Cyprus considers taxing a quarter of big deposits at largest bank as president prepares to fly to Brussels to discuss eurozone bailout
Finance minister says 'significat progress' is being made with proposals expected as early as this evening
Charlotte Philby is a writer and reporter at The Independent, currently based on the news desk after six years on the Saturday magazine. She has been shortlisted for the 2013 Cudlipp award for excellence in popular journalism for an undercover investigative into a website offering students up to £15,000 in return for sex. She has also written for cultural magazines including Dazed & Confused and NYLON and contributed to several books, among them a biography of French street artist Blek Le Rat. A mother and born-and-bred Londoner, she spends most of her free time working on her first crime fiction novel.
Saturday 23 March 2013
Cyprus MPs are looking at seizing up to a quarter of the value of big deposits at its largest bank to meet requirements for a bailout from the European Union
Finance Minister Michalis Sarris said "significant progress" had been made, and that new legislation raising funds could be completed and submitted to Parliament as early as this evening, although the timing was not certain.
He confirmed discussions were centred on a possible levy of around 25 per cent on holdings of over €100,000 at Bank of Cyprus, and expressed hope that a package could be ready by the end of the day for approval by parliament.
A snub from Russia yesterday left Cyprus little choice but to reconsider a plan to tax people’s deposits to secure desperately needed funding from Europe and the IMF and avert a crisis that could engulf the eurozone.
Last night, the Cypriot Parliament backed the implementation of capital controls, becoming the first eurozone country to enforce such drastic measures while MPs also voted for the set-up of an emergency solidarity fund in a last-minute effort to save their country from bankruptcy and an exit from the eurozone. Authorities postponed the voting of a controversial European-backed bank levy, which resurfaced after having been shelved for prompting widespread public fury.
President Nikos Anastasiades and other politicians will fly to Brussels tomorrow to hold talks with senior European officials ahead of an extraordinary Eurogroup meeting.
"Tomorrow 6pm #eurogroup on #cyprus," read a tweet from Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who is Dutch minister of finance and president of the Eurogroup - the 17 eurozone national finance ministers.
Averof Neophytou, deputy leader of the ruling Disy party, speaking in parliament, said politicians owed an apology to the Cypriot people. “We are all responsible for letting our land reach the edge of the cliff,” he said.
Meanwhile, British officials are flying to Nicosia to offer advice to the government on ways of saving country’s local banks from collapse.
Mr Anastasiades’ administration has the difficult task of not only coming up with a plan to scrape together €5.8bn (£4.9bn), but convincing parliament and the troika of the International Monetary Fund, the ECB and the European Union to accept it.
Neither is guaranteed: on Tuesday the legislature threw out a plan to tax everyone with money in Cypriot banks, while the signals from Germany about measures to nationalise pensions have not been encouraging. Hopes that Russia might provide more loans were dashed yesterday when Michael Sarris, the Finance Minister, returned from Moscow empty-handed.
The proposals to be put forward to parliament are reported to include restructuring the ailing Cyprus Popular Bank – known as Laiki. People with more than €100,000 there could lose up to 30 per cent of their deposit.
Mr Sarris said tonight that taxing people with more than €100,000 in other banks was again under discussion. “I think that is clearly on the table; that is something that needs to be discussed to see whether a levy on deposits of some sort ... would make a contribution to finalising the package,” Mr Sarris said.
EU officials in Brussels said they were studying proposals put forward by Cyprus and were moving into “top gear” to help design “a viable alternative solution which can be acceptable to all eurozone member states”.
The tone from Berlin, however, was less encouraging, with Chancellor Angela Merkel reported to be wary of a proposal to create a “solidarity fund” of state assets. If the plan does not make it past the troika, Cyprus will not qualify for the €10bn bailout agreed in Brussels last Saturday.
The ECB would also pull emergency funding and the banks would collapse, taking the Cypriot economy with them and leading to its eventual exit from the single currency.
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