European Central Bank Prepared for Emergency EU Bailout, After Sunday’s Greek Elections

ECB on standby for Greek election fallout

By Ralph Atkins in Frankfurt, Mure Dickie in Tokyo and Kerin Hope in Athens

The European Central Bank is on standby to keep banks flush with liquidity if Greece creates fresh financial market turmoil, its president has indicated, joining a global chorus of central bankers pledging support ahead of Sunday’s elections.

Mario Draghi’s comments on Friday followed the announcement by the UK’s central bank of plans to pump £100bn into the ailing British economy, hinting at a co-ordinated strategy by the world’s top central bankers.

“The ECB has the crucial role of providing liquidity to sound bank counterparties in return for adequate collateral. This is what we have done throughout the crisis … and this is what we will continue to do,” Mr Draghi said.

Eurozone central banks “will continue to supply liquidity to solvent banks where needed,” he added, without giving details.

The ECB provided unlimited three-year loans to eurozone banks in December and February – and ended up pumping more than €1tn into the financial system. A repeat of such offers would be one option if the Greek elections led to market financing drying up.

Shares rallied in Asia and Europe on hopes that central banks would act to stem any negative impact from Sunday’s election in Greece. The euro was stable and the yields on Spanish and Italian government bonds, which had been approaching dangerous levels, fell.

Mr Draghi said: “In times of increased financial instability, ‘adequate liquidity’ indicates a volume of central bank money that also counteracts a temporary inability of banks to refinance in the market, which could lead to systemic consequences for the banking sector as a whole.”

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Masaaki Shirakawa on Friday said Japan’s central bank was ready to take any necessary steps to maintain financial sector stability.

Meeting journalists after a regular bank policy board meeting, Mr Shirakawa did not comment on whether central banks might take co-ordinated action to deal with possible market jitters after the Greek election. But he said central banks had a common understanding of the importance of stability.

“There are no cunning steps to achieve financial system stability,” Reuters news agency quoted Mr Shirakawa as saying. “An orthodox step would be to provide liquidity. We have the means to provide own currency and foreign currencies. It would be important to supply abundant liquidity to calm worries.”

The frontrunners in Greece’s general election traded recriminations as they wrapped up a hard-fought campaign.

Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, accused rivals New Democracy and the PanHellenic Socialist Movement, which have held power alternately for almost 40 years, of “plundering” Greece.

“You tried to poison Greece with fear and insecurity,” he told a cheering crowd in central Athens on Thursday night. “You pulled down the Greek flag and handed it to [German chancellor] Angela Merkel as a trophy.”

Meanwhile European officials were preparing a package of incentives, including further reductions in interest rates and extended repayment periods for bailout loans, for a new Greek government but only if it was led by Antonis Samaras, head of the pro-bailout centre-right New Democracy party.

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“In the scenario where Samaras wins the elections, they would like to see him committing very clearly to his adherence to the memorandum,” said one EU official briefed on the discussions. “They would then get together with the new Greek government and say: here is what we can now do to make life a bit sweeter, a bit less harsh.”

Eurozone officials have not ruled out making the same offer to Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, should he win Sunday’s Greek election and form a new government instead of Mr Samaras.

Mr Samaras was due to make a last campaign speech in Syntagma square in Athens on Friday evening. Opinion polls are banned in Greece in the two weeks before an election but both the leading parties say unpublished polls give New Democracy a very narrow lead over Syriza. Two pollsters noted on Friday that 10-12 per cent of voters were still undecided.