The president of Cyprus has said he was given no choice by Brussels about accepting a painful tax on the country’s bank deposits in return for international aid.
Nicos Anastasiades said the alternative was bankruptcy.
He told the people of Cyprus the levy on their bank accounts was not what he wanted, but it was the only way to save the country’s economy. In a nationally televised address, the president called it the least painful choice under the circumstances before going on to accuse eurozone finance ministers of forcing Cyprus into this deal – in essence blackmailing Nicosia.
This is the first time a bailout has been partially financed by dipping into people’s savings.
The decision, announced on Saturday morning, stunned Cypriots and caused a run on cashpoints, most of which were depleted within hours. Electronic transfers were stopped.
Anastasiades promised those savers they would be compensated by being given shares in banks guaranteed by future natural gas revenues.
Cyprus is expecting the results of an offshore appraisal drilling this year to confirm the island is sitting on vast amounts of natural gas worth billions of euros.
UK finance minister George Osborne said that Britain would compensate its 3,500 military personnel based in Cyprus for any losses from their accounts.
Cyprus’s unhappy parliamentarians have to vote on approving this on Monday and it seems they have little choice.
Anastasiades’s right-wing Democratic Rally party, with 20 seats in the 56-member parliament, needs the support of other factions for the vote to pass. It was unclear whether even his coalition partners, the Democratic Party, would fully support the levy.
If the lawmakers do not sign off on this, it risks plunging the banking system into further turmoil.