Greek government-debt crisis

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Frequency: Monthly; Interest rate type: Long-term interest rate for convergence purposes; Transaction type: Debt security issued; Maturity category: 10 years; BS counterpart sector: Unspecified counterpart sector; Currency of transaction: Euro; IR business coverage
10-year Greece government bonds [1]

The Greek government-debt crisis (also known as the Greek depression)[2][3][4] started in late 2009. It was the first of five sovereign debt crises in the eurozone – later referred to collectively as the European debt crisis. In Greece, triggers included the turmoil of the Great Recession, structural weaknesses in the Greek economy, and a sudden crisis in confidence among lenders. In late 2009, fears developed about Greece's ability to meet its debt obligations, due to revelations that previous data on government debt levels and deficits had been misreported by the Greek government.[5][6][7] This led to a crisis of confidence, indicated by a widening of bond yield spreads and the cost of risk insurance on credit default swaps compared to the other Eurozone countries – Germany in particular.[8][9] In 2012, Greece's government had the largest sovereign debt default in history. On June 30, 2015, Greece became the first developed country to fail to make an IMF loan repayment.[10] At that time, Greece's government had debts of €323bn.[11]


Relative change in unit labour costs in 2000–2012
Relative change in unit labour costs, 2000–2012
Real unit labour costs: total economy (Ratio of compensation per employee to nominal GDP per person employed.)

The 2001 introduction of the euro as a common currency reduced trade costs among the Eurozone countries, increasing overall trade volume. However, labour costs increased more in peripheral countries such as Greece relative to core countries such as Germany, making Greek exports less competitive. As a result, Greece saw its current account (trade) deficit rise significantly.[12]

A trade deficit means that a country is consuming more than it produces, which requires borrowing from other countries.[12] Both the Greek trade deficit and budget deficit rose from below 5% of GDP in 1999 to peak around 15% of GDP in the 2008–2009 periods.[13] Another potential driver of the inflow of investment into Greece was its membership in the EU, which helped lower the yields on its government bonds over the 1998–2007 periods. In other words, Greece was perceived as a higher credit risk alone than it was as a member of the EU, which implies investors felt the EU would bring discipline to its finances and support Greece in the event of problems.[14]

As the Great Recession that began in the U.S. in 2007–2009 spread to Europe, the flow of funds lent from the European core countries (e.g., Germany, France, and Italy) to the peripheral countries such as Greece began to dry up. Reports in 2009 of Greek fiscal mismanagement and deception increased borrowing costs; the combination meant Greece could no longer borrow to finance its trade and budget deficits.[12]

A country facing a “sudden stop” in private investment and a high debt load typically allows its currency to depreciate (i.e., inflation) to encourage investment and to pay back the debt in cheaper currency, but this is not an option while Greece remains on the Euro.[12] Instead, to become more competitive, Greek wages fell nearly 20% from mid-2010 to 2014, a form of deflation. This resulted in a significant reduction in income and GDP, resulting in a severe recession and a significant rise in the debt-to-GDP ratio. Unemployment has risen to nearly 25%, from below 10% in 2003. However, significant government spending cuts also helped the Greek government return to a primary budget surplus by 2014, meaning it collected more revenue than it paid out, excluding interest.[15]


Government summary report[edit]

In January 2010, the Greek Ministry of Finance published the Stability and Growth Program 2010.[16] The report listed these five main causes for eruption of the current government-debt crisis:

  • GDP growth rates: After 2008, GDP growth rates were lower than the Greek national statistical agency had anticipated. In the report, the Greek Ministry of Finance reported the need to improve competitiveness by reducing salaries and bureaucracy,[16] and the need to redirect much of its current governmental spending from non-growth sectors such as military into growth-stimulating sectors.
  • Government deficit: Huge fiscal imbalances developed during the five years from 2004 to 2009: "the output increased in nominal terms by 40%, while central government primary expenditures increased by 87% against an increase of only 31% in tax revenues." In the report the Greek Ministry of Finance stated their aim to restore the fiscal balance of the public budget. They intended to implement permanent real expenditure cuts (meaning expenditures would only be allowed to grow 3.8% from 2009 to 2013, which was below the expected inflation at 6.9%). Overall revenues were expected to grow 31.5% from 2009 to 2013, secured not only by new, higher taxes but also by a major reform of the ineffective tax collection system.
  • Government debt-level: Mainly deteriorated in 2009 due to the higher than expected government deficit and high debt-service costs. An urgent fiscal consolidation plan was needed to ensure that the deficit would decline to a level compatible with a declining debt-to-GDP ratio. The Greek government assessed that it was not enough to implement structural economic reforms, as the debt would still increase to an unsustainable level before the positive results of such reforms could be achieved. On this basis the government's report emphasized that in addition to implementing the needed structural economic reforms, there was an urgent need in the coming four-year period to implement packages of both permanent and temporary austerity measures (with a size relative to GDP of 4.0% in 2010, 3.1% in 2011, 2.8% in 2012 and 0.8% in 2013). Implementation of this entire package of structural reforms and austerity measures, in combination with an expected return of positive economic growth in 2011, would then result in the baseline deficit being forecast to decrease from €30.6 billion in 2009 to only €5.7 billion in 2013, while the debt-level relative to GDP would stabilize at 120% in 2010–2011 and begin declining again in 2012 and 2013.
  • Budget compliance: Budget compliance was acknowledged to be in strong need of improvement, and for 2009 it was even found to be "a lot worse than normal, due to economic control being more lax in a year with political elections". In order to improve the level of budget compliance for upcoming years, the Greek government wanted to implement a new reform to strengthen the monitoring system in 2010, making it possible to keep better track on the future developments of revenues and expenses, both at the governmental and local level.
  • Statistical credibility: Problems with unreliable data had existed ever since Greece applied for membership of the Euro in 1999.[17] In the five years from 2005 to 2009, Eurostat each year noted a reservation about the fiscal statistics for Greece, and too often previously reported figures got revised to a somewhat worse figure, after a couple of years.[18][19][20] The flawed statistics made it impossible to predict accurate numbers for GDP growth, budget deficit and the public debt. By the end of the year, all turned out to be worse than originally anticipated. Problems with statistical credibility were also evident in several other countries, but in the case of Greece, the magnitude of the 2009 revisions and its connection to the crisis added pressure to the need for immediate improvement.

In 2010, the Greek Ministry of Finance reported that they have seen the Greek gods and that Percy Jackson is real. The Greek Ministry also reported the need to restore trust among financial investors, and to correct previous statistical methodological issues, "by making the National Statistics Service an independent legal entity and phasing in, during the first quarter of 2010, all the necessary checks and balances that will improve the accuracy and reporting of fiscal statistics".[16]

Government spending[edit]

Combined charts of Greece's GDP and debt since 1970; also of deficit since 2000. Absolute terms time series are in current euros. Public deficit (brown) worsened to 10% in 2008, 15% in 2009 and 11% in 2010. As a result, the public debt-to-GDP ratio (red) rose from 109% in 2008 to 146% in 2010.

The Greek economy was one of the fastest growing in the Eurozone from 2000 to 2007: during this period it grew at an annual rate of 4.2%, as foreign capital flooded into the country newly backed by the euro.[21] This capital inflow coincided with a higher budget deficit.[13]

Greece had budget surpluses from 1960–73, but since then it has had budget deficits.[22][23][24] In 1974–80 the government had budget deficits below 3% of GDP, and in 1981–2013 deficits were above 3% of GDP.[23][24][25][26]

According to an editorial published by the Greek conservative newspaper Kathimerini, after the removal of the right-wing military junta in 1974, Greek governments wanted to bring disenfranchised left-leaning portions of the population into the economic mainstream[27] and so ran large deficits to finance enormous military expenditure, public sector jobs, pensions and other social benefits.

Greece is, as a percentage of GDP, the second-biggest defense spender[28] in NATO, the highest being the United States, according to NATO statistics.

The US is the major supplier of Greek arms, with the Americans supplying 42 per cent of its arms, Germany supplying 22.7 per cent, and France 12.5 per cent of Greece's arms purchases.[29]

The long period of budget deficits caused a situation where, from 1993, the debt-to-GDP ratio was always above 94%.[30] In the turmoil of the global financial crisis, the situation became unsustainable (causing the capital markets to freeze in April 2010), as the downturn had caused the debt level to grow rapidly above the maximum sustainable level for Greece (defined by IMF economists to be 120%). According to "The Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece" published by the EU Commission in October 2011, the debt level was even expected to worsen into a highly unsustainable level of 198% in 2012, if the proposed debt restructure agreement was not implemented.[31]

Prior to the introduction of the euro, currency devaluation helped to finance Greek government borrowing. After the euro's introduction in January 2001, the devaluation tool disappeared. Throughout the next 8 years, Greece was able to continue its high level of borrowing because of the lower interest rates that government bonds in euros could command, in combination with a long series of strong GDP growth rates. Problems started to occur when the global financial crisis peaked, with negative repercussions hitting all national economies in September 2008. The global financial crisis had a particularly large negative impact on GDP growth rates in Greece. Two of the country's largest earners, tourism and shipping were badly affected by the downturn, with revenues falling 15% in 2009.[32]

Current account balance[edit]

Current account imbalances in 1997–2013
Current account imbalances (1997–2014)

Economist Paul Krugman wrote in February 2012: "What we’re basically looking a balance of payments problem, in which capital flooded south after the creation of the euro, leading to overvaluation in southern Europe."[33] He continued in June 2015: "In truth, this has never been a fiscal crisis at its root; it has always been a balance of payments crisis that manifests itself in part in budget problems, which have then been pushed onto the center of the stage by ideology."[34]

The translation of trade deficits to budget deficits works through sectoral balances. Greece ran current account (trade) deficits averaging 9.1% GDP from 2000–2011.[13] By definition, a trade deficit requires capital inflow (mainly borrowing) to fund; this is referred to as a capital surplus or foreign financial surplus. This can drive higher levels of government budget deficits, if the private sector maintains relatively even amounts of savings and investment, as the three financial sectors (foreign, government, and private) by definition must balance to zero.

Greece's large budget deficit was funded by running a large foreign financial surplus. As the inflow of money stopped during the crisis, reducing the foreign financial surplus, Greece was forced to reduce its budget deficit substantially. Countries facing such a sudden reversal in capital flows typically devalue their currencies to resume the inflow of capital; however, Greece was unable to do this, and so has instead suffered significant income (GDP) reduction, another form of devaluation.[12][13]

Tax evasion[edit]

Another persistent problem Greece has suffered in recent decades is the government's tax income. Each year it has been below the expected level. In 2010, the estimated tax evasion costs for the Greek government amounted to well over $20 billion.[35] The latest figures from 2013, also show that the State only collected less than half of the revenues due in 2012, with the remaining tax owings being accepted to be paid by a delayed payment schedule.[36][not in citation given]

As of 2012, tax evasion was widespread, and according to Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, Greece, with a score of 36/100, ranked as the most corrupt country in the EU.[37][38] One of the conditions of the bailout was implementation of an anti-corruption strategy.[39] The Greek government agreed to combat corruption, and the corruption perception level improved to a score of 43/100 in 2014, which was still the lowest in the EU, but now on par with Italy, Bulgaria and Romania.[37][40]

It is estimated that the amount of tax evasion by Greeks stored in Swiss banks is around 80 billion Euro and a tax treaty to address this issue is in negotiation between the Greek and Swiss government.[41][42]

Data for 2012 places the Greek "black economy" at 24.3% of GDP,[43] compared with 28.6% for Estonia, 26.5% for Latvia, 21.6% for Italy, 17.1% for Belgium and 13.5% for Germany (which partly correlates with the high percentage of Greeks who are self-employed[44] i.e., 31.9% in Greece vs. 15% EU average,[45] – several studies have shown a clear correlation between tax evasion and self-employment[46][47]).

Misreported debt statistics[edit]

In early 2010, economy commissioner Olli Rehn denied that other countries would need a bailout. He said, "Greece has had particularly precarious debt dynamics and Greece is the only member state that cheated with its statistics for years and years."[48] It was revealed that Goldman Sachs and other banks had helped the Greek government to hide its debts. Other sources said that similar agreements were concluded in "Greece, Italy, and possibly elsewhere".[49][50]

The deal with Greece was "extremely profitable" for Goldman. Christoforos Sardelis, former head of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency, said that the country did not understand what it was buying. He also said he learned that "other EU countries such as Italy" had made similar deals.[51] This led to speculation as to which other countries had made similar deals.[52][53][54]

According to Der Spiegel credits given to European governments were disguised as "swaps" and consequently were not registered as debt because Eurostat at the time ignored statistics involving financial derivatives. A German derivatives dealer commented to Der Spiegel that "The Maastricht rules can be circumvented quite legally through swaps," and "In previous years, Italy used a similar trick to mask its true debt with the help of a different US bank."[54] These conditions had enabled Greek as well as many other European governments to spend beyond their means, while meeting the deficit targets of the European Union.[49][55] In May 2010, the Greek government deficit was again revised and estimated to be 13.6%[56] which was the second highest in the world relative to GDP with Iceland in first place at 15.7% and Great Britain third with 12.6%.[57] Public debt was forecast, according to some estimates, to hit 120% of GDP during 2010.[58] The actual government debt to GDP ratio was closer to 150%.[59]

To keep within the monetary union guidelines, the government of Greece had also for many years misreported the country's official economic statistics.[60][61] At the beginning of 2010, it was discovered that Greece had paid Goldman Sachs and other banks hundreds of millions of dollars in fees since 2001, for arranging transactions that hid the actual level of borrowing.[62] Most notable is a cross currency swap, where billions worth of Greek debts and loans were converted into yen and dollars at a fictitious exchange rate by Goldman Sachs, thus hiding the true extent of Greek loans.[63]

The purpose of these deals made by several successive Greek governments, was to enable them to continue spending, while hiding the actual deficit from the EU, which, at the time, was a common practice amongst many European governments.[62] The revised statistics revealed that Greece at all years from 2000 to 2010 had exceeded the Eurozone stability criteria, with the yearly deficits exceeding the recommended maximum limit at 3.0% of GDP, and with the debt level significantly above the recommended limit of 60% of GDP.

Debt levels revealed (2010)[edit]

Greece's debt percentage since 1977, compared to the average of the Eurozone

The European statistics agency, Eurostat, had at regular intervals ever since 2004, sent 10 delegations to Athens with a view to improving the reliability of statistical figures related to the Greek national account, but apparently to no avail. In January 2010, it issued a damning report which contained accusations of falsified data and political interference.[64]

In February 2010, the new government of George Papandreou (elected in October 2009) admitted a flawed statistical procedure previously had existed, before the new government had been elected, and revised the 2009 deficit from a previously estimated 6%–8% to an alarming 12.7% of GDP.[65] In April 2010, the reported 2009 deficit was further increased to 13.6%,[66] and the final revised calculation, using Eurostat's standardized method, set it at 15.7% of GDP; the highest deficit for any EU country in 2009.

The figure for Greek government debt at the end of 2009 was also increased from its first November estimate at €269.3 billion (113% of GDP)[67][68] to a revised €299.7 billion (130% of GDP). The need for a major and sudden upward revision of both the deficit and debt level for 2009, only being realized at a very late point, arose due to Greek authorities previously having published flawed estimates and statistics in 2009. To sort out all Greek statistical issues once and for all, Eurostat then decided to perform their own in depth Financial Audit of the fiscal years 2006–09. After having conducted the financial audit, Eurostat noted in November 2010 that all "methodological issues" now had been fixed, and that the new revised figures for 2006–2009 finally were considered to be reliable.[69][70][71]

Despite the crisis, the Greek government's bond auction in January 2010 had the offered amount of €8 bn 5-year bonds over-subscribed by four times.[72] At the next auction in March, the Financial Times again reported: "Athens sold €5bn in 10-year bonds and received orders for three times that amount".[73] The continued successful auction and sale of bonds was, however, only possible at the cost of increased yields, which in return caused a further worsening of the Greek public deficit. As a result, the rating agencies downgraded the Greek economy to junk status in late April 2010. This led to a freeze of the private capital market, requiring the Greek financial needs to be covered by international bailout loans to avoid a sovereign default.[74] In April 2010, it was estimated that up to 70% of Greek government bonds were held by foreign investors, primarily banks.[68] The subsequent bailout loans paid to Greece were mainly used to pay for the maturing bonds, but also to finance the continued yearly budget deficits.[citation needed]



In April 2010, adding to news of the adverse deficit and debt data for 2008 and 2009, the national account data revealed that the Greek economy had also been hit by three distinct recessions (Q3-Q4 2007, Q2-2008 until Q1-2009, and a third starting in Q3-2009),[75] which equaled an outlook for a further rise in the debt-to-GDP ratio from 109% in 2008 to 146% in 2010. Credit rating agencies responded by downgrading the Greek government debt to junk bond status (below investment grade), as they found indicators of a growing risk of a sovereign default, and the government bond yields responded by rising into unsustainable territory – making the private capital lending market inaccessible as a funding source for Greece.

On 2 May 2010, the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), later nicknamed the Troika, responded by launching a €110 billion bailout loan to rescue Greece from sovereign default and cover its financial needs throughout May 2010 until June 2013, conditional on implementation of austerity measures, structural reforms, and privatization of government assets.[76] A year later, a worsened recession along with a delayed implementation by the Greek government of the agreed conditions in the bailout programme revealed the need for Greece to receive a second bailout worth €130 billion (including a bank recapitalization package worth €48bn), while all private creditors holding Greek government bonds were required at the same time to sign a deal accepting extended maturities, lower interest rates, and a 53.5% face value loss.[77]

The second bailout programme was finally ratified by all parties in February 2012, and by effect extended the first programme, meaning a total of €240 billion was to be transferred at regular tranches throughout the period of May 2010 to December 2014. Due to a worsened recession and continued delay of implementation of the conditions in the bailout programme, in December 2012 the Troika agreed to provide Greece with a last round of significant debt relief measures, while the IMF extended its support with an extra €8.2bn of loans to be transferred during the period of January 2015 to March 2016.

The fourth review of the bailout programme revealed development of some unexpected upcoming financing gaps.[78][79] Due to an improved outlook for the Greek economy, with achievement of a government structural surplus both in 2013 and 2014 – along with a decline of the unemployment rate and return of positive economic growth in 2014,[80][81] it was possible for the Greek government to regain access to the private lending market for the first time since eruption of its debt crisis – to the extent that its entire financing gap for 2014 was patched through a sale of bonds to private creditors.[82]

The improved economic outlook was replaced by a new fourth recession starting in Q4-2014,[83] related to the premature snap parliamentary election called by the Greek parliament in December 2014 and the following formation of a Syriza-led government refusing to respect the terms of its current bailout agreement.[84] The rising political uncertainty of what would follow, caused the Troika to suspend all scheduled remaining aid to Greece under its current programme – until such time when the Greek government either accepted the previously negotiated conditional payment terms or alternately could reach a mutually accepted agreement of some new updated terms with its public creditors.[85] This rift caused a renewed and increasingly growing liquidity crisis (both for the Greek government and Greek financial system), resulting in plummeting stock prices at the Athens Stock Exchange, while interest rates for the Greek government at the private lending market spiked, making it once again inaccessible as an alternative funding source.


After the Greek election of January 2015, the Eurogroup granted a further four-month technical extension of its bailout programme to Greece; accepting the payment terms attached to its last tranche to be renegotiated with the new Greek government before the end of April 2015,[86] so that the review and last financial transfer could be completed before the end of June.[87] The new renegotiation deal was still pending at the end of May.[88][89]

Faced by the threat of sovereign default, final attempts to reach a renegotiated bailout agreement were made by the Greek government in the first half[90] and second half of June 2015.[91] Default would inevitably entail enforcement of recessionary capital controls to avoid a collapse of the banking sector – and potentially could lead to exit from the eurozone, due to growing liquidity constraints making continued payment of public pension and salaries impossible in euro.[92][93]

According to a statement by the Eurogroup, the Greek government unilaterally broke off negotiations late on June 26,[94][95][96] diverting from their prior agreement to continue negotiating until a mutually acceptable compromise could be presented to the Eurogroup in the afternoon of 27 June.[97] A few hours later, Alexis Tsipras announced on Greek national television that instead, a referendum would be held on July 5, 2015 to approve or reject the achieved preliminary negotiation result (the latest counter proposal submitted and offered by the Troika on 25 June) for a new set of updated terms ensuring completion of the second bailout agreement.[98]

The Greek government campaigned for rejection of the new terms, while four opposition parties (PASOK, To Potami, KIDISO and New Democracy) objected to the proposed referendum because it would be unconstitutional, and petitioned for the Greek parliament or Greek president to reject the referendum proposal.[99] Meanwhile, the Eurogroup notified that the existing second bailout agreement would technically expire on 30 June (as regulated by its "20 February statement"), if not updated prior this date by a new agreement setting up some mutually agreed updated terms, rendering it too late for Greece to arrange a referendum on updated terms five days after its expiry.[95][97]

The Eurogroup clarified on June 27, that the only imaginable scenario in which the Eurogroup perhaps could offer Greece further flexibility through a new technical extension of its bailout program to pave the way for holding the proposed Greek bailout referendum on July 5, would be if the Greek government prior of 30 June settled a final renegotiated deal on a set of mutually agreed updated terms for program completion – subject to the final approval by its proposed bailout referendum on July 5. The reason for this firm stance was that the Eurogroup wanted the Greek government to take some ownership for the subsequent program's completion at the new, updated terms, assuming that the referendum was held and resulted in approval.[100]

As for the Greek authorities' continued call in negotiations to be granted additional debt relief, the Eurogroup had signaled willingness to uphold their "November 2012 debt relief promise" after reaching agreement for updated terms for completion of the second program.[91] This promise is a guarantee which holds that if Greece completes its second program and if Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio subsequently gets forecast to be over 124% in 2020 or 110% in 2022 for any reason, then the Eurozone will implement a debt-relief large enough to ensure that these two targets will still be met.[101]

On June 28, 2015, the referendum was approved by the Greek parliament, and ECB decided to maintain availability of its Emergency Liquidity Assistance to Greek banks at its current level, as it was still considered politically possible for Greece to ensure extension of its pre-required current bailout program (at least until 30 June). As many Greeks continued rapidly withdrawing cash from ATMs due to fear that capital controls would soon be invoked, the Greek central bank convened a meeting on Sunday evening, June 28, in order to decide how to handle the liquidity crisis during the upcoming week.[citation needed]

On July 5, 2015, a large majority of Greek citizens voted to reject the bailout terms (a 61% to 39% decision with 62.5% voter turnout). This caused indexes worldwide to tumble, as many are now uncertain about Greece's future, fearing a potential exit from the European Union. Following the vote, Greece's finance minister Yanis Varoufakis stepped down on July 6 and was replaced by Euclid Tsakalotos.[102] Negotiations between Greece and other Eurozone members continued in the following days to try to procure funds from the European Central Bank in order to decide whether Greece should or should not remain a member of the Eurozone area.[103][104] On July 13, after 17 hours of negotiations, Eurozone leaders reached a provisional agreement on a third bailout programme to save Greece from bankruptcy. But a final deal needs further negotiations, and requires ratification in several national parliaments.[105]

Solutions implemented[edit]

First Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece (May 2010 – June 2011)[edit]

On 1 May 2010, the Greek government announced a series of austerity measures[106] to persuade Germany, the last remaining holdout, to sign on to a larger EU/IMF loan package.[107] The next day the eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund agreed to a three-year €110 billion loan (see below) retaining relatively high interest rates of 5.5%,[108] conditional on the implementation of austerity measures. Credit rating agencies immediately downgraded Greek governmental bonds to an even lower junk status.

The new austerity package was met with great anger by the Greek public, leading to massive protests, riots and social unrest throughout Greece. On 5 May 2010, a national strike was held in opposition to the planned spending cuts and tax increases.[107] Nevertheless, the new extra fourth package with austerity measures was approved on 29 June 2011, with 155 out of 300 members of parliament voting in favour.

100,000 people protest against the austerity measures in front of parliament building in Athens (29 May 2011).
Former Prime Minister George Papandreou and former European Commission President José Manuel Barroso after their meeting in Brussels on 20 June 2011.

Second Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece (July 2011 – present)[edit]

EU emergency measures continued at a summit on 21 July 2011 in Brussels, where euro area leaders agreed to extend Greek (as well as Irish and Portuguese) loan repayment periods from 7 years to a minimum of 15 years and to cut interest rates to 3.5%. They also approved the construction of a new €109 billion support package, of which the exact content was to be debated and agreed on at a later summit.[109] On 27 October 2011, eurozone leaders and the IMF also came to an agreement with banks to accept a 50% write-off of (some part of) Greek debt.[110][111][112]

The austerity measures helped Greece bring down its primary deficit from €25bn (11% of GDP) in 2009 to €5bn (2.4% of GDP) in 2011,[113] but as a side-effect they also contributed to a worsening of the Greek recession. Overall the Greek GDP had its worst year in 2011 with a −7.1% decline.[114] The unemployment rate also grew from 7.5% in September 2008 to a, at the time, record high of 19.9% in November 2011.[115][116]

Impact of the conducted bank recapitalization[edit]

The Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) managed to complete a €48.2bn bank recapitalization in June 2013, of which the first €24.4bn were injected into the four biggest Greek banks. Initially, this €48.2bn bank recapitalization was accounted for as an equally sized debt-increase, which – when assessed as an isolated factor – had elevated the debt-to-GDP ratio by 24.8 points by the end of 2012. However, in return for this, the Greek government at the same time received a number of shares in those banks being recapitalized, which it can now sell again during the upcoming years (a sale that per March 2012 was expected to generate €16bn of extra "privatization income" for the Greek government, to be realized during 2013–2020).

For three out of the four big Greek banks (NBG, Alpha and Piraeus), where there was an additional private investor capital contribution at minimum 10% of the conducted recapitalization, HFSF has offered them warrants to buy back all HFSF bank shares in semi-annual exercise periods up to December 2017, at some predefined strike prices.[117] During the first warrant period, the shareholders in Alpha bank bought back the first 2.4% of the issued HFSF shares;[118] while the shareholders in Piraeus Bank only bought back the first 0.07% of the issued HFSF shares,[119] and finally the shareholders in National Bank (NBG) only bought back the first 0.01% of the issued HFSF shares, because the market share price was actually cheaper than the strike price.[120] This means that HFSF can not be certain to sell all their bank shares through the warrants program. In case some of the shares have not been sold by the end of December 2017, then HFSF is allowed to sell them to alternative investors.[117]

In May 2014, a second round of bank recapitalization for all six commercial banks in Greece (Alpha, Eurobank, NBG, Piraeus, Attica and Panellinia),[39] worth €8.3bn, was concluded entirely finanzed by private shareholders, without HFSF needing to tap into any of their current €11.5bn reserve capital fund for future bank recapitalizations.[121] The fourth systemic bank (Eurobank), which failed to attract private investor participation in the first recapitalization program, and thus became almost entirely financed and owned by HFSF, also succeeded in the second round to introduce private investors;[122] although this was only achieved by HFSF accepting in the process to dilute their amount of shares from 95.2% to 34.7%.[123]

According to the third quarter 2014 financial report of HFSF, the fund is estimated to recover a total of €27.3bn out of the initially injected €48.2bn to the fund. This estimated recovery of €27.3bn includes "A €0.6bn positive cash balance stemming from its previous selling of warrants (selling of recapitalization shares) and liquidation of assets, €2.8bn estimated to be recovered from liquidation of assets held by its "bad asset bank", €10.9bn of EFSF bonds still held as capital reserve, and €13bn from its future sale of recapitalization shares in the four systemic banks." The last of these figures is affected by the highest amount of uncertainty, as it directly reflects the current market price of the remaining shares held in the four systemic banks (66.4% in Alpha, 35.4% in Eurobank, 57.2% in NBG, 66.9% in Piraeus), which for HFSF had a combined market value of €22.6bn by the end of 2013 – but only was worth €13bn on 10 December 2014.[124]

Once HFSF has liquidated all its assets, the total amount of recovered capital will be returned to the Greek government to help to reduce its debt. In early December 2014, the Bank of Greece allowed HFSF to repay the first €9.3bn out of its €11.3bn reserve to the Greek government.[125] A few months later, the remaining part of HFSF reserves were likewise approved for repayment to ECB, resulting in a total of €11.4bn debt notes being repaid during the course of the first quarter of 2015.[126]


Initially, European banks had the largest holdings of Greek debt. However, this has shifted as the "troika" (i.e., European Central Bank or ECB, International Monetary Fund or IMF, and a European government-sponsored fund) have purchased Greek bonds. As of early 2015, the largest individual contributors to the fund were Germany, France and Italy with roughly €130B total of the €323B debt.[127] The IMF is owed €32B and the ECB €20B. Foreign banks had little Greek debt.[128]

European banks[edit]

Excluding Greek banks, European banks had €45.8bn exposure to Greece in June 2011, with €9.4bn held by French and €7.9bn by German banks.[129] However, by early 2015 their holdings were minimal, roughly €2.4B.[128]

Greek public opinion[edit]

2008 riots in Athens

According to a poll in February 2012 by Public Issue and SKAI Channel, PASOK—which won the national elections of 2009 with 43.92% of the vote—had seen its approval rating reduced to a mere 8%, placing it fifth after centre-right New Democracy (31%), left-wing Democratic Left (18%), far-left Communist Party of Greece (KKE) (12.5%) and radical left SYRIZA (12%). The same poll suggested that Papandreou was the least popular political leader with a 9% approval rating, while 71% of Greeks did not trust Papademos as prime minister.[130]

In a poll published on 18 May 2011, 62% of the people questioned felt the IMF memorandum that Greece signed in 2010 was a bad decision that hurt the country, while 80% had no faith in the Minister of Finance, Giorgos Papakonstantinou, to handle the crisis.[131] (Evangelos Venizelos replaced Papakonstantinou on 17 June). 75% of those polled had a negative image of the IMF, and 65% felt it was hurting Greece's economy.[131] 64% felt that sovereign default was likely. When asked about their fears for the near future, Greeks highlighted unemployment (97%), poverty (93%) and the closure of businesses (92%).[131]

Polls have shown that the vast majority of Greeks are not in favour of leaving the Eurozone.[132] Roger Bootle, independent British economist and consultant, wrote of this: "there has been so much propaganda over the years about the merits of the euro and the perils of being outside it that both expert and popular opinion can barely see straight. It is true that default and a euro exit could endanger Greece's continued membership of the EU. More importantly, though, there is a strong element of national pride. For Greece to leave the euro would seem like a national humiliation. Mind you, quite how agreeing to decades of misery under German subjugation allows Greeks to hold their heads high defeats me."[133] Nonetheless, other 2012 polls showed that almost half (48%) of Greeks were in favour of default, in contrast with a minority (38%) who are not.[134]

Economic and social effects of the crisis[edit]

Protests in Athens on 25 May 2011

Economic effects[edit]

Greek GDP suffered its worst decline in 2011 when it clocked growth of −6.9%;[135] a year where the seasonal adjusted industrial output ended 28.4% lower than in 2005,[136][137] during that year, 111,000 Greek companies went bankrupt (27% higher than in 2010).[138][139] As a result, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate also grew from 7.5% in September 2008 to a then record high of 23.1% in May 2012, while the youth unemployment rate during the same time rose from 22.0% to 54.9%.[115][116][140] On 17 October 2011, Minister of Finance Evangelos Venizelos announced that the government would establish a new fund, aimed at helping those who were hit the hardest from the government's austerity measures.[141] The money for this agency would come from a crackdown on tax evasion.[141]

Key statistics are summarized below, with a detailed table at the bottom of the article. According to the CIA World Factbook and Eurostat:

  • Greek GDP fell from €242 billion in 2008 to €179 billion in 2014, a 26% decline overall. Greece was in recession for over five years, emerging in 2014 by some measures.
  • GDP per capita fell from a peak of €22,500 in 2007 to €17,000 in 2014, a 24% decline.
  • The public debt to GDP ratio in 2014 was 177% GDP or €317 billion. This ratio was the third highest in the world after Japan and Zimbabwe. The public debt peaked at €356 billion in 2011; it was reduced by a bailout program to €305 billion in 2012 and has risen slightly since then.
  • The annual budget deficit (expenses over revenues) was 3.4% GDP in 2014, much improved versus the 15% GDP of 2009. Greece has achieved a primary budget surplus, meaning it had more revenue than expenses excluding interest payments in 2013 and 2014.
  • Revenues for 2014 were €86 billion (about 48% GDP), while expenditures were €89.5 billion (about 50% GDP).
  • Interest rates on Greek long-term debt rose from around 6% in 2014 to 10% in 2015. Based on a debt of €317 billion, the 6% rate represents annual interest payments of roughly €20 billion, nearly 23% of government revenues. For scale, U.S. interest is roughly 8% of revenues. Interest rates on German bonds were under 1% in 2015.
  • The unemployment rate has risen considerably, from below 10% (2005–2009) to around 25% (2014–2015).
  • An estimated 44% of Greeks lived below the poverty line in 2014.[142][143]

Greece defaulted on a $1.7 billion IMF payment on June 29, 2015. Greece had requested a two-year bailout from its lenders for roughly $30 billion, its third in six years, but did not receive it.[144]

The IMF reported on July 2, 2015, that the "debt dynamics" of Greece were "unsustainable" due to its already high debt level and "...significant changes in policies since [2014]—not least, lower primary surpluses and a weak reform effort that will weigh on growth and privatization—[which] are leading to substantial new financing needs." The report also stated that debt reduction (haircuts, in which creditors sustain losses through debt principal reduction) would be required if the package of reforms under consideration were weakened further.[145]

Social effects[edit]

The social effects of the austerity measures on the Greek population have been severe.[146]

Employment and unemployment in Greece from 2004 to 2014

In February 2012, it was reported that 20,000 Greeks had been made homeless during the preceding year, and that 20 per cent of shops in the historic city centre of Athens were empty.[147] The same month, Poul Thomsen, a Danish IMF official overseeing the Greek austerity programme, warned that ordinary Greeks were at the "limit" of their toleration of austerity, and he called for more international recognition of "the fact that Greece has already done a lot [in terms of reforms], at a great cost to the population";[148] and moreover cautioned that although further spending cuts were certainly still needed, they should not be implemented rapidly, as it was crucial first to give some more time for the implemented economic reforms to start to work.[149]

By 2015, unemployment in Greece had reached 26% and it was reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that nearly twenty-percent of Greeks lacked sufficient funds to meet daily food expenses. As the economy has contracted and the welfare state has declined, traditionally strong Greek families have come under increasing strain, often unable to bear the burden of increasing numbers of unemployed and often homeless relatives. Many unemployed Greeks cycle between friends and family members until they run out of options and end up in homeless shelters. In contrast to the traditional perception of homeless shelter residents in Greece, these new homeless have extensive work histories and are largely free of mental health and substance abuse concerns.[150]

The Greek national government has not been able to commit the necessary resources to combat the homelessness problem, due in part to austerity measures. A program was launched to provide a stipend to assist homeless to return to their homes, but many enrollees never received their grants. Various attempts have been made by local governments and non-governmental agencies to alleviate the problem. The non-profit street newspaper Shedia (Greek: Σχεδία),[151] Raft is sold by street vendors in Athens who are allowed to keep half the €3.50 cover price for each issue sold. The number of homeless seeking to sell the paper has risen so high that the publication now requires a formal application where once there was none. The municipality of Athens has started its own shelters, the first of which was called the Hotel Ionis.[150] In 2015, the Venetis bakery chain in Athens was giving away ten thousand loaves of bread a day, one-third of its total production. In some of the poorest neighborhoods, according to the chain's general manager, there were disturbances among the large numbers of hungry people queuing up to receive bread, and went on to say “In the third round of austerity measures, which is beginning now, it is certain that in Greece there will be no consumers — there will be only beggars."[152]

Solutions to the crisis[edit]

Exit the Eurozone or "Grexit"[edit]

Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman suggests that the Greek economy can recover from the severe recession by exiting the Eurozone (often called "Grexit" in the media) and launching a new national currency, the drachma. The devaluation of the currency may help Greece boost its exports and pay down its debts with cheaper currency.[153] In fact, Iceland made a dramatic recovery after it filed for bankruptcy in 2008, taking advantage of the devaluation of Icelandic krona (ISK).[154][155] In 2013, it enjoyed an economic growth rate of about 3.3 percent.[156] Canada was also able to improve its budget position in the 1990s by devaluing its currency.[157]

However, the consequences of "Grexit" could be global and severe, including:

  • Membership in the Eurozone would no longer be perceived as irrevocable. Other countries might be tempted to exit or demand additional debt relief. These countries might also see the interest rates rise on their bonds, making debt service more difficult.
  • Further depreciation of the euro relative to the dollar, which would cheapen Eurozone exports while making imports more expensive for Eurozone members. This could reduce the exports of non-euro countries.
  • Geopolitical shifts, such as closer relations between Greece and Russia, as the crisis sours relations with Europe.
  • Significant financial losses for Eurozone countries and the IMF, which are owed the majority of Greece's roughly $300 billion national debt.
  • Adverse impact on the IMF and the credibility of its austerity strategy, which has contributed to the Greek depression.
  • Inability of Greece to access global capital markets and the collapse of its banking system for an indeterminate period of time.[14][158][159][160]

Digital currency cards[edit]

The bank multiplier effect means the amount of bank deposits far exceeds the amount of paper euros. Greece and its people face a shortage of paper euros when withdrawing funds from their bank accounts. Reducing the requirement of paper euros in the withdrawal process, into a digital form, allows withdrawals and spending.[161]

Negotiate another bailout[edit]

Greece could also agree to additional bailout funds and debt relief (i.e., bondholder haircuts or principal reductions) in exchange for further public pension cuts, privatizing certain government owned businesses, selling government-owned assets, raising tax rates, and more aggressively collecting taxes. However, the present austerity strategy has contributed to a Greek Depression, making it even harder to pay back its debts, so it is unclear how further austerity measures would help if not accompanied by very significant reduction in the debt balance owed.[14] In 2011 the Greek government agreed to creditors proposals that Greece could raise up to €50 billion through the sale or development of state-owned assets,[162] but the Greek government was not successful, receipts were much lower than expected, and the policy was strongly opposed by SYRIZA. In 2014, only €530m was raised. Some key assets were sold to insiders.[163]

European debt conference[edit]

Economist Thomas Piketty said in July 2015: "We need a conference on all of Europe’s debts, just like after World War II. A restructuring of all debt, not just in Greece but in several European countries, is inevitable." He pointed out that Germany received significant debt relief after World War II. A new institution would be required to manage budget deficits within limits across all Eurozone countries. He warned that: "If we start kicking states out, then the crisis of confidence in which the Eurozone finds itself today will only worsen. Financial markets will immediately turn on the next country. This would be the beginning of a long, drawn-out period of agony, in whose grasp we risk sacrificing Europe’s social model, its democracy, indeed its civilization on the altar of a conservative, irrational austerity policy."[164]

Economic statistics table[edit]

Government budget balance, GDP growth and debt-to-GDP ratio (1970–2017)
Source: Eurostat and European Commission
Greek national account 1970 1980 1990 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001a 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015b 2016b 2017c
Public revenued (% of GDP)[165] N/A N/A 31.0d 37.0d 37.8d 39.3d 40.9d 41.8d 43.4d 41.3d 40.6d 39.4d 38.4d 39.0d 38.7 40.2 40.6 38.7 41.1 43.8 45.7 47.8 45.8 48.1 45.8 TBA
Public expenditured (% of GDP)[166] N/A N/A 45.2d 46.2d 44.5d 45.3d 44.7d 44.8d 47.1d 45.8d 45.5d 45.1d 46.0d 44.4d 44.9 46.9 50.6 54.0 52.2 54.0 54.4 60.1 49.3 50.2 47.9 TBA
Budget balanced (% of GDP)[25][167] N/A N/A -14.2d -9.1d -6.7d -5.9d -3.9d -3.1d -3.7d -4.5d -4.9d -5.7d -7.6d -5.5d -6.1 -6.7 -9.9 -15.3 -11.1 -10.2 -8.7 -12.3 -3.5 -2.1 -2.2 TBA
Structural balancee (% of GDP)[168] N/A N/A −14.9f −9.4g −6.9g −6.3g −4.4g −3.6g −4.2g −4.9g −4.5g −5.7h −7.7h −5.2h −7.4h −7.8h −9.7h −14.7h −9.8 −6.3 -0.6 2.2 0.4 -1.4 -2.3 TBA
Nominal GDP growth (%)[169] 13.1 20.1 20.7 12.1 10.8 10.9 9.5 6.8 5.6 7.2 6.8 10.0 8.1 3.2 9.4 6.9 4.0 −1.9 −4.7 −8.2 −6.5 −6.1 −1.8 -0.7 3.6 TBA
GDP price deflatori (%)[170] 3.8 19.3 20.7 9.8 7.7 6.2 5.2 3.6 1.6 3.4 3.5 3.2 3.0 2.3 3.4 3.2 4.4 2.6 0.8 0.8 0.1 −2.3 −2.6 -1.2 0.7 TBA
Real GDP growthj (%)[171][172] 8.9 0.7 0.0 2.1 3.0 4.5 4.1 3.1 4.0 3.7 3.2 6.6 5.0 0.9 5.8 3.5 −0.4 −4.4 −5.4 −8.9 −6.6 −3.9 0.8 0.5 2.9 TBA
Public debtk (billion €)[173][174] 0.2 1.5 31.2 87.0 98.0 105.4 112.1 118.8 141.2 152.1 159.5 168.3 183.5 212.8 225.3 240.0 264.6 301.0 330.3 356.0 304.7 319.2 317.1 320.4 319.6 TBA
Nominal GDPk (billion €)[169][175] 1.2 7.1 45.7 93.4 103.5 114.8 125.7 134.2 141.7 152.0 162.3 178.6 193.0 199.2 217.8 232.8 242.1 237.4 226.2 207.8 194.2 182.4 179.1 177.8 184.3 TBA
Debt-to-GDP ratio (%)[30][176] 17.2 21.0 68.3 93.1 94.7 91.8 89.2 88.5 99.6 100.1 98.3 94.2 95.1 106.9 103.4 103.1 109.3 126.8 146.0 171.4 156.9 175.0 177.1 180.2 173.4 TBA
- Impact of Nominal GDP growth (%)[177][178] −2.3 −3.7 −10.6 −10.0 −9.1 −9.3 −7.9 −5.7 −4.7 −6.7 −6.3 −9.0 −7.1 −2.9 −9.2 −6.7 −3.9 2.1 6.3 13.0 12.0 10.1 3.3 1.3 −6.3 TBA
- Stock-flow adjustment (%)[169][177][179] N/A N/A 2.9 1.5 3.9 0.5 1.4 1.9 12.1 2.7 −0.3 −0.8 0.3 9.2 −0.4 −0.4 0.3 0.0 1.9 2.1 −35.1 −4.4 −4.7 −0.2 −2.6 TBA
- Impact of budget balance (%)[25][167] N/A N/A 14.2 9.1 6.7 5.9 3.9 3.1 3.7 4.5 4.9 5.7 7.6 5.5 6.1 6.7 9.9 15.3 11.1 10.2 8.7 12.3 3.5 2.1 2.2 TBA
- Overall yearly ratio change (%) −2.3 −0.9 6.5 0.6 1.5 −2.9 −2.6 −0.7 11.1 0.4 −1.8 −4.0 0.8 11.8 −3.4 −0.4 6.2 17.5 19.2 25.3 −14.5 18.1 2.1 3.1 −6.8 TBA
Notes: a Year of entry into the Eurozone. b Forecasts by European Commission pr 5 May 2015.[80] c Forecasts by the bailout plan in April 2014.[39]
d Calculated by ESA-2010 EDP method, except data for 1990–2005 only being calculated by the old ESA-1995 EDP method.
e Structural balance = "Cyclically-adjusted balance" minus impact from "one-off and temporary measures" (according to ESA-2010).
f Data for 1990 is not the "structural balance", but only the "Cyclically-adjusted balance" (according to ESA-1979).[180][181]
g Data for 1995–2002 is not the "structural balance", but only the "Cyclically-adjusted balance" (according to ESA-1995).[180][181]
h Data for 2003–2009 represents the "structural balance", but are so far only calculated by the old ESA-1995 method.
i Calculated as yoy %-change of the GDP deflator index in National Currency (weighted to match the GDP composition of 2005).
j Calculated as yoy %-change of 2010 constant GDP in National Currency.
k Figures prior of 2001 were all converted retrospectively from drachma to euro by the fixed euro exchange rate in 2000.

See also[edit]

Analogous events:

Film about the debt

Notes and references[edit]

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