Thursday 22 February 2018

The 'bank under the bed' is the last hope as cash starts to run out

Anxious Greeks queue in front of the National Bank to withdraw cash following the collapse
of EU bailout talks
Anxious Greeks queue in front of the National Bank to withdraw cash following the collapse of EU bailout talks

Colin Freeman

The message for anyone trying the cashpoint at the National Bank of Greece in central Athens was curt and to the point. "This ATM is unavailable for withdrawals," it read. "Sorry for any inconvenience."

Its empty vault, however, was not due to the brisk weekend trade in the nearby tourist cafes, but to the large numbers of locals withdrawing cash while they still could. And with fears rife that Greece's banks could collapse in the coming days, "inconvenience" was perhaps an understatement.

That, though, was the grim prospect facing Greece yesterday after finance chiefs running its €240bn bail-out programme ruled that they too were "unavailable for withdrawals".

"I heard that the banks were going to shut this week so I came to take out some money," said Evi Costas (40), just after her bank card was swallowed by a Eurobank ATM just off Syntagma Square. "I wanted to withdraw €500, but what will I do now?"

She was planning to return to the bank on Monday to seek the return of her card. But last night, no one was quite sure when the banks would be opening again.

With nearly €500m taken from the banks between Saturday night and Sunday morning alone, the government is under mounting pressure to keep the banks shut to stop them being emptied.

Yet even that basic measure is now a point of contention between Greece's Left-wing government and its bank managers in Brussels. While the European Central Bank has strongly advised shutting the banks, Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's firebrand finance minister, said yesterday it would be admitting Greece's eurozone days were over.

With confidence in Greek financial institutions at an historic low, the "Bank Under the Bed" is about the only one doing well at the moment.

Since Alexis Tsipras's government was elected on its radical, anti-austerity ticket in January, anxious Greeks have withdrawn an estimated €30bn from savings accounts.

"If we default and go back to using the drachma it will be like going back to the wartime era," added Ms Costas. "Only this time round, the drachma will be like some useless Third World currency with no value."

The fear Greece might eventually bow out of the euro has been around in Athens for months, but on Friday night what had once just seemed like a worst-case scenario suddenly loomed as the most likely outcome.

Irish Independent

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