Open Europe Blog

It seems the German government has finally publicly accepted what everyone already knew – that Greece will need some kind of further financial assistance after its second bailout programme expires at the end of 2014. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told a CDU election rally yesterday:

“There will have to be another [bailout] programme in Greece,” in order to help the country “get over the hill” of debt repayments it faces.

Despite attempts from both the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German finance ministry spokesmen to row back from the comments and suggest they are not, in fact, a change in stance, the remarks seem to have stuck.

What form might the third bailout package take?

  • According to the IMF, Greece’s total funding gap up to the end of 2015 is around €11.1 billion (5.8% of GDP) – so this can be taken as a lower bound of the funding needed. Privatisation receipts (which have notoriously fallen short) are expected to reach €7.7 billion over the next three years. Further shortfalls here could push up funding needs.
  • A further extension of maturities and reduction in interest rates on the official sector loans, as suggested by EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn also seems likely. However, interest on loans from the EFSF – the eurozone’s temporary bailout fund – are already at cost and payments have been deferred for ten years. The IMF is also unlikely to reduce its interest rate as this would amount to a form of debt restructuring, which the IMF refuses to engage in due to being the most senior creditor. This leaves only the eurozone’s bilateral loans from the first Greek bailout, the interest on which has already been reduced to around 1.5% (well below most eurozone states’ long-term borrowing costs). Therefore, scope for further reduction is limited, and the benefit it could provide would amount, at most, to a couple of billion spread over a long period, as we have previously noted.
  • Another widely touted proposal is to use the leftover funds originally allocated for Greek bank recapitalisation. So far, according to the IMF, Greek banks have received €40.9 billion out of an allocated €50 billion. Although it seems the EFSF expects this to increase to around €48.2 billion. It is likely some additional buffer will be needed, given the pace of increase in bad loans in Greece, meaning the amount available is likely to be between €2bn and €4bn max.
  • A final idea, reported by Süddeutsche Zeitung, is that EU structural funds could be able to provide some of this funding. It’s not clear exactly how this would happen and, as we’ve noted before, we’re sceptical of the idea that there is lots of excess money floating around to be easily reallocated in the EU’s structural fund programme. Given that the new EU budget headlines for 2014-2020 are set, it’s not clear how much more money can be squeezed out for Greece. One option would be to adjust the ‘co-financing rate’ (the amount the Greek government contributes to each project to gain funding) but this has already been adjusted and provided little boost to the take up of funds, which remains well below target.

Lots of questions to be answered then about the size and format of what may be the trickiest Greek bailout to date, given the tough political constraints and the on-going (very tenuous) premise of debt sustainability. An important consideration, as Schäuble suggested, will be to get Greece over its funding hump in the next couple of years (data from Greek debt bulletins):

The final point to note is the continuing German aversion to further debt relief for Greece, something the IMF and nearly all private observers accept is necessary. Within Germany, this seems to be a result of the government ‘learning its lesson’ from the first Greek debt restructuring, which patently failed. However, the German government seems to be learning the wrong lesson for the wrong reasons – it was not that restructuring was a bad idea in itself, but simply that all such a large amount of debt was held by Greek banks that the ensuing recapitalisation and bailout negated any benefit.

The German government clearly remains loathe to discuss any such details, meaning a clear plan is unlikely to emerge until the end of the year. In the meantime, we can’t help but wonder how the Greek public will react to the prospect of another bailout with another set of conditions attached. Could the big unknown outside the eurozone begin to look attractive once again? Maybe, or maybe not – but it may well start to factor into their thinking at some point.

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