Open Europe Blog

We have a piece in City AM today, which look’s  at the impact of this week’s crucial votes in Greece, see below for the piece in full:

One down, one to go. The Greek government has got through one crucial vote this week and looks likely to ride out the budget vote on Sunday. Although markets and eurozone leaders will breathe a sigh of relief as Greece makes it through another crucial week in its economic crisis, the government has not been left unscathed.

Pushing through the latest, and supposedly last, package of stringent economic reforms and budget cuts has exposed deep cracks within the governing coalition, as the Democratic Left and Pasok parties put up a fight to slow the process of public sector cuts led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy party. It took two days to push the package through parliament, while a reported 100,000 Greeks took to the streets in Athens to protest against austerity, once more leading to violent clashes with police.

However, a bigger problem for the government is the flurry of economic figures which have again exposed deeper flaws in the Greek economy, propelling talk of a Greek exit from the eurozone back into the headlines. The new budget projects Greek debt peaking at 192% of GDP, rather than the 167% estimated previously, but even this revision seems to be built on optimistic assumptions. Unemployment, investment and exports are all projected to stabilise, despite most indicators predicting the opposite. In fact it is now abundantly clear that Greece will need an extension to its current bailout.

The questions to ask then are: how much would such an extension cost and how could it be funded? We estimate that slowing the Greek fiscal consolidation programme by two years could cost an extra €28.5bn (rising to €39bn if Greece fails to borrow from the markets – something which looks increasingly likely). The main options being proposed include: reducing the interest rates which Greece pays on its current bailout loans (which could raise around €3bn over two years) or putting a hold on interest payments for a few years (which could raise €10bn+, but would be much trickier legally). These options would likely be combined with some further austerity and increased short term debt issuance by Greece – both of which could actually increase Greek debt levels, not exactly what is needed. The kicker is that even this is unlikely to be enough.

The question of an extension then, drives home that a larger decision on Greece’s position in the eurozone is closing in on EU leaders. Even talk of using bailout loans to buy back Greek debt at a discount and then retire it, to provide extra funding, would require a big political decision on further loans to Greece. However the funding is found, it will likely involve breaking a taboo – either by the ECB (in terms of helping to fund states) or more likely by eurozone countries in allowing permanent transfers to a country whose future funding is far from assured.

The Greek government and the eurozone will make it through this week but this short-term success is likely to belie the massive decisions ahead.

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