You've all seen the headlines on the decision by the Greek prime minister to call a referendum on the EU/IMF bailout. And I suspect some of you might have already spotted the threat that will be made by Brussels: that if the Greeks vote No, take back control of their own budgets and spending and go for default, they will be forced to leave the euro.
'Threat?' Sounds to me more like an inducement to vote No, but plenty of EU-loving Greek commentators are already calling it a threat.
But here is one point the economic bullies from Brussels and their acolytes among the Brussels commentariat won't be in a hurry to point out to the Greek voters they are trying to frighten: according to official eurozone policy, it is a legal impossibility for a member of the single currency either to quit or to be forced out.
I have on my desk right now one of a series of legal working papers published by the European Central Bank, called 'Withdrawal and expulsion from the EU and EMU [economic and monetary union]' published in December. It was written by -- how perfect -- Phoebus Athanassiou, a Greek billed as 'legal counsel, ECB.'
His conclusion is that it is impossible for a member to leave the currency. Here is just some of his legal argument -- dry stuff, but this is the official thinking:
'Unlike the Charter of the United Nations, Article 6 of which expressly provides for the possibility of a UN member being expelled for persistently infringing the principles of the Charter, there is no treaty provision at present for a Member State to be expelled from the EU or EMU. [at which point Athanassiou adds a footnote: 'This is hardly surprising, considering that the creation of the acquis' -- the body of EU law -- 'has been cumulative, with the institutional "ratchet effect" denying the possibility of reversals of course (and, implicitly, of withdrawals.)]'
'The closest that Community law comes to recognising a right of expulsion is Article 7(2) and (3) TEU [note from me: look, chaps, I read this stuff so you don't have to], allowing the Council to temporarily suspend some of a Member State's rights (including voting rights in the Council) for a "serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the principles mentioned in Article 6(1) of the Treaty...'
'If a right to expel Member States from the EU or EMU does not exist, could such a right be asserted or should it be introduced? Several considerations are relevant here, all of which militate against the assertion, by way of interpretation, or otherwise, of a collective right of expulsion from the EU or EMU.'
What this means is that the EU, in trying to construct treaties that would bind future parliaments and governments in member states from ever trying to escape from the euro, have in fact constructed treaties that do no allow the eurozone powers to expel an unwanted member.
Of course, the Greeks can leave the euro if they want to. All they have to do is say 'We're out of here,' sandbag their windows and just do it. Because the ECB and whose army, exactly, are going to stop them?