What If All The Banks Were Closed Tomorrow Morning?

Photo: Yorgos Karahalis/AP Photo.
What if, tomorrow morning, you tried to go to the bank and it was closed? And not just one branch but every single bank, along with all the ATMs? What if it were suddenly impossible for individual people and businesses to access any money? Well, that's something that Greece might wake up to on Tuesday morning, if European Union leaders can’t agree on a plan for the nation to repay its debts to other EU nations.

EU heads are meeting today to attempt to come to a decision about the Greek debt crisis — and the stakes are high. "The Greek banking system cannot continue in the current situation," Nikolaos Karamouzis, the chair of the fourth-largest EU bank, tells the BBC. "For Greece, no agreement would be a disastrous event."

Greece has until June 30 to pay back 1.6 billion euros it was lent by the International Monetary Fund — and it doesn't have the money. If the country can’t figure out a way to make that payment, its entire economy will plunge into chaos. According to reports from Reuters, people have already withdrawn so much money from Greek financial institutions that these banks have had to get emergency funds from the European Central Bank to keep enough cash available.

Mr. Karamouzis, the banker, suggested in that same interview that were talks to break down entirely, Greek banks might not even be able to open on Tuesday morning. Others have said the same.

Greece has been struggling with its economy since its crash in 2008. In 2010, European monetary groups and the IMF gave the country a giant bailout — two payments totaling $260 billion. The idea was that Greece would use the money to fix its economy and then pay it back. However, although the loans kept the country from complete and utter collapse, Greece hasn't recovered nearly well enough to make its payments.

Even today, half of all Greeks under 25 are unemployed, six million live in or near poverty, and more than a third of the country’s students don’t have enough food. In an attempt to pay back its creditors, Greece has undergone an intense austerity program, with the intention of curbing goverment spending by slashing lots of services. (Many liberal economists would argue that this has been a terrible policy — bad for Greece's economy and painful for its people. A new study has linked the government’s massive spending cuts to rising suicide rates.)

Things have been in such disarray that voters elected a new, left-wing government that has promised to protect citizens from any financial deals that would require more reductions to public services like pensions. Countries such as Germany have demanded that Greece make serious concessions so it can pay back what it owes, no matter what effect that might have on the Greek population.

This is also not likely to be the end of problems for Greece and the EU; there are concerns already that Greece is so financially unstable that it will have to stop using the euro as its currency. A "grexit," as financial pundits are calling such a withdrawal, could make things even worse for Greece and create turmoil in economies and stock markets across the continent.
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