News / Europe

Cyprus Reworks Divisive Bank Tax, Delays Vote

  • Bank of Cyprus employees sit in front of riot police during a protest outside Greece's Finance Ministry as the bank remains closed for third day in central Athens, March 21, 2013.
  • People line up at an ATM outside a closed Laiki Bank branch in Nicosia, Cyprus, March 21, 2013.
  • Employees of the Bank of Cyprus take part in a rally in solidarity with Cyprus outside the headquarters of the bank in Athens, Greece, March 20, 2013.
  • International Monetary Fund mission chief Delia Velculescu arrives for a meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, March 20, 2013.
  • A man walks by graffiti that reads "Troika out" in the old city of capital Nicosia, Cyprus, March 19, 2013.
  • Demonstrators raise their arms in protest as Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades's convoy drives to the parliament in Nicosia, Cyprus, March 18, 2013.
  • A protester shouts slogans outside of parliament during a meeting in Nicosia, Cyprus, March 18, 2013.
  • Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades arrives at parliament in Nicosia, Cyprus, March 18, 2013.
Reuters
Cypriot ministers are trying to revise a plan to seize money from bank deposits before a parliamentary vote on Tuesday that will secure the island's financial rescue or could lead to its default, with reverberations across the euro zone.

The weekend announcement that Cyprus would impose a tax on bank accounts as part of a 10 billion euro ($13 billion US) bailout by the European Union broke with previous practice that depositors' savings were sacrosanct. The euro and stock markets fell on concern the euro zone crisis was returning.

Before the vote, which is too close to call, the government was working to soften the blow to smaller savers by tilting more of the tax towards those with deposits greater than 100,000 euros ($130,700). Many of these depositors are Russians and the planned levy has already elicited an angry reaction from President Vladimir Putin.

The government says Cyprus has no choice but to accept the bailout with the tax on deposits, or go bankrupt.

A Cypriot source told Reuters the introduction of a tax-free threshold for smaller bank deposits - maybe up to 20,000 euros - was under discussion but not yet agreed upon.

The parliamentary speaker said debate on the bank levy would be delayed until 1600 GMT on Tuesday, suggesting banks, shut on Monday for a bank holiday, will remain closed on Tuesday.

The euro zone has indicated that changes would be acceptable as long as the return of around 6 billion euros is maintained. If the Cypriot parliament votes the deal down, the euro zone would face a risk of being dragged back into crisis.

"It is up to the government alone to decide if it wants to change the structure of the ... contribution [from] the banking sector,'' European Central Bank policymaker Joerg Asmussen, who was pivotal in the weekend negotiations, told reporters on the sidelines of a Berlin conference.

"The important thing is that the financial contribution of 5.8 billion euros remains,'' he said.

Residents on the island emptied cash machines to get their funds over the weekend. The move also unnerved depositors in the euro zone's weaker economies. Investors feared a precedent that could reignite market turmoil that the European Central Bank has calmed in recent months with its pledge to do whatever it takes to save the euro.

The euro fell before tempering losses. European stocks did similarly, dropping two percent before more than halving losses.

In the bond market - often the most reliable guide to euro zone stress - safe haven German Bund futures shot up while Italian equivalents dived, suggesting some concern that Cyprus could infect its larger neighbors.

"The most important question is what would happen the following day if the bill isn't voted,'' Cyprus central bank governor Panicos Demetriades told parliament.

"What would certainly happen is that our two big banks would need to be consolidated. This doesn't mean that they would be completely destroyed. We will aim for this to happen in a completely orderly way.''

Brussels has emphasized that the measure is a one-off for a country that accounts for just 0.2 percent of European output. The worst fear is that savers in other, larger European countries become nervous and start withdrawing funds, although there was no immediate sign of that on Monday.

U.S. economist Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times: "It's as if the Europeans are holding up a neon sign, written in Greek and Italian, saying 'Time to stage a run on your banks!'''

Putin angry

Cyprus's banking sector dwarfs the size of its economy and its banks have been severely hurt by exposure to much larger neighbour Greece.

Its open economy has meant its banks also attract cash from Russians. Moscow is considering extending an existing 2.5 billion euro loan to help bail the island out and said the fact it had not been consulted about the bailout would come into play.

"It turns out that the euro zone actions ... took place without discussions with Russia, so we will consider the issue of restructuring the (Cyprus) loan taking into account our participation in the joint actions with the European Union,'' Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told Reuters.

President Vladimir Putin criticised the bank levy as unfair and setting a dangerous precedent.

"Putin said that such a decision, should it be made, would be unfair, unprofessional and dangerous,'' Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Approval in Cyprus's fractious 56-member parliament is far from a given: no party has an absolute majority and three parties say outright they will not back the tax. A vote initially planned for Sunday was rescheduled to give more time to build a consensus.

 On Sunday, a source close to the consultations told Reuters authorities were hoping to cut the tax to 3.0 percent from 6.7 percent for deposits under 100,000 euros. The rate for deposits above that would then be jacked up to 12.5 percent from 9.9 percent.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, a conservative elected just three weeks ago, said in a TV address that the tax was an alternative to a disorderly bankruptcy. It was painful, but "will eventually stabilise the economy and lead it to recovery''.

Savers who lost money would be compensated by shares in commercial banks, with equity returns guaranteed by future revenues expected from natural gas discoveries, Anastasiades said. But many legislators remain unconvinced.

 "Essentially parliament is called to legalise a decision to rob depositors blind, against every written and unwritten law,'' said Yiannakis Omirou, speaker of parliament and head of EDEK, the small Socialist party. "We refuse to subscribe to this.''

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs