Opinion

Greece’s debt burden can and must be lightened within the Euro

The current link between debt servicing and membership of the single currency leads to a vicious circle that increases uncertainty, weakens growth and makes full debt repayment less likely. There will be no confidence and no growth in Greece without a solution to the debt problem.

By: , and Date: August 5, 2015 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

2000px-Frankfurter_Allgemeine_logo.svg

Il Sole logo

Kathemerini

This post was originally published in German in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 23 July 2015. It was also published in Il Sole 24 Ore and Kathimerini.

Perhaps the greatest damage caused by the confrontation with Greece is a general loss of confidence. If we want to get Greece back to growth, people, companies and investors have to regain confidence in the viability of the country. For this to work, a legitimate and competent government as well as an efficient administration and judiciary are essential. Yet the issue of debt sustainability is still central, even if the debt servicing costs are negligible in the short term. No one doubts the IMF’s analysis that the sustainability of Greek government debt constitutes a key precondition for recovery.

The third program, which is now being negotiated, aims to put Greece back where it stood at the end of last year: with growth expectations of almost 3%. This third programme is intended to be the exact opposite of a transfer program. It aims to strengthen the Greek economy and thereby protect the loans and guarantees provided by the creditors. A large part of the disbursements will go into debt repayments to official creditors. This is important, but not enough. The current link between debt servicing and membership of the single currency leads to a vicious circle that increases uncertainty, weakens growth and makes full debt repayment less likely. There will be no confidence and no growth in Greece without a solution to the debt problem.

We suggest breaking this vicious cycle by tying the interest rates on the loans to the growth rate of the Greek economy, together with a conditional debt moratorium. A Greece without growth should not pay any interest or make any repayments. The stronger the growth rate, the higher the interest and repayments to European creditors. The debt moratorium would mean that Greece could push back the repayments if it has not reached a certain level of GDP by 2022, when it is scheduled to begin servicing its debts to the European creditors.

Such a solution would end the uncertainty and recognise the fact that Greek growth is a joint European concern and a prerequisite for Greece to service its debts. Stability and confidence could return. Much of the cause for the current political confrontation would be gone. Meanwhile, such an approach would not reduce the incentives for reform. It is in the self-interest of any Greek government to pursue growth-friendly reforms. Of course, it will be necessary to design the plan in such a way as to avoid moral hazard; yet this is possible and the conditions are favourable. Such a solution would also be advantageous for the creditors. Some form of debt relief is inevitable. The main advantage of our proposal is that creditors would benefit if growth resumes and thereby reclaim more of their loans than otherwise possible. At the same time, our proposal has only a negligible impact on the creditors’ current budgets and would thus have no meaningful consequences for the constitutional debt limits of member states.

A payment moratorium, essentially a way to restructure Greece’s debt to its official creditors – the other member states of the euro area, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – is legally permissible within the Euro. The opinion of the German finance ministry, that only a temporary Grexit allows any restructuring, is unconvincing. In the 2012 Pringle case the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that Article 125 of the Lisbon Treaty, often wrongly termed the ‘no-bailout clause’, “does not prohibit the granting of financial assistance by one or more Member States to a Member State…provided that the conditions attached to such assistance are such as to prompt that Member State to implement a sound budgetary policy.” Of course it was financial support and not debt restructuring that was the subject of this ruling. However, the ECJ then decided that even the European Central Bank (ECB) could take on significant financial risk in its Outright Monetary Transactions, as long as it acted in accordance with its mandate. Although the ECJ did not explicitly rule that the ECB could participate in a debt restructuring, it can be surmised from the rationale of its reasoning that the ECB can accept such a restructuring so long as it is vital for monetary policy to take the original risk. The ECB’s legal framework is especially strict because of the ban on monetary financing. Nevertheless, if the ECB is allowed to accept a restructuring, then a restructuring of Greek debt held by other member states, the EFSF and the ESM cannot be considered to breach Article 125 – so long as it aims to achieve budgetary stability in Greece. From an outcomes-oriented perspective, this argument also covers the conditional debt moratorium suggested here.

In much the same way, domestic constitutional law does not prohibit such a solution. For example, the German Constitutional Court focusses on the need for any financial risk to be manageable for the Federal Republic, and for the budgetary independence of the Bundestag to be protected. Of course many constitutional questions have yet to be answered, but our suggestion moves within the scope and along the path of previous decisions.

The permissibility of any such debt moratorium has two conditions. Firstly, a restructuring must be needed for the preservation of the euro area, which the IMF has proven in the case of Greece. Secondly, it must be accompanied by a programme of structural reforms aiming at budgetary discipline and effective institutions. This will hopefully be agreed upon for the third programme. The conditions for a far-reaching modernisation of the Greek state have never appeared so favourable: the government is starting to implement reforms; the country has declared itself open to rigorous oversight; the Greek population has just lived through a ‘near death experience’.

There are no firm legal arguments against tying Greek debt servicing to growth rates of the Greek economy, or against a conditional debt moratorium. From an economic perspective such a solution will not just improve the chances of repayment. It would also show that Germany and the other creditors have an interest in helping Greece and guaranteeing the stability of the Euro.

 

 


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to communication@bruegel.org.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

GNI-per-head rankings: The sad stories of Greece and Italy

No other country lost as many positions as Greece and Italy in the rankings of European countries by Gross National Income per head, between 1990 and 2017. The tentative conclusion here is that more complex, country-specific stories – beyond the euro, or the specific euro-area fiscal rules – are needed to explain these individual performances.

By: Francesco Papadia Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 18, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

ΕΥΡΩΕΚΛΟΓΕΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΟ ΜΕΛΛΟΝ ΤΗΣ ΕΥΡΩΠΗΣ

Είναι γεγονός ότι οι τωρινές εκλογές λόγω της ανάπτυξης των κομμάτων του λαϊκισμού είναι κάπως διαφορετικές από τις προηγούμενες. Αλλά πιστεύω ότι όλες οι εκλογικές διαδικασίες, εθνικές και ευρωπαϊκές, έχουν πάντα πολύ μεγάλη σημασία γιατί θέτουν μια ατζέντα για τα επόμενα πέντε χρόνια και εμείς ως πολίτες καλούμαστε να επιλέξουμε τις σωστές προτεραιότητες και να δώσουμε την εμπιστοσύνη μας στους κατάλληλους ανθρώπους.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 28, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

After the ESM programme: Options for Greek bank restructuring

With the end of the Greece support programme, authorities now have scope to focus on the legacy of NPLs and excess private-sector debt. Two wide-ranging schemes are under discussion. They should be assessed in terms of required state support, likely investor appetite for problematic bank assets, and institutional capacity to manage a complex new organisation tasked with debt restructuring.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 29, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic More by this author

Essay / Lecture

A new statistical system for the European Union

Quality statistics are essential to economic policy. In this essay, Andreas Georgiou demonstrates the existence of fundamental risks inherent in the European Statistical System. He argues that a paradigm shift is necessary and sets out a model that would deliver the quality statistics the European Union needs.

By: Andreas Georgiou Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 12, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

The great macro divergence

Global growth is expected to continue in 2019 and 2020, albeit at a slower pace. Forecasters are notoriously bad, however, at spotting macroeconomic turning points and the road ahead is hard to read. Potential obstacles abound.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: December 5, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Greece: What to expect after the bail-out

After being under the close scrutiny of three financial assistance programmes since May 2010, Greece has finally left the bail-out in August 2018. How different is the post-bail-out era from the preceding eight years? Will Greece be able to stand on its own? And how might the country improve its economic outlook? In this post, which summarises a presentation recently given at an Athens conference, the author answers these three questions.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: October 9, 2018
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

The ECB is compromising the attractiveness of euro-area sovereign bonds

The ECB should refine its collateral framework in order to continue protecting its balance sheet without putting at risk the safe-asset status of sovereign bonds of the euro area.

By: Grégory Claeys and Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: August 29, 2018
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

Integrity of official statistics under threat

Andreas Georgiou has unwittingly become an international icon for statistical integrity. His continuing politically-motivated persecution is highly damaging for Greece, and more broadly for the credibility and reputation of the euro area.

By: Edwin M. Truman and Nicolas Véron Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: August 10, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Griechenland braucht einen Neuanfang

This was first published by Die Zeit. Acht Jahre nach Beginn des ersten Hilfsprogramms für Griechenland ist es soweit – Griechenland soll wieder auf eigenen Füßen stehen. Die Eurogruppe soll heute das Ende des dritten Hilfsprogramms beschließen und die Modalitäten für die Zeit danach definieren. Ziel sollte es jetzt sein, einen tragfähigen Ausstieg aus dieser für alle Seiten […]

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: July 3, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The European Union must defend Andreas Georgiou

Andreas Georgiou’s case raises disturbing questions about the integrity of European statistical processes. Forceful action by EU authorities on Mr Georgiou’s case is long overdue. The European Union also needs to consider reforming its statistical framework to ensure a similar scandal cannot recur.

By: Nicolas Véron Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 26, 2018
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Is the ECB collateral framework compromising the safe-asset status of euro-area sovereign bonds?

Central banks’ collateral frameworks play an important role in defining what is considered as a safe asset. However, the ECB’s framework is unsatisfactory because it is overly reliant on pro-cyclical ratings from credit rating agencies, and because the differences in haircuts between the different ECB credit quality steps are not sufficiently gradual. In this note, the authors propose how the ECB could solve these problems and improve its collateral framework to protect its balance sheet without putting at risk the safe status of sovereign bonds of the euro area.

By: Grégory Claeys and Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 8, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Greece must capitalise on its growth momentum

Better-than-expected growth performance reflects the underlying positive changes in the Greek economy – but net investment is in fact negative, while Greece has various institutional weaknesses. Further improvements must be made regarding Greece’s attractiveness to foreign direct investment. A new (at least precautionary) financial assistance programme would improve trust in continued reforms and also address eventual public debt financing difficulties.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 26, 2018
Load more posts