As we saw in several posts on this site, last year was a tumultuous one for the Greek people and their economy. The economy was on the verge of bankruptcy; the Greek people rejected the terms of a bailout in a referendum; exit from the eurozone and having to return to the drachma seemed likely; banks were forced to closed at the height of the crisis; capital controls were imposed, with people restricted to drawing €60 a day or €420 a week – a policy still in force today; unemployment soared and many people suffered severe hardship.
To achieve the bailout, the Syriza government had to ignore the results of the referendum and agree to harsh austerity policies and sweeping market-orientated supply-side policies. This, at least, allowed Greece to stay in the eurozone. It held, and won, another election to seek a further mandate for these policies.
But what are the prospects for 2016? Will it be a year of recovery and growth, with market forces working to increase productivity? Does 2016 mark the beginning of the end and, as prime minister Alexis Tsipras put it, “a final exit from economic crisis”?
Or will the continuing cuts simply push the economy deeper into recession, with further rises in unemployment and more and more cases of real human hardship? Is there a hysteresis effect here, with the past six years having created a demoralised and deskilled people, with cautious investors unable and/or unwilling to rebuild the economy?
The article below looks at the rather gloomy prospects for Greece and at whether there are any encouraging signs. It also looks at the further demands of the troika of creditors – the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission’s European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – and at what the political and economic impact of these might be.
Greece’s economic crisis goes on, like an odyssey without end The Guardian, Helena Smith (4/1/16)
- Construct a timeline of Greece’s debt repayments, both past and scheduled, and of the bailouts given by the troika to prevent Greece defaulting.
- What supply-side reforms are being demanded by Greece’s creditors?
- What will be the effect of these supply-side reforms in (a) the short run; (b) the long run?
- Explain the meaning of hysteresis as it applies to an economy in the aftermath of a recession. How does the concept apply in the Greek situation?
- Discuss the alternative policy options open to the Greek government for tackling the persistent recession.
- Would it be better for Greece to leave the euro? Explain your arguments.
- “I cannot see how this government can survive the reforms. And I cannot see how it can avoid these reforms.” Is there any way out of this apparent impasse for the Greek government?
With talks ongoing about resolving the Greek debt crisis, it is clear that there is no agreement that will satisfy both sides – the Greek government and the troika of lenders (the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission). Their current negotiating positions are irreconcilable. What is needed is something more fundamental to provide a long-term solution. What is needed is a ‘deus ex machina‘.
A deus ex machina, which is Latin for ‘god from a machine’, was a device used in Greek tragedy to solve an impossible situation. A god would appear from above, lowered by a crane, or from below through a trap door, and would put everything right. The tragedy would then be given a happy ending.
So what possible happy ending could be brought to the current Greek tragedy and who could be the deus ex machina?
The negotiations between Greece and the troika currently centre on extending credit by €7.2bn when existing debts come up for repayment. There are repayments currently due to the IMF, or by the end of June, of €1.5bn and more in July, September and December (another €3.2bn). There are also €6.7bn of Greek bonds held by the ECB, as part of the 2010 bailout programme, that are due for repayment in July and August. Without the €7.2 billion bailout, Greece will be unable to meet these debt repayments, which also include Treasury bills.
But the troika will only release the funds in return for harsh austerity measures, which involve further cuts to pensions and public expenditure. Greece would be required to run a substantial budget surplus for many years.
Greece could refuse, but then it would end up defaulting on debt and be forced out of the euro. The result would probably be a substantial depreciation of a newly restored drachma, rising inflation and many Greeks suffering even greater hardship – at least for a period of time.
So what is the possible deus ex machina? If you’re looking for a ‘god’ then it is best, perhaps, to look beyond the current actors. Perhaps the Americans could play the role in finding a solution to the impasse. Perhaps a small group of independent experts or politicians, or both, could find one. In either case, the politics of the situation would have to be addressed as well as the economics and finance.
And what would be the ‘fix’ to satisfy both sides? Ultimately, this has to allow Greek debt to be sustainable without further depressing demand and undermining the fabric of Greek society. This would almost certainly have to involve a large measure of debt forgiveness (i.e. debts being written off). It also has to avoid creating a moral hazard, whereby if the Greeks are seen as being ‘let off lightly’, this might encourage other indebted eurozone countries to be less willing to reduce their debts and make demands for forgiveness too.
Ultimately, the issue is a political one, not an economic one. This will require clever negotiation and, if there is a deus ex machina, clever mediation too.
Greek PM Tsipras warns lenders bailout plans ‘not realistic’ BBC News, Jim Reynolds (5/6/25)
Greece defers IMF payment until end of June BBC News, Chris Morris (5/6/15)
Greek debt talks: Empty shops and divided societies BBC News, Chris Morris (10/6/15)
Potential Grexit effects Deutsche Welle (13/6/15)
It’s time to end the pretence: Greece will never fully repay its bailout loan The Guardian, Andrew Farlow (9/6/15)
Greek exit would trigger eurozone collapse, says Alexis Tsipras The Guardian, Phillip Inman, Helena Smith and Graeme Wearden (9/6/15)
The eurozone was a dream of unity. Now Europe has turned upon itself The Guardian, Business leader (14/6/15)
Greece bailout talks: an intractable crisis with three possible outcomes The Guardian, Larry Elliott (2/6/15)
Greece needs an economic defibrillator and a debt write-off Financial Times letters, Ray Kinsella (25/3/15)
Greece’s new debt restructuring plan Times of Change, Peter Spiegel (5/6/15)
Eurozone still in denial about Greece BBC News, Robert Peston (3/6/15)
Greece bailout talks – the main actors in a modern-day epic The Guardian, Phillip Inman, Ian Traynor and Helena Smith (9/6/15)
Greece isn’t any old troubled debtor BBC News, Robert Peston (15/6/15)
Greece in default if debt deadline missed, says Lagarde BBC News (18/6/15)
Burden of debt to IMF and European neighbours proves too much for Greece The Guardian, Heather Stewart (17/6/15)
Ending the Greek Crisis: Debt Management and Investment led Growth Greek government
- To which organisations is Greece indebted? What form to the debts take?
- To what extent is Greece’s current debt burden the result of design faults of the euro?
- Would it be possible to restructure debts in ways that make it easier for Greece to service them?
- Should Greece be treated by the IMF the same way it treated the highly indebted poor countries (HIPCs) and granted substantial debt relief?
- What would be the effects of Greek exit from the euro (a) for Greece; (b) for other eurozone countries?
- What bargaining chips can Greece deploy in the negotiations?
- Explain what is meant by ‘moral hazard’. Where in possible outcomes to the negotiations may there be moral hazard?
- What has been the impact of Greek austerity measures on the distribution of income and wealth in Greece?
- What are the practicalities of pursuing supply-side policies in Greece without further dampening aggregate demand?
After a marathon 13-hour session in Brussels, ending at 5am on 21 February, eurozone finance ministers agreed a second bailout for Greece. The aim was to lighten Greece’s debt burden and prevent the country being forced to default.
Under the deal, Greece will have some €107bn of its debt written off. The main brunt of this will be borne by private creditors, who will see the value of their Greek bonds fall by 53.5% (some 70% in real terms). Old bonds will be swapped for ones with longer maturities and lower interest rates. In addition, Greece will be given further loans of more than €130bn through the EFSF on top of the €73bn already lent. The monies will be put in a special escrow account and can be used only to service the debt, not to finance general government expenditure.
In return, Greece must reduce its debt to GDP ratio from the current 160% to 120.5% by 2020. It must agree to continuing tight austerity measures and to significant supply-side reforms to reduce the size of the public sector and increase efficiency. Implementation of the measures would be overseen by an EU Task Force based in Greece.
But while governments in the EU and around the world are relieved that a deal has been finally agreed and that Greek default seems to have been averted – at least for the time being – the problems for Greece seem set to get worse. The further austerity measures will deepen the recession, now in its fifth year. Growth is not expected to return until 2014 at the earliest, by which point real GDP is expected to have shrunk by some 17% from the start of the recession. The question is whether the Greek people will stand for further cuts in income and further rises in unemployment, which had reached 20.9% in November 2011 and is still rising rapidly.
Eurozone backs Greek bailout Euronews (21/2/12)
Greece Wins Second Bailout as Europe Picks Aid Over Default Bloomberg, James G. Neuger and Jonathan Stearns (21/2/12)
Eurozone agrees second Greek bail-out Financial Times, Peter Spiegel and Alex Barker (21/2/12)
Greece secures bailout to avoid debt default Independent, Gabriele Steinhauser and Sarah DiLorenzo (21/2/12)
EU tells Greece to cut more jobs, sees 2014 growth Reuters, Gabriele Robin Emmott and Nicholas Vinocur (21/2/12)
Eurozone agrees €130bn bailout for Greece The Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (21/2/12)
Greece averted nightmare scenario – finance minister BBC News (21/2/12)
Greece: Dangerous precedent? BBC News, Robert Peston (21/2/12)
The end of the marathon? The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (21/2/12)
What Analysts Think of the Greek Deal The Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Fletcher (21/2/12)
Three steps to a strong eurozone Guardian, Henning Meyer (21/2/12)
Opinion: the eurozone is just buying time Deutsche Welle, Henrik Böhme (21/2/12)
Greece must default if it wants democracy Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (19/2/12)
Eurozone’s Greece deal: debt and delusions at dawn Guardian. Editorial (21/2/12)
€130bn plaster leaves Greece independent in name only Guardian, Larry Elliott (22/2/12)
The Greek debt deal: Thumbs down The Economist, Buttonwood’s notebook (21/2/12)
Webcasts and podcasts
Are Greeks’ euro days numbered? Channel 4 News (21/2/12)
Wolf and Authers on Greece Financial Times, John Authers and Martin Wolf, (21/2/12)
Greece ‘unlikely to meet targets’ BBC Today Programme, Ngaire Woods, Guntram Wolff and Alistair Darling (21/2/12)
Austerity-hit Greeks scorn bailout deal Euronews (21/2/12)
Greek Bail Out Could Lead To More Violence Sky News (21/2/12)
Official Press Release
Eurogroup statement Europa Press Release (21/2/12)
- Outline the features of the bailout on offer to Greece. What is Greece expected to do in return for the bailout?
- To what extent has the deal lightened Greece’s macroeconomic problems?
- Why does granting a bailout create a moral hazard? How has the ECB/IMF/EU Commission Troika attempted to minimise the moral hazard in this case?
- Has Greece’s financial problem been essentially one of liquidity or solvency?
- What supply-side measures is Greece being required to implement? Will they have any demand-side consequences?
- From where is Greek growth likely to emanate after 2014?
- What are the downside risks of the deal?
- How likely is it that there will have to be a third bailout?
With a mounting crisis in the eurozone, heads of government met in an emergency meeting in Brussels on 21 July.
The task was a massive one: how to tackle Greece’s growing debt crisis and stave off default; how to protect other highly indebted countries which have already had to seek emergency bailouts, namely Ireland and Portugal, from falling market confidence and thus rising interest rates, thereby making their debts harder to service; how to prevent speculative pressures extending like a contagion to other highly indebted countries, such as Spain and Italy; how to prevent speculation against the euro and even to prevent its break-up; how to reduce the size of budget deficits at a time of low growth without jeopardising that growth. A problem is that Greece has already adopted the required austerity measures for it to receive a second bailout from the EU agreed at the end of June, and yet its debt burden is likely to rise as growth remains negative.
Eurozone leaders recognised that the stakes were high. Failure could see contagion spread, interest rates soar and perhaps one or more countries leaving the euro. No agreement was not an option. As it turned out, the agreement was more comprehensive than most commentators had expected. Markets reacted positively. Stock markets in Europe and around the world rose and the euro strengthened.
So what was the agreement? Has it solved the Greek and eurozone crises? Will it prevent contagion? Or has it merely put the problem on hold for the time being? Will more fundamental measures have to be put in place, such as much fuller fiscal union, if the eurozone is to function as an effective single currency area? The following is a selection of the hundreds of articles worldwide that have reported on the summit and the agreement.
Greece thrown lifeline by eurozone leaders BBC News, Chris Morris (22/7/11)
A Marshall plan with ‘haircuts’: The draft agreement Guardian, Chris Morris (21/7/11)
Banks forced to share pain of bailout for Greece Independent, Sean O’Grady and Vanessa Mock (22/7/11)
EU leaders agree €109bn Greek bail-out Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Quentin Peel, Patrick Jenkins and Richard Milne (21/7/11)
Greece to default as eurozone agrees €159bn bailout The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Bruno Waterfield (21/7/11)
Europe steps up to the plate The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (21/7/11)
Greek bailout boosts global markets Guardian, Julia Kollewe, Ian Traynor and Lisa O’Carroll (22/7/11)
Greek bailout deal: What the experts say Guardian (22/7/11)
Bailed out – again. Eurozone throws Greece €109bn lifeline Guardian, Ian Traynor (22/7/11)
New package for Greece must match last year’s if it is to stave off default Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm Maiden (22/7/11)
Russian or Belgian roulette? The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (21/7/11)
Saving the euro: A bit of breathing space The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (22/7/11)
Europe’s ‘safe haven’: corporate bonds Financial Times, Demetrio Salorio (21/7/11)
Summit that saved the euro? Financial Times, John Authers and Vincent Boland (21/7/11)
Greece aid package boosts stock markets BBC News (22/7/11)
Q&A: Greek debt crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Timeline: The unfolding eurozone crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Eurozone summit: It may be a solution, but doubts remain Guardian, Larry Elliott (21/7/11)
German taxpayers are being asked to socialise Europe’s debts The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (22/7/11)
The eurozone is not a nation state Financial Times blogs, Gavyn Davies (20/7/11)
One step back from the abyss BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (22/7/11)
For long-term gain, the EU will have to share the pain Independent, Sean O’Grady (22/7/11)
Greek debt deal ‘not the last word’ BBC Today Progrgamme, Stephanie Flanders and Sir John Gieve (22/7/11)
- Outline the measures agreed at the eurozone heads of government summit on 21 July.
- Explain what is meant by a ‘haircut’ in the context of debts. What types of haircut were agreed at the summit?
- How big a reduction in Greece’s debt stock will result from the deal? Why may it not be enough?
- Explain how the European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS) works? How will this change as a result of the agreement?
- What vulnerabilities remain in the eurozone?
- What are the arguments for closer fiscal union in the eurozone? Is more required than merely a return to the Stability and Growth Pact?
The Greek economy is suffering. In April 2010, a €45 billion bailout package was agreed between Greece and the IMF and the EU. This was increased to €110 billion in May 2011. (The bailout loans expire in 2013.) In return for the loans, Greece agreed to tough austerity measures, involving tax increases, clamping down on tax evasion and government expenditure cuts. These measures have succeeded in cutting the deficit by 5 percentage points, but it still stood at 10.5% of GDP in 2010. Public-sector debt rose from 127% of GDP in 2009 to 143% in 2010. The market cost of borrowing on two-year government bonds currently stands at 23% per annum – a sign of a serious lack of confidence by investors in Greece’s ability to repay the loans.
The austerity measures have brought great hardship. Unemployment has soared. In February 2011, it reached 15.9%; in February last year it was 12.1%. According to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook (Table A2), Greek real GDP fell by 2.0% in 2009, by 4.5% in 2010 and is forecast to fall by 3.0% in 2011. But with GDP falling, this brings automatic fiscal stabilisers into play: lower incomes mean lower income tax revenues; lower expenditure means lower VAT revenue; higher unemployment means that more people claim unemployment-related benefits. This all makes it harder to meet the deficit reduction targets through discretionary tax rises and government expenditure cuts and makes it even more important to cut down on tax evasion. But, of course, the more taxes rise and the more government expenditure is cut, the more this suppresses aggregate demand. The austerity measures have thus worsened the recession.
On May 9, the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greece’s rating to B (15 points below the top rating of AAA and 6 points into ‘junk’ territory). It now has the lowest rating in Europe along with Belarus.
Worries have been growing that Greece might be forced to default on some its debt, or choose to do so. This would probably mean an extension of repayment periods. In other words, bondholders would be paid back in full but at a later date. This has been referred to as ‘debt re-profiling’. This could cause a renewed loss of confidence, not only in the Greek economy, but also in banks that are major lenders to Greece and which would be exposed in the case of default or restructuring.
The IMF and the ECB have been quick to stress that Greece can continue to manage its debt and that, if necessary, another loan might be negotiated. Anticipations are that Greece could indeed ask for a further bailout. But is this the answer? Or would it be better if Greece sought a restructuring of its debt? The following webcasts and podcasts consider the issue.
Webcasts and podcasts
Greece may need second financial bail-out BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (11/5/11)
Greece needs revised bail-out Financial Times Global Economy Webcasts, Luke Templeman and Vincent Boland (9/5/11)
Why Greece must stick to the plan Financial Times Global Economy Webcasts, Ralph Atkins, Frankfurt Bureau Chief, talks to Jurgen Stark (11/5/11)
Will Greece need more money? BBC News, Matina Stevis (9/5/11)
Economists debate Greek crisis BBC News, Thomas Mayer and David McWilliam (9/5/11)
Greece at ‘a very difficult stage’ BBC Today Programme, Stephanie Flanders and Vassilis Xenakis (11/5/11)
The Business podcast: PPI scandal and Greece’s debt crisis Guardian Podcast, Aditya Chakrabortty (11/5/11) (listen to last part of podcast, from 19:20)
Greece: Eurozone ministers discuss terms of second bailout BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (16/5/11)
Greece dominates eurozone talks in Brussels BBC News, Matthew Price (17/5/11)
S&P moves to cut Greek credit rating Financial Times, Richard Milne, Tracy Alloway and Ralph Atkins (9/5/11)
One Year After the Bailout, Greece is Still Hurting Time Magazine, Joanna Kakissis (12/5/11)
What price a Greek haircut? BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (10/5/11)
What is debt ‘reprofiling’? BBC News, Laurence Knight (17/5/11)
Reprofiling: Greece’s restructuring-lite Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (17/5/11)
- What are the arguments for and against tough austerity measures for Greece and other eurozone countries with high deficits, such as Portugal and Ireland?
- Should Greece seek a restructuring of its debts?
- What is a ‘haircut’ and is this a suitable form of restructuring?
- What are the arguments for and against a default, or partical default, by the Greek government on its debt?
- Is it in the intesests of European banks to offer a further bailout to Greece?
- What should be the role of the IMF in the current situation in Greece?