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ECB denies EU auditors access to Greek bailouts information on “banking confidentiality” reasons

The European Central Bank (ECB) challenged an attempt by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the watchdog of EU finances, to examine the Bank’s role in the Greek bailout and reform programmes and refused to provide access to some requested information, citing banking confidentiality.

The European Court of Auditors published a report assessing the effectiveness and results of the Greek bailouts on Thursday (16 November).

“In line with the ECA’s mandate to audit the operational efficiency of the management of the ECB, we have attempted to examine the Bank’s involvement in the Greek Economic Adjustment Programmes. However, the ECB questioned the Court’s mandate in this respect,” the report reads.

The auditors examined the role of the European Commission and found some shortcomings in its approach, which they said overall lacked transparency. They made a series of recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the Economic Adjustment Programmes.

“These recommendations have been accepted in full,” the report said.

However, the ECB had invoked the banking confidentiality and denied access to specific information.

“It [ECB] did not provide sufficient amount of evidence and thus we were unable to report on the role of the ECB in the Greek programmes,” the auditors said.

The report pointed out that the European Parliament had specifically asked the Court to analyse the role of the ECB in financial assistance programmes.  It noted that EU auditors had faced similar problems with obtaining evidence from the ECB when reviewing the Single Supervisory Mechanism.

The report highlighted the ECB’s decision on 4 February 2015 to suspend the waiver for accepting Greek government bonds as loan collateral, thereby automatically increasing short-term borrowing costs for the banks.

That happened during the tough negotiations between Greece’s leftist government and its international lenders before the third bailout. Many believed it was meant to put additional pressure on Alexis Tsipras’ government to back down and respect the obligations undertaken by the country’s previous governments.

However, EU auditors have had doubts about the transparency of that decision.

“It was not clear whether the decision was made in coordination with the partners involved in the second programme. In the same month, later on, the Eurogroup decided to extend the second programme by four months (until end of June 2015),” the report noted.

Lack of a broader strategy

The EU auditors analysed the efficiency of the three bailout programmes received by Greece in 2010, 2012 and 2015.

“These programmes promoted reform and avoided default by Greece. But the country’s ability to finance itself fully on the financial markets remains a challenge”, said Baudilio Tomé Muguruza, ECA member responsible for the report.

The auditors stressed that the bailouts’ conditions were “neither sufficiently prioritised by importance nor embedded in a broader strategy for Greece”.

“Furthermore, the programmes’ macroeconomic assumptions were poorly justified. Cooperation with other institutions [like IMF] was effective but informal.”

The report explained that were no guidelines or specific procedures for cooperation between institutions and the process was not formally documented (e.g. in minutes) which impacted the “transparency” of the process.

In general, the auditors emphasised that the objectives of the Programmes had been achieved “only to a limited extent” because Greece remained unable to tap international financing markets. (full story euractiv)

Yannis Varoufakis commented

The European Court of Auditors Report here in pdf – 131 pages.

PS so the ECB claims bank confidentiality when everywhere in the euro zone and European union  there is no bank confidentiality and tax authorities have unlimited access to bank accounts data and amounts. Are we serious? Rhetorical question. Of course, we are not.

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  1. The EU and the ECB is in need of some serious reforms in order to reduce opacity and increase democratic oversight of how they operate.

  2. The Auditors are the good guys here: they have adamantly refused to sign off on 22 years of EU “budgets” because of the gross corruption, and lo, quell surprise, even the ECB is too corrupt to dare open its books. Thanks for covering this KTG, “how surprising” that this makes no waves outside of Greece.

  3. it makes no waves not even in Greece.