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Cyprus rejects bailout plan, raising anxiety in euro zone

  • Protesters chant slogans outside the Cypriot parliament against a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise 5.8 billion euro ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

    Protesters chant slogans outside the Cypriot parliament against a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise 5.8 billion euro ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • Protester stand in front of a banner which reads "Cyprus Says No" during a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise euro 5.8 billion ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

    Protester stand in front of a banner which reads "Cyprus Says No" during a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise euro 5.8 billion ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • A protester hold a placard depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel outside the parliament in Nicosia during a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise euro 5.8 billion ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

    A protester hold a placard depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel outside the parliament in Nicosia during a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise euro 5.8 billion ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • Protesters chant slogans outside the Cypriot parliament against a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise 5.8 billion euro ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

    Protesters chant slogans outside the Cypriot parliament against a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise 5.8 billion euro ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • Protesters chant slogans outside the Cypriot parliament against a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise 5.8 billion euro ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
  • Protester stand in front of a banner which reads "Cyprus Says No" during a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise euro 5.8 billion ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
  • A protester hold a placard depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel outside the parliament in Nicosia during a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise euro 5.8 billion ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
  • Protesters chant slogans outside the Cypriot parliament against a crucial parliamentary vote on a plan to seize a part of depositors' bank savings, in central Nicosia, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Cypriot government sought Tuesday to shield small savers from a plan that is intended to raise 5.8 billion euro ($7.5 billion) toward a financial bailout by seizing money from bank accounts. The plan, which is part of a larger bailout package being negotiated with other European countries, has been met with fury in Cyprus and has sent jitters across financial markets. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Lawmakers in Cyprus yesterday rejected a bailout plan that would have rescued the country’s banks but forced savers to chip in for the cost, throwing down a gauntlet to the rest of Europe over the financial fate of the tiny island nation.

The plan to save Cyprus’s collapsing banks but to charge depositors for the service proved so controversial that not one of the 56 members of the Cypriot Parliament voted for it last night. The rejection leaves the fate of rescue plans up in the air, with other European leaders so far unwilling to step in to save Cyprus, where bank deposits tower over the rest of the economy.

Parliamentarians “feel and they think that it’s unjust,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters yesterday.

The rejection leaves Cyprus, the International Monetary Fund and the rest of Europe in a standoff familiar from previous bailout negotiations, with the country trying to navigate its local politics and possibly get a better deal for itself as the others stand firm on how much they want to commit to yet another troubled euro-zone nation.

The fate of the 17-nation currency union, meanwhile, again hangs in the balance, threatened by a country that constitutes just 0.2 percent of the zone’s collective economy. Throughout the crisis, European policymakers have tried to keep any country from leaving the euro. Losing a member nation would pose uncertain risks to the world financial system and be politically embarrassing to the major powers such as Germany and France that designed the currency union.

Overall, Cyprus needs about $20 billion – an amount equal to its annual economic output and a sum that, if all borrowed, would throw the country’s finances onto unsustainable footing. The IMF’s internal rules do not allow the fund to make loans to the country under those circumstances. Euro-zone countries are hesitant to lend the full amount, as well.

As a consequence, the fund, the euro zone and the European Central Bank want to cap the amount of international loans to Cyprus at about $12.5 billion and leave the country to come up with the rest. The deposit tax was one alternative for raising the money. It had the advantage of grabbing $2.2 billion to $3 billion from foreigners, many of them Russian, who own more than one-third of the money on deposit in Cypriot banks.

In a sign of the severity of the situation, Britain yesterday dispatched a military plane loaded with a million euros to Cyprus “as a contingency measure” for soldiers stationed at British bases in the Mediterranean country, in case they can’t access their savings in Cypriot banks, according to a British Defense Ministry spokesman.

Other options could exact more from local families and businesses through government spending cuts or taxes, even if they avoid the direct hit on savings accounts. Euro-zone countries could also relent and lend more, though that would be politically sticky at home.

The IMF did not have any immediate comment on the Cyprus vote. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has endorsed the existing proposal as one that “appropriately allocates” the costs of the country’s financial rescue.

The plan rejected yesterday would have left deposits under $26,000 unscathed, foisted a one-time 6.75 percent tax on deposits between $26,000 and $129,000, and taxed deposits above that at 9.9 percent.

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