By Juergen Baetz, Associated Press
BRUSSELS -- Cash-strapped Cyprus secured a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) bailout package from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund in a bid to prevent the island nation from entering a bankruptcy that could rekindle the region's debt crisis, officials said early Saturday.
In a major departure from established policies, the package foresees a one-time levy on the money held in bank accounts in Cyprus. Analysts have warned that making depositors take a hit threatens to undermine investors' confidence in other weaker eurozone economies and might possibly lead to bank runs.
In return for the rescue loans, Cyprus will trim its deficit, significantly shrink its troubled banking sector, raise taxes and privatize state assets, said the Netherlands' Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup meetings of the 17-nation eurozone's finance ministers.
"The assistance is warranted to safeguard financial stability in Cyprus and the eurozone as a whole," he said, briefing reporters after almost 10 hours of negotiations.
People with less than 100,000 euros in their Cypriot bank accounts will have to pay a one-time tax of 6.75%, those owning more money will lose 9.9%. The measure will be carried out early next week and is expected to net 5.8 billion euros in additional revenues, Dijsselbloem added, thereby greatly reducing the country's financing need.
"We found it justified in terms of burden sharing to also involve the depositors," said Dijsselbloem, noting that it was a "unique measure" because of Cyprus' outsized banking system.
"As it is a contribution to the financial stability of Cyprus, it seems just to ask a contribution of all deposit holders," Dijsselbloem added.
Analysts have warned that imposing such a drastic measure could be seen as a watershed moment, undermining the eurozone's credibility. Although the leaders stressed the levy was a unique measure for Cyprus, they said the same when private holders of government bonds were forced to accept losses in Greece.
The measure therefore risks scaring investors in Europe's weaker economies, which could lead them to move their deposits to more stable eurozone countries like Germany. In that case, banks in southern Europe's economies might be considerably weakened and could possibly require new bailouts. That could then weaken the respective governments, which might then need further assistance from their eurozone partners -- possibly setting off a vicious spiral.