogroup spokesperson for meeting with us today which allowed to clarify some (but not all) aspects of this complex issue. We also welcome Mr Rego’s willingness to provide more transparency on the profits made under SMP and ANFAs programmes, and to bring the issue to the attention of Eurogroup President Mr Mario Centeno.

The profits of the SMP programme are a problematic legacy of a complex financial crisis which the Eurozone institutions were unprepared for. In the midst of this chaotic situation, it is understandable that mistakes were made such as the mismanagement of the SMP programme. From hindsight, it is clear however that SMP bonds held by the ECB should have been restructured just like the ones held by the private sector were.

It is not too late to repair the damage. Although the last Eurogroup agreement constitutes good progress for Greece, it is not sufficient given the amount of profits that were sequentially excluded from the various refunding arrangements. The Eurogroup should review its June agreement in order to provide for a more comprehensive refunding scheme that accounts for all undue profits.

Wemove.EU, Eurodad and Positive Money Europe will closely monitor the Eurogroup’s next meeting on November 5th. Citizens can still sign the petition to help us ensure the issue makes it back to the table.

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