28 February 2013

When Europe Saves Its Banks: Who Pays?

This is the title of a fascinating documentary produced recently by the Franco-German collaboration arte. Such serious and high-minded programmes are the sort of thing that would once have been produced by the BBC. The questions are deeply political: Who receives this money when the ECB ostensibly bails out countries? Does it really arrive at the poor citizens of Spain or Greece? Unravelling the truth leads to a journey that is protrayed as a thrilling detective story and is certainly a necessary and long overdue piece of investigative journalism.

The documentary is well framed. In Harald Schumann they have a experienced and well informed journalist on the case. He asks the entirely reasonable question: how can we claim to live in a democracy when our money is being given to banks but the banks will not answer questions about how they have spent it. And the politicians and bankers are equally coy about telling us how much money was spent and who received it. This is our money and if democracy is to mean anything we need answers to these questions. He also points out quite rightly that, if banks made bad investment decisions, they should bear the losses. At present they are actually gaining through the injection of public money in return for their bad investments.

The production company advertises the documentary as follows:

'50 billion euros in Greece, Ireland 70 billion, 40 billion in Spain: in the euro area, states are seen being forced one after the other - through astronomical sums - to help banks to compensate losses due to rotten loans. But who are the beneficiaries of such operations? It is asking this simple question Harald Schumann, essayist and brilliant economics journalist, travels Europe. He received a range of frankgly staggering responses. For those who have been "saved" are not - as we are made to believe - in countries in distress, but especially in Germany and France. Indeed, an important part of Payout ends up in the coffers of the creditors of the banks that have been saved. As financiers who made bad investments, they find themselves protected against loss at the expense of the community. And contrary to the rules of the market economy. Why? Who collects the money?'

Leaving aside the content, watching the documentary in either French or German provides a kind of symbolic representation of the beauties and perils of Europe. Culturally we all seem to be on the same side, but linguistically we are so divided. As an English speaker the programme comes across as something of a Tower of Babel, as you are struggling to hear the English speech behind the dominant language voice-over. Do not let this put you off, because the questions asked are the right questions, and the answers will liberate us to behave as citizens of Europe rather than victims of austeria.


  1. Totally agree and I even went so far as to contact Harald Schumann on Facebook asking him if there was a chance of getting this dubbed into English - pointless to get it subtitled as Anglophones are mostly notorious for being too lazy to read them.

    This NEEDS to be seen world-wide! I had NO idea that it wasn't the Germans who "saved" Europe at all ... but of all peoples, the ordinary Irish citizens !!!!!! We are just not being told this !

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