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Finances 19/05/2014



Texte du discours du ministre des Finances M. Yannis Stournaras lors du dîner de la Conférence au Sommet de l'Autorité européenne des marchés financiers au Musée de l'Acropole dans le cadre de la Présidence grecque du Conseil de l'UE

Athènes - 19 mai 2014


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to be among the board of supervisors and the management board of European securities and market authorities.

Recent economic data in the EU indicate that the recovery has gained momentum and the prospects for this year are brighter.

The exit from the financial crisis is evident. Fiscal adjustment eases, confidence gradually returns to the European economy, while GDP growth resumes.

Greece , after a long lasting and difficult period for households and businesses, creates the conditions for exit from the prolonged recession and can look at the future with more optimism.

The country secured its place in the eurozone and regained its credibility among the international financial markets.

Confidence in the Greek economy is being restored at a fast pace, something that is reflected both in the sharp decline of the Greek Government bond yields and in the recent successful exit to the international capital markets of the State, the systemic banks and several large corporates.

According to Eurostat , Greece in 2013 surpassed the targets set in the Budget and produced a primary fiscal surplus of 0.8% of GDP, compared to a 0% target.

The accomplishment is even more striking in cyclically-adjusted terms: Since 2009, the fiscal adjustment equals 19.4% of GDP.

And this is without precedent in the history of international finance.

The general government results in the first four months of 2014 indicate that the fiscal outcome will be better than the target.

Competitiveness in terms of unit labour cost has improved by 23% since 2009, and has regained the losses occurred since the introduction of the euro. Furthermore, the current account balance in 2013 turned positive for the first time since 1948 (0.7% of GDP).

Thus, the two main causes of the Greek economic crisis, the large twin deficits, that is the primary general government and the current account deficits, have now been eliminated.

The macroeconomic environment improves. Initial estimates of the economic activity, for the first time in recent years, were revised upwards for 2013.

The GDP for the first quarter of 2014 that was published last week further supports the assumption that the deep recession is eventually coming to an end.

GDP fell by 1.1% which is the mildest rate of decline of the last four years and is compared to a fall of 6% in the first quarter 2013.

The gradual recovery of economic activity is captured by several short-term indicators including the economic sentiment indicator, the PMI, retail sales and industrial production.

Exports of goods and services in nominal terms in 2013 (BoP data) increased by 1.9%, reflecting to some extent the gains in competitiveness.  

Unemployment has been declining moderately over the last five months; however, it remains at unacceptably high levels.

Numerous structural reforms have already been adopted in almost all areas of economic activity, including the product and labour markets, the tax system, the public administration and the health and pension systems. These reforms render the economy more competitive, secure lower prices for citizens and boost output and employment.

In addition, the successful recapitalization of the Greek banks was of paramount importance for the improvement of their capital adequacy and liquidity.

Overall, during the second round of recapitalization, the Greek banks raised 8.3billion euros, thus exceeding the capital needs as assessed by the Bank of Greece, and safeguarded the stability of the domestic banking system.

As a matter of fact, the National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank also raised the necessary capital for repaying the Hellenic Republic preference shares.

As a result, last Wednesday, Standard & Poors upgraded  the four systemic banks.

The finalization of the recapitalization and the restructuring of the banking sector this year, together with the return to the international capital markets, is expected to restore normal lending conditions and  contribute decisively to sustainable, long-term growth.

Greece is in the process of developing its new outward looking, business-friendly growth model, which will be presented in detail by the Prime Minister tomorrow.

This model fully exploits Greece ’s dynamic comparative advantages: geography, climate, culture, natural resources and mostly, its highly educated labour force.

It will lay its foundations on sustainable factors such as productive investment, exports of goods and services, innovation, privatisation and foreign direct investment. On the supply side, the new model is expected to focus on outward-looking sectors and activities such as tourism, energy, food and agriculture, aquaculture, information technology, telecommunications, real estate development and transport.

On the demand side it is expected to show a partial shift from consumption into investment and net exports.

The transition to the new growth model is based on two preconditions:

First, to ensure that public debt is sustainable. On May 5th the Eurogroup taking into account that Greece produced a primary surplus in 2013 and that the programme is on track, reaffirmed its commitment to examine the sustainability of Greece’s public debt and take appropriate measures in tandem with the decision of November 2012. This will take place after the pan-european stress-tests of banks by the ECB in autumn.

Second, to increase liquidity to Greek enterprises, and especially the SMEs. 

So far, lack of liquidity has acted as a major impediment to the recovery of economic activity.

However, the return of deposits, the repayment of arrears, the recapitalization of the banking sector, the absorption of EU Structural Funds, as well as several initiatives taken by the Greek government such as the creation of an Investment Fund called Institution for Growth (IfG), will act in the direction of freeing resources for investment.

As the global economy strengthens and in particular as the activity of Greece ’s trading partners picks up, the regained competitiveness will be better reflected in the country’s performance in the external sector. 

However, radical changes do not concern only Greece .

The crisis made us realize that EMU is a monetary union but an incomplete economic and financial union.

Thus, it accelerated the need for deepening of economic and monetary integration.

I dare to say that in recent years, the European project has entered a new phase.

Within this framework, Greece was invited not only to demonstrate its commitment to the common European ideals by adopting measures to reform its economy and restore fiscal discipline but, also, to assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union while in the process of this transformation.

The Greek Presidency has put strong emphasis on the revision of the regulatory framework for the operation and the supervision of the financial sector, in order to strengthen confidence and increase liquidity in the European economy.

During the first quarter of the presidency, we worked on eight (8) files in the financial sector and on seven (7) of them, an agreement was reached with the European Parliament, despite severe time constraints due to European elections.

Above all, the Banking Union constitutes one of the most challenging goals towards economic and financial integration, since the adoption of the common currency.

The completion of the banking union is a prerequisite for restoring both liquidity in the European economy, and confidence and reliability in the banking sector, as well as for safeguarding financial stability.

The Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM) is one of the key pillars of the European Banking Union, complementing the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) and ensuring that decisions to consolidate any troubled banks will be taken in a coordinated and effective way, reducing the negative impact on financial stability and aiming not to burden taxpayers in case of liquidation of a bank.

The Regulation, together with the Single Resolution Fund, substantially completes the building up of the Banking Union.

The Greek Presidency managed to reach an agreement acceptable by all parties, which was endorsed by the European Parliament on 15 April.

In the area of capital markets, the most important file was the revision of Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) and the corresponding Regulation (MiFIR).

The agreement reached is by all means an important step towards the establishment of a safer, more sound, more transparent and more responsible financial system.

Both legislative instruments seek to resolve problems encountered mainly in the securities price formation.

A very common phenomenon in modern markets is the “Dark Pool trading”, i.e. trading with no pre-transparency, which usually, but not always, refers to large blocks of shares, which are traded "blindly" and where the price formation does not always favor small investors.

Under the new framework, strict transparency rules are adopted which aim to limit the use of dark pools in equity trading  in order to eliminate the negative implications  in the price formation process and orderly trading.

Furthermore, organized trading of financial instruments must now shift to multilateral and well-regulated trading platforms.

By introducing a harmonised EU system setting limits on the positions held in commodity derivatives, MIFID II will contribute to orderly pricing and prevent market abuse, thus curbing speculation on commodities and the disastrous impact it can have on the world's poorest populations.

It will also strengthen investor protection. Investment firms will have to meet stricter standards to ensure that investors are offered products which are suitable to them and that their assets are well protected.

We have also completed the legislative files on the Central Securities Depositories as well as the UCITS 5 Directive.

In the area of European payments market, we have managed to reach an agreement with the European Parliament on the Payment Accounts Directive (PAD), which will allow for lower charges, transparency and a wide range of facilities, for the benefit of consumers.

Regarding the Packaged Retail Investment Products (PRIPS Regulation) which was a difficult and contentious dossier, we managed to reach an agreement with the European Parliament.

An additional file was the modification of the Rules for the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) where we managed to reach a speedy agreement with the Parliament. Finally, we have been working on the 4th revision of the Anti-Money Laundering (Directive and Regulation) where the purpose is to update the framework for the tools to fight money laundering.

The Presidency elaborated some provisions of the draft regulation and we hope to agree on a general approach in the Council in the second half of the Presidency.

The work of the Greek Presidency in the second quarter April - June 2014 is focusing on 7 new files (Long Term Investment Funds, Benchmarking, Bank Structural Reform, Securities Financing Transactions, Multilateral Interchange Fees, Insurance Mediation Directive II and new rules on Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision).

Ladies and gentlemen,

The financial crisis revealed the weaknesses of the regulation and supervision of the financial sector in Europe and worldwide.

It is very hopeful that at present in Europe we are pursuing a comprehensive reform programme of financial reform, establishing common prudential rules applied consistently throughout the EU.

The aim should be to improve cross-border cooperation and to strengthen strict supervision and systemic oversight across member states so that confidence and stability are embedded in the euro area.

In this respect, I would like to emphasize on the key role of ESMA to the financial stability of the EU given its supervisory duties of European securities trading across all EU member states.

Last but not least, instead of establishing unilateral rules, Europe should work together with other governments and international institutions to determine a stricter regulatory framework and increase transparency in financial markets in order to enhance the efficiency and the stability of the world economy.

Thank you for your attention!

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