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From Athens

I started writing on this site when I felt Ireland was in danger of being bullied out of the Euro. My objective was to find out what the options were for ordinary people to prepare for this. Ireland took the medicine doled out by the Troika, and now has a growing economy again, albeit one with an enormous proportion of our GDP due to the pharmaceutical industry. Is this where the story ends? The level of vitriol displayed during the water charges protest does not indicate a happy electorate, and the heavy handed manner of the recent water protest arrests is reminiscint of garda actions when the nude cartoon of Brian Cowen was slipped onto the wall of the national gallery in a move that rightly sparked accusations of autocracy. The prospect of a major change in government is a reality – it remains to be seen how much of the vote Sinn Fein will garner in the next election.

Yeah. But for how long?

But for how long?

Meanwhile, the European crisis rumbles on. Greece also took its medicine, slashing public service jobs, wages, and in doing so precipitated a Depression-Era level contraction of their economy and a stagnation that goes on and on. And finally, we stand at a crossroads, with the election of a political party in Greece that (at least for now) says enough is enough.

I am a fan of any country where people can ride motorcycles helmets. So I was very happy to arrive in Syntagma square in central Athens and see lots of bikers tipping around helmetless and fancy free. I know the arguments against this – but I remember with pleasure my helmet free days riding around some of the states in the US where at the time it was legal. I was intrigued to hear that it IS illegal in Greece, and there are fines… but this is Greece I was told…

I came to sample the ambiance of a revolution as it happens – if there indeed is one… I believe there may well be given the statements by the Greek negotiating party – how refreshing to hear that the bureaucrats from the Troika had been told that they were dealing with sovereign nation and to take a hike.

It's against the law... but OK in Athens!

It’s against the law… but yer grand in Athens!

Meanwhile back in Athens, I had been told that Exarchia square is traditionally a left wing hangout. It did not disappoint – the whole area shrouded in graffiti and packed with bars and cafes. The square itself is a congregation spot for young people who packed it out the Friday night after the election. There was definitely a feeling in the air. I ended up in a bar talking to some artists who were lucky enough to be landowners and had an income. Not sure they were exactly 1 percenters but hardly typical. Beer isn’t for nothing over here either (4.50 for a glass of beer). When you hear about salaries in the three figures for a month, it puts it in perspective.

As I write, the future of the Greeks within the Euro and perhaps the European project is not clear. Another Greek default is on the cards, and it is impossible to tell what the repercussions will be, although the risks to the European project are clear.

An irresponsible country?

Wandering around Athens for the weekend, I thought about all I have heard about Greek irresponsibility in recent years. My own feeling is that it is difficult to label an entire nation as irresponsible. I am a fan of the European Union because there has not been a war between members since its foundation, and this from a traditionally savagely warlike part of the world. I do not wish Greece to leave the union, and I do not want the union to break up. A Grexit may be the first step in that direction, which I feel should be avoided.

Red lights at the parliament

Red lights at the parliament

So are the Greeks “irresponsible”. Let us go with generalisations and see where it leads us…What is irresponsible? Fiscal, social, military? Irresponsibility…synonyms “reckless, rash, careless, thoughtlessness, misguided, heedless, negligent, uncaring…”

The story goes that Greek banks lent money to Greeks who went out and much like the Irish, went on a spending spree the likes of which had never been seen, buying among other things Porsches. I was recently informed there are more Porsche owners in Greece than top-rate tax payers. I did not verify this claim, and if true indicates a tax system in need of reform… but tell us something the Greeks themselves are not acknowledging. We know a few things about this ourselves. People were receiving emails from banks for pre-approved car-loans, and they… as humans do…often succumbed to temptation. This is bad stuff. Really bad. Reckless consumerism.

So let us expand our definition of “irresponsibility” beyond the narrow confines of “fiscal” responsibility.

It is important to point out the obvious here. Germany in Poland alone wiped out up to 5-6 million people during the period 1939-45. Reckless, rash, uncaring? This is just a fraction of the total deaths due to their military actions carried out in WW2. While Germany has done much to acknowledge this horror, for my money, the record nonetheless stands if we are to insist on labelling the irresponsibility of nations as a trait. If we are to be in a European union, then we must acknowledge our bedfellows. Greece wins out on the “not slaughtering millions” trait. The magnanimity of their debt forgiveness gesture in the 1950s may be overstated, as Germany was broke and simply was not going to be able to pay, but at least the nations that gathered in London to decide terms made a decision that gave Germany an opportunity to grow. It could have been very different. One Allied plan after world war two was to completely dismantle the German industrial complex and return it to an agrarian nation. Were it not for the Soviet threat, this may well have been the chosen option. Instead, and thankfully, Germany was afforded the opportunity to move on and has been in many ways a model of democracy since that time.

And of course Germany is not alone. Little Belgium under Leopold II  oversaw the death of a reputed 10 million in the Congo between 1885-1908, a genocide that Irishman Roger Casement was heavily involved in bringing to light through his interaction with the heroic ED Morel, the Paris-born shipping agent Britain who refused to keep his mouth shout about the obvious.

What about France, another pillar of the European response to the Greek crisis? – Incredibly, after the slaughter of World War two, and in spite of less than enthusiastic support from the US,  France elected to reassert itself in Vietnam in 1946 where Ho Chi Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam lasted just 20 days before succumbing to French forces. Misguided, heedless, negligent? Fighting continued till 1954 with French defeat, but was a precursor to the devastating Vietnam war.

I have not mentioned the UK or others, but suffice to say, the irresponsibility of the nations that make up this union are many. The Greeks themselves invaded Turkey shortly after the end of World War 1. In Ireland too, undeniable facts regarding the extent of state and societal involvement in the appalling treatment of men women and children in institutes have been laid bare. Comparing slaughter in Europe to the Magdalene laundries may seem a leap, but Europe is the Europe of now, and policy makers in each country today are the heirs of this previous Europe.

If  Europe is to succeed, and with it the peace within its borders, then the sense of optimism and togetherness that permeated the years preceding the euro crisis is needed. The past is not irrelevant. History should be moved on from but not ignored or forgotten. Each country in Europe is on a journey. Greece gained independence from the Ottoman empire in 1830, and its journey has not always been easy. Powerful and warlike neighbours have not helped.

But let us move to the now.

Has the treatment of the Greeks been akin to that of a bold child, by an uncaring, heedless Europe that has refused to acknowledge lessons from the past? I am disheartened to hear my own countrymen and women speak of them as such. One sometimes gets the feeling that people are dissatisfied that the Greeks are not more miserable. Pointing out that many Greeks actually do pay tax as PAYE workers, or that the minimum wage is a little over 500 Euro a month, or that pay-cuts of two thirds have taken place does not seem to generate much sympathy. After speaking with people in Athens, I can confirm that many are indeed miserable, and afraid of what happens next.

A Greek default with reasonable terms will allow the country the opportunity to grow and continue its European journey with optimism for her future and a shared destiny with countries large and small in a project that still has potential to be a social template for a bright future for all of us. I hope that they will be given that chance. The government in power in Greece has a mandate from its people and deserve the chance to put things right given that the “No alternative” plan has so far completely failed.

But this week will tell the story of what happens. A disorderly exit from the Euro does not seem to be concerning investors, but the effects of such an exit may not be so easily containable. Austerity in Europe will soon be effectively ended anyway by ECB actions, and it would be a shame not to allow Greece share in this.





Update: Open a Swedish Krona Bank Account in Sweden

I already looked into opening a Swedish Krona Bank  last year with SEB, a private Swedish bank. At the time, the exchange rate was 1 euro=9.1 Krona. As I write, the exchange rate is 1 euro=8.61 Krona.

At the time of my enquiry I was very clear about why I wished to open an account (I said I was worried about exposure to the euro).

The response this time from SEB was again that there was no problem opening an account, and they sent me the forms and some information.

I noticed that many people coming to the site were interested in opening a Swedish bank account, so I’ve revisited this, and made similar enquiries recently to SEB, including questioning if there was internet banking in english.

This was the response.

Thank you for your e-mail.

 Unfortunately, we do not have the Internet Banking in English. We are currently working on it, but it is hard to say when we will have it available for clients. Furthermore, we have a minimum requirement for all of our clients which is that all clients must invest a minimum of SEK 100 000 (which approximately translates into EUR11500)”.
They also sent me application forms (in English) which you can find below.


There are quite a few fees mention on the non-resident pricelist, which I clarified with SEB.

For a basic SEK account the costs associated with the account are 950 SEK (about €110) to set up and maintain the account for the year.

 The other rates are associated with foreign currency accounts held with the bank (in Euro, GB pounds, dollars etc), or accounts with advisory services (e.g. there is a 5000SEK charge if you have such an account, but this is generally for deposits larger than 1,000,000 SEK).

Application Requirements
You will need
  •  A certificate of employment (a letter from you employer).
  •  Photocopy of your passport verified by a notary
  •  A letter of recommendation from your bank.
  •  to visit the non-resident office in Stockholm in person. 

Getting to Stockholm

Ryanair fly to Skavsta airport(about 100km south west of Stockholm) several times weekly.

Aer Lingus flies to Arlanda airport four times weekly, which is about 40km south of Stockholm. As a sample costing of the trip, I found the following pricing (as of Oct 29 2012).

Depart Dublin, Friday 02 Nov 2012 07.30, arr. Stockholm 11.05

Depart Stockholm Sunday 04 N0v 2012, 19:45, arr. Dublin 21.25

Total cost – €137.98


It is possible to open a swedish kroner account in Stockholm with SEB. Costs are a little over a hundred euro a year. You need to open an account with a minimum of about €11,500 euro.

Clarification of German Bank Deposit Guarantee

I wanted to clarify the situation regarding non-resident deposits in Germany, so I emailed the Bundesbank. See below the response. Protection is to €100,000 for both German Domestic and Non-resident accounts.

German Bank Deposit Scheme

Your enquiry of September 4th, 2012

 Dear Sir

 Your enquiry to the Deutsche Bundesbank about the German Deposit Guarantee Scheme was passed on to us as the responsible division. First we would like to remark that the Deutsche Bundesbank itself is not involved in the functions and administration of deposit protection. Regarding deposit protection in Germany we would like to inform you that deposits with credit insti­tutions are safeguarded by various deposit protection schemes, which exists side-by-side in both statutory and private-law form. Every compensation scheme provides for own compensation limits. For a general overview we reported in detail on the system of deposit protection in Germany in the July 2000 Monthly Report of the Deutsche Bundesbank. This article is available on the Bundesbank’s website here.

For your initial information we would like to make the following general remarks to explain some details of the German system of deposit protection: The legal basis for the statutory schemes and of its supervision is the Deposit Guarantee and Investor Compensation Act. The EC Directive on deposit guarantee schemes (EC/94/19) was imple­mented in Germany – together with the EC Directive on investor compensation (EC/97/9) – via the Deposit Guarantee and Investor Compensation Act (Einlagensicherungs- und Anlegerentschädigungsgesetz) of 16 July 1998, which entered into force on 1 August 1998. This Act implemented the minimum requirements of both Directives inGermany:

Since the 1st January 2011 the limit for protection of deposits was raised to 100.000 € per depositor. In accordance with the Directives, certain types of deposits or claims and investors are excluded from protection. Protection is granted to domestic (residents) and foreign depositors (non-residents) alike. The Government has delegated the management of the statutory scheme for the private credit institutions and private building societies to the Entschädigungseinrichtung deutscher Banken (EdB).

In both the statutory and the supplementary private deposit protection system, protection is essentially given to account balances and/or deposits in the form of sight deposits, time deposits and savings deposits, as well as to claims arising from registered debt securities. Claims arising from bearer or order bonds are not covered by the deposit protection scheme. In the statutory compensation scheme, however, only deposits and assets which are denominated in the cur­rency of a country in the European Economic Area or in euro are safeguarded. Furthermore, various groups of depositors, such as credit institutions, medium-sized and large incorporated enter­prises, public bodies or insurance companies are excluded from statutory protection. By contrast, the private deposit protection scheme of German private banks is granted to deposits irrespective of the currency in which they are denominated and to all non-credit institutions (i.e. including business enterprises and public bodies) and thus – in the case of voluntary membership of private banks – supplements the level and scope of statutory protection. Nearly all private banks inGermanyare additionally member in the voluntary scheme. The private Deposit Protection Fund set up for the private commercial banks on a voluntary basis at the Association of German Banks safeguards in the event of insolvency non-securitised liabilities to non-bank creditors, for each creditor, up to the level of 30 % of the liable capital of the bank concerned (sum total of core capital and additional capital, of which the latter must not exceed 25 % of the core capital) at the time of the last published annual accounts.

In contrast to deposit protection provided by the private commercial banks, where the main concern is to protect depositors in the case of insolvency, the protection schemes of the savings bank and cooperative bank sectors are designed to prevent the institutions themselves from experi­encing difficulties in making payments (so-called bank protection schemes). As a consequence of their involvement in institution protection schemes (equivalent systems within the meaning of the EU directive) the saving banks and cooperative banks are not additionally included in the statutory deposit guarantee scheme.

Concerning the German government guarantee we would like to refer you to the website of the German government:

 We hope that you will find this information helpful.

 Yours sincerely


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