After an all-night round of talks among Eurozone finance ministers, Greece was granted its second bailout, this one for €130 billion, in a package that includes recently passed austerity measures and a debt restructuring. But confidential reports distributed to the finance ministers indicate that the deal will not work and may even be counter-productive.
The deal “closes the door to an uncontrolled default that would be chaos for Greece and Greek people,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
But despite those unprecedented efforts, it was clear that Greece, which kicked off Europe’s debt crisis two years ago, was at the very best starting on a long and painful road to recovery. At the worst, the new program would push the country even deeper into recession and see it default on its debts further down the line [...]
Despite the promise of new rescue loans, the other 16 euro countries made clear that their trust in Greece is running low. Before Athens will see any new funds, it has to implement a range of promised cuts and reforms.
Greece will also have to pass within the next two months a new law that gives paying off the debt legal priority over funding government services. In the meantime, Athens has to set up an escrow account, managed separately from its main budget, that will at all times have to contain enough money to service its debts for the coming three months.
These requirements, together with tighter on-the-ground monitoring, are an unprecedented intrusion into the fiscal affairs of a sovereign state in Europe and could eventually see Greece being forced to pay interest on its debt before compensating teachers, doctors and other state employees.
As Felix Salmon writes, this basically turns Greece into a colony of the European Union. Their sovereignty has been completely washed away, their elections turned into meaningless theater. And yet, the plan offers no hope for future economic growth, even though it magically assumes it by 2014. Greece keeps the euro, which is overvalued for its economy, and must cut budgets dramatically during its fifth year of recession. And even THAT doesn’t protect the debt load of the country:
Where’s all this economic growth meant to be coming from, in a country suffering from massive wage deflation? And under this pretty upbeat downside scenario, Greece gets nowhere near the required 120% debt-to-GDP level by 2020: instead, it only gets to 159%. And to make things worse for the Eurozone, the report explicitly says that under the terms of this deal, “any new debt will be junior to all existing debt” — in other words, there’s no way at all that Greece is going to be able to borrow on the private markets for the foreseeable future, so long as this plan is in place.
This isn’t just conjecture. A report distributed to Eurozone officials last week says the same thing – that this deal will make the debt problem worse and will lock Greece out of the credit markets.
The 10-page debt sustainability analysis, distributed to eurozone officials last week but obtained by the Financial Times on Monday night, found that even under the most optimistic scenario, the austerity measures being imposed on Athens risk a recession so deep that Greece will not be able to climb out of the debt hole over the course of a new three-year, €170bn bail-out.
It warned that two of the new bail-out’s main principles might be self-defeating. Forcing austerity on Greece could cause debt levels to rise by severely weakening the economy while its €200bn debt restructuring could prevent Greece from ever returning to the financial markets by scaring off future private investors.
This is a recipe for endless bailouts, for more money, from the Eurozone. Greece will not have the ability to pay its debts and no other means of borrowing money. And that assumes that this deal WORKS, meaning that there’s no overthrow of the government, that a new leadership after elections in April doesn’t object to the plan, that creditors don’t revolt from the harsh terms of the haircut, etc. And this program only gets more expensive for the Eurozone over time. Even the fairly optimistic “downside scenario” from the confidential report shows that, saying that Greece will need €245 billion in aid.
That’s how fiscal transfers work, really. If you want a union with Germany and Greece in it, Germany will have to balance out Greece forever, just as California balances out Mississippi. The difference is that US fiscal transfers are far less visible, and California and Mississippi don’t think they’re sovereign countries (well, let me speak only for California on that one).
But the Germans were reluctant to agree to even this bailout, and will be more reluctant when it doesn’t work and Greece comes a-begging. This problem either gets bigger or is no longer seen as a problem. And somehow, I don’t think the richer countries in Europe will continue to accept these transfers. This buys nothing but time, and in the long run it’s fiscally stupid, if Greece will eventually leave the euro. As Felix concludes, though, time could be valuable in and of itself:
This deal might well delay catastrophic capital flight from Greece, and give the Europeans more time to work out how to shore up Portugal if and when that happens. Will they make good use of the time that they’re buying? I hope so. Because once the Greek domino falls, it’s going to take a huge amount of money, statesmanship, and luck to prevent further dominoes from toppling.