Business leaders prepare for 'Grexit' as elected leaders avoid the subject

    Just Watched

    Shell's Voser: Euro exit uncertain

Shell's Voser: Euro exit uncertain 02:14

Story highlights

  • The eurozone's biggest companies make contingency plans for Greece's exit
  • "I still see it as a low likelihood scenario, but we have done our work," Shell's CEO says
  • Europe's elected leaders are saying little, but many suspect behind-the-scenes talks
  • Lex van Dam sees a 50-50 chance of Greece staying in the eurozone

They say a week is a long time in politics. In today's febrile world of finance, it's a lifetime.

Europe's leaders may soon learn that lesson the hard way if they continue to dodge the question on everyone's lips: What to do if Greece is pushed out of the eurozone?

No stranger to unfortunate soubriquets herself, Angela Merkel has repeatedly refused to address the matter of a Greek exit -- or "Grexit," as it has been dubbed.

This week, she cited "political correctness" as her logic for skirting the issue.

Either way, the bosses of some of the eurozone's biggest companies have decided they can't afford the luxury of being caught short.

With a staff of more than 90,000 to consider and operations in more than 80 countries to oversee, Shell CEO Peter Voser has admitted that he must plan for what the markets say is an increasingly plausible outcome to a tragedy well into its third year.

    Just Watched

    Tsipras: Austerity will send us to hell

Tsipras: Austerity will send us to hell 01:20
PLAY VIDEO

    Just Watched

    Greece eurozone membership at stake

Greece eurozone membership at stake 01:42
PLAY VIDEO

    Just Watched

    Merkel on Greece: Had to be done

Merkel on Greece: Had to be done 04:39
PLAY VIDEO

    Just Watched

    What's next for Greece?

What's next for Greece? 03:48
PLAY VIDEO

Speaking on CNN's "World Business Today," Voser said that "one obviously has made provisions" at this stage.

    "I still see it as a low likelihood scenario, but we have done our work over the last few months to prepare ourselves," he said.

    As high as the stakes are for one of the world's biggest oil companies, the stakes for heads of government, like Merkel, are even higher. About 320 million people use the euro daily, and as the German chancellor knows, the integrity of the union is crucial for confidence in its economy -- an economy that just flatlined in the first quarter.

    This invites the question: If it's so obvious to business leaders, why do Europe's elected leaders still shy away from the subject?

    Charles Proctor, partner at the law firm Edwards Wildman, thinks he knows the answer.

    Having spent the past two years pondering the possibility of a eurozone member dropping out, Proctor says the existing legal framework doesn't offer a formal escape route.

    The European Union treaty does give Greece the extreme option of backing out of the EU but not out of its monetary system in itself. This means any negotiations would have to be kept quiet.

    "One assumes that a certain amount of contingency work has been done," Proctor said, "just that it has been kept secret against the political backdrop that the eurozone must hold together."

    Greeks set election date amid possibility of bank panic

    That view is echoed by former EU Commissioner and one-time UK Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson.

    "I think it would be better to discuss this behind closed doors. Otherwise, it would create yet more uncertainty," he said.

    "In theory you might say: 'Its face doesn't fit, it's not performing in the way that others need it to do, its politics are falling apart, its people are miserable ... so why not let it go out?' But the consequences of that would shake Greece for many, many years to come."

    Since Greece went to the polls May 6, as many as six rate-setters from the European Central Bank have openly debated the pros and cons of a common currency minus one troublesome member.

    The word "Grexit" has made the front page of tabloids and broadsheets in non-eurozone nations like Britain for two straight days. But bookmaker Paddy Power has cut the odds it is offering on Greece being the first out of the eurozone to 1-in-10 from 1-in-8.

    Lex van Dam, co-founder of Hampstead Capital, says it's a "really tough call." He says Greece's chances of keeping the euro are 50-50 and hinge less on political goodwill than financial support from the European Central Bank.

    "Saving Greece means throwing good money after bad, but not saving Greece means possible huge and fatal capital outflows from the periphery as well," he said.

    If that's the case, van Dam said, the losses incurred by the central bank could threaten the very institutions set up to safeguard the euro. Which means keeping Greece inside the eurozone could mean a "no euros zone" for its neighbors further down the line.

    So can the tide be turned?

    Proctor reckons the dam has burst.

    "For many years it used to be taboo, but so many people are talking about it, it's not a possibility that can be ignored anymore," he said.

    Either way, lawyers, hedge fund managers and chief executives are discussing the euro area's monetary fate, even if those in charge of its member nations are not.

        Greece Election

      • Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras walks in parliament after a meeting with New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras.

        Questions are being raised in Greece around which party -- or parties -- will emerge as the country's dominant center-left force.
      • U.S. President Barack Obama talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they walk through woodland at Camp David, Maryland, during the G8 Summit on May 19, 2012.

        Since Germany's emergence as an industrial economy, it has been too big to be one of many and too small to dominate, says Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff.
      • Greek football fans celebrate their win over Russia outside their parliament and on the eve of Sunday's key elections.

        Now that the Greek people have voted and a government formed, we need to think about where this crisis will go, says CNN's Richard Quest.
      • chance greece orphans_00000503

        Imagine abandoning your own children because you can't afford to feed and clothe them. It's a nightmare becoming reality in Greece.
      • The family of a woman killed in protests describe how her death sums up the country's plight as it prepared for the first election since the crisis.
      • Health workers shout slogans during a demonstration against the government's austerity measures in central Athens on February 23, 2012 as Greek parliament met to approve laws needed for a historic debt write down with private creditors, a key condition for a new eurozone bailout designed to avoid default.

        Greece has introduced harsh austerity measures to access funding from its international creditors. But can it save the country from bankruptcy?
      • A picture taken on September 14, 2011 in Paris shows Greek (C), German (L-R) and French (top-L) euro coins.

        Just one decade after the European single currency was launched amid fanfare and fireworks, its future is very much in doubt.