Opinion

Debt relief or a fourth financial assistance programme for Greece?

The Eurogroup faces a difficult choice on Greece — implementing a debt reduction plan drastic enough to make a return to market borrowing possible, or agreeing to a fourth financial assistance programme and continuing to fund Greece at the preferential lending rate.

By: Date: May 22, 2017 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

This op-ed was originally published in Kathimerini.

Kathimerini

After long delays and tough negotiations, the Greek parliament has formally adopted the measures needed to conclude the current review of the third financial assistance programme, amid protests on the streets. The Greek government now expects the Eurogroup to come up with debt relief measures.

We have been here before. The conclusion of almost every review of the various Greek financial assistance programmes went the same way and left largely unfulfilled expectations for debt relief.

Meanwhile, even though almost two-thirds of the three-year financial assistance programme has passed, the IMF is still hesitating to join this third programme. Beyond various reforms, IMF demands lowered fiscal targets and debt relief – applied only to the European part of the official loans, not its own.

Debt relief measures were promised by European lenders at the inception of the current third financial assistance programme. Those measures were supposed to be specified toward the end of the programme, conditional on Greece implementing the programme conditions.

The programme ends in only about a year from now and Greece is implementing it, so it is time to think about what will come after.

There is certainly promising good news: economic growth in the past two years was much better than expected and growth is set to accelerate in the coming years. Unemployment is decreasing, though painfully slowly. The Greek government’s primary budget surplus well exceeded expectations and reached 3.9% of GDP in 2016. What’s more, since the Greek economy is estimated to perform well below its potential output level, the so-called cyclically-adjusted primary budget surplus reached an astonishing 8.7% of GDP in 2016, according to the European Commission’s May 2017 estimates. While the Commission’s cyclical adjustment methodology has a number of weaknesses (as I argued here), the 8.7% primary surplus estimate is remarkable. It suggests that, after all the negotiations and the pain, Greece has implemented major fiscal adjustments.

So what’s next? While Greek public debt is expected to fall, it remains very high. The European Commission’s most recent projection foresees a decline from 179.0% of GDP in 2016 to 174.6% in 2018. Even if Greece maintains an overall budget balance, new borrowing will be needed, because a large amount of debt will mature in the coming years which will have to be repaid (see here). Given the high level of debt, the dominant share of official creditors in Greek debt and all the uncertainties that characterise the Greek economy and politics, it is unreasonable to assume that Greece will be able to return to market borrowing at an affordable rate in the foreseeable future.

This leaves bitter choices for the Eurogroup: implement a debt reduction plan drastic enough to make a return to market borrowing possible, or to agree to a fourth financial assistance programme and continue to fund Greece at a preferential lending rate. None of the options is attractive to euro-area lenders.

Greece has suffered a dramatic economic and social collapse since 2008 and all Greek governments have bowed to the decisions of the Eurogroup. It is now time to fulfill the promise of debt relief and thereby offer more hope for the future.


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 Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Contribution

How to improve European Union cohesion policy for the next decade

This policy contribution investigates the performance of the design, implementation and effectiveness of cohesion policy, the most evaluated EU tool for promoting economic convergence. By analysing the effects of cohesion policy on economic growth through reviewing literature, conducting empirical research by comparing regions, as well as considering attitudes and expectations collected through interviewing stakeholders, the authors provide reform recommendations.

By: Zsolt Darvas, Jan Mazza and Catarina Midoes Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 23, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Europe after Sibiu: Towards differentiated integration?

A comprehensive follow-up to the Informal European Council in Sibiu, Romania.

Speakers: Andrew Duff, John Erik Fossum, Paweł Karbownik and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: May 21, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

European bank resolution plans are undermined by a lack of transparency

The discussions of the now-aborted merger of Germany’s two largest banks underlined supervisors’ concerns over creating banks that are too big or too complex to fail. While European banks are increasingly funded through securities that could be subject to a bail-in, transparency over how any resolutions would unfold is as yet very poor.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: May 15, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Germany’s even larger than expected fiscal surpluses: Is there a link with the constitutional debt brake?

Germany is having a political debate on the adjustment of its budgetary plans due to revised forecasts, and an academic debate on the debt brake. Yet, since 2011, general government revenues and surpluses have been systematically and significantly higher than forecast. The German surplus reached 1.7% of GDP in 2018. This bias did not exist from 1999-2008 before the introduction of the debt brake. While the IMF also got its forecasts of German surpluses wrong, the extent of the bias is larger for the German government’s forecasts. These data suggest that the political debate should focus on the debt brake and its implementation rather than on how to close the budgetary ‘hole’.

By: Catarina Midoes and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 13, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Spitzenkandidaten series: Frans Timmermans

The sixth event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Mehreen Khan, André Sapir and Frans Timmermans Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: April 11, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Spitzenkandidaten series: Manfred Weber

The fifth event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Manfred Weber and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: April 9, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Spitzenkandidaten series: Jan Zahradil

The fourth event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Jim Brunsden, Maria Demertzis and Jan Zahradil Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: April 4, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Spitzenkandidaten series: Luis Garicano

The third event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Luis Garicano, Mehreen Khan and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: April 3, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Spitzenkandidaten series: Bas Eickhout

The second event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Bas Eickhout, Guntram B. Wolff and Rochelle Toplensky Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: April 2, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Spitzenkandidaten series: Yanis Varoufakis

The first event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, Martin Sandbu and Yanis Varoufakis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 26, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

The European Union must change its supervisory architecture to fight money laundering

Money laundering scandals at EU banks have become pervasive. The authors here detail the weaknesses the current AML architecture's fundamental weaknesses and propose a new framework.

By: Joshua Kirschenbaum and Nicolas Véron Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 26, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Whose (fiscal) debt is it anyway?

The authors map how much fiscal debt is in the hands of domestic and foreign holders in the euro area. While the market for debt was much more international prior to the crisis, this trend has since been reversed. At the same time, central banks have become important holders of fiscal debt.

By: Maria Demertzis and David Pichler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 6, 2019
Load more posts