Iceland Better Off Than Ireland Because They Let Big Private Banks Fail, says President

Iceland Recovering

Jonas Bergman and Omar R. Valdimarsson
Bloomberg

Iceland’s President Olafur R. Grimsson said his country is better off than Ireland thanks to the government’s decision to allow the banks to fail two years ago and because the krona could be devalued.

“The difference is that in Iceland we allowed the banks to fail,” Grimsson said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Mark Barton today. “These were private banks and we didn’t pump money into them in order to keep them going; the state did not shoulder the responsibility of the failed private banks.”

Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen said this week his government has discussed an 85 billion-euro ($112 billion) bailout with the European Union and International Monetary Fund after the country’s banks threatened to bring the euro member to the brink of bankruptcy. Iceland’s banks, which still owe creditors about $85 billion, were split to create domestic units needed to keep the financial system running, while foreign liabilities remained within the failed lenders.

As a consequence, “Iceland is faring much better than anybody expected,” Grimsson said. The Icelandic state’s liability on foreign depositor claims stemming from Icesave accounts at failed Landsbanki Islands hf should be put to a national referendum, he said.

“How far can we ask ordinary people — farmers and fishermen and teachers and doctors and nurses — to shoulder the responsibility of failed private banks,” said Grimsson. “That question, which has been at the core of the Icesave issue, will now be the burning issue in many European countries.”

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