1 Greece shuns debt talks with ‘troika’ (Mark Lowen on BBC) Greece’s new left-wing finance minister says his government will not negotiate over the Greek bailout conditions with the “troika” team from the EU and IMF. Yanis Varoufakis said he was rather seeking direct talks with eurozone leaders, to try to cancel more than half the money Greece owes.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the eurozone group of finance ministers, said Greece should stick to its reform commitments. He said Greece and the Eurogroup had a “mutual interest in the further recovery of the Greek economy inside the eurozone” and warned against Athens acting unilaterally in its efforts to renegotiate its bailout.
Greece has endured tough budget cuts in return for its €240bn ($270bn) bailout, agreed in 2010 with the “troika” – the European Commission, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB).
The defiance from Athens was clear: no co-operation with the troika overseeing the bailout. The troika creditors are supposed to wrap up their latest review of Greek finances at the end of February, based on which they would dish out another €7bn of bailout money. Athens needs the tranche to meet debt commitments later this year. But Mr Varoufakis says his government does not want the money and will not honour commitments made under a previous “toxic” programme.
2 Weak growth, cheap oil pull Eurozone prices down (San Francisco Chronicle) Falling prices sent another worrying signal about the eurozone economy just before the European Central Bank starts a 1 trillion euro ($1.1 trillion) stimulus effort. Consumer prices fell 0.6 percent in the 12 months to January, accelerating the 0.2 percent annual drop in December.
Prices are weighed down by the recent plunge in oil prices. But even excluding energy costs, they are weak, a sign of the deep economic malaise afflicting the 19 countries that share the euro currency. A report by the Eurostat statistics agency showed that the core inflation rate, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, was at plus 0.5 percent, down from 0.7 percent the month before.
Falling prices have raised fears that the eurozone will fall into outright deflation, a trap that can paralyze the economy if it leads to falling wages and investment. Japan fell into deflation in the 1990s and is still trying to get out. The European Central Bank is readying a massive 1 trillion euro stimulus program to try to raise inflation close to its goal of 2 percent and to get the economy moving.
Meanwhile, jobless figures showed a slight improvement in December, with the unemployment rate falling to 11.4 percent from 11.5 percent the month before. The number of unemployed people fell by 157,000 in the eurozone.
3 Two things depression taught me (Ben Locker in The Guardian) It’s often said that depression isn’t about feeling sad. It’s part of it, of course, but to compare the life-sapping melancholy of depression to normal sadness is like comparing a paper cut to an amputation. Sadness is a healthy part of every life. Depression progressively eats away your whole being from the inside. It’s with you when you wake up in the morning, telling you there’s nothing or anyone to get up for. It’s with you when the phone rings and you’re too frightened to answer it.
And always, the biggest stigma comes from yourself. You blame yourself for the illness that you can only dimly see. So why was I depressed? The simple answer is that I don’t know. The best I can conclude is that depression can happen to anyone. I thought I was strong enough to resist it, but I was wrong. That attitude probably explains why I suffered such a serious episode – I resisted seeking help until it was nearly too late.
Let me take you back to 1996. I’d just begun my final year at university and had recently visited my doctor to complain of feeling low. He immediately put me on an antidepressant, and I got down to the business of getting my degree. The pills took a few weeks to work, but the effects were remarkable. Too remarkable. The only problem was that the drug did much more. It broke down any fragile sense I had of social appropriateness. I’d frequently say ridiculous and painful things to people I had no right to say them to.
So, after a few months, I decided to stop the pills. I ended them abruptly, not realising how foolish that was. Last spring I was in the grip of depression again. So I returned to the doctor. I took the antidepressant. And it worked. I even felt my creativity and urge to write begin to return for the first time in years. And tellingly, my wife said: “You’re becoming more like the person I first met.”
It was a turning point. The drug had given me objectivity about my illness, made me view it for what it was. This was when I realised I had been going through cycles of depression for years. I am truly grateful to all those who love and care for me for pushing me along to this stage.
And now, I need to get back to work. Depression may start for no definable reason, but it leaves a growing trail of problems in its wake. If you still attach stigma to people with mental illness, please remember two things. One, it could easily happen to you. And two, no one stigmatises their illness more than the people who suffer from it. Reach out to them.