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Long-term interest rates of all eurozone countries except

Estonia (secondary market yields of government bonds with

maturities of close to ten years)
A yield of 6% or more
indicates that financial markets have serious doubts about
European sovereign-debt crisis
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The European sovereign debt crisis is an ongoing
financial crisis that has made it difficult or
impossible for some countries in the euro area to re-
finance their government debt without the assistance
of third parties.
From late 2009, fears of a sovereign debt crisis
developed among investors as a result of the rising
private and government debt levels around the
world together with a wave of downgrading of
government debt in some European states. Causes
of the crisis varied by country. In several countries,
private debts arising from a property bubble were
transferred to sovereign debt as a result of banking
system bailouts and government responses to
slowing economies post-bubble. In Greece,
unsustainable public sector wage and pension
commitments drove the debt increase. The structure
of the Eurozone as a monetary union (i.e., one
currency) without fiscal union (e.g., different tax
and public pension rules) contributed to the crisis
and impacted the ability of European leaders to
European banks own a significant
amount of sovereign debt, such that concerns
regarding the solvency of banking systems or
sovereigns are negatively reinforcing.
Concerns intensified in early 2010 and
leading Europe's finance ministers
on 9 May 2010 to approve a rescue package worth C750 billion aimed at ensuring financial stability across
Europe by creating the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).
In October 2011 and February 2012, the eurozone leaders agreed on more measures designed to prevent the
collapse of member economies. This included an agreement whereby banks would accept a 53.5% write-off of
Greek debt owed to private creditors,
increasing the EFSF to about C1 trillion, and requiring European banks
to achieve 9% capitalisation.
To restore confidence in Europe, EU leaders also agreed to create a European
Fiscal Compact including the commitment of each participating country to introduce a balanced budget
While sovereign debt has risen substantially in only a few eurozone countries, it has become a perceived problem
for the area as a whole.
Prior to May, 2012, the European currency remained stable.
As of mid-November
2011, the euro was even trading slightly higher against the bloc's major trading partners than at the beginning of
the crisis.
Three countries significantly affected, Greece, Ireland and Portugal, collectively accounted for
6% of the eurozone's gross domestic product (GDP).
During June 2012, the Spanish debt crisis became a prime concern for the Euro-zone.
Interest rates on
Spain`s debt rose significantly and its ability to access capital markets was affected, leading to a bailout of its
banks and other measures.
1 Causes
1.1 Rising government debt levels
1.2 Trade imbalances
1.3 Structural problem of Eurozone system
1.4 Monetary policy inflexibility
1.5 Loss of confidence
2 Evolution of the crisis
2.1 Greece
2.2 Ireland
2.3 Portugal
2.4 Spain
2.5 Cyprus
2.6 Possible spread to other countries
2.6.1 Italy
2.6.2 Belgium
2.6.3 France
2.6.4 United Kingdom
2.6.5 Switzerland
2.6.6 Germany
3 Policy reactions
3.1 EU emergency measures
3.1.1 European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF)
3.1.2 European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM)
3.1.3 Brussels agreement and aftermath
3.2 European Central Bank
3.3 European Stability Mechanism (ESM)
3.4 European Fiscal Compact
4 Economic reforms and recovery proposals
4.1 Increase investment
4.2 Increase competitiveness
4.3 Address current account imbalances
4.4 Commentary
5 Proposed long-term solutions
5.1 European fiscal union
5.2 Eurobonds
5.3 European Monetary Fund
5.4 Drastic debt write-off financed by wealth tax
5.5 Debt defaults and national exits from the Eurozone
5.5.1 Commentary
6 Controversies
6.1 EU treaty violations
6.2 Actors fueling the crisis
6.2.1 Credit rating agencies
6.2.2 Media
6.2.3 Speculators
6.3 Speculation about the breakup of the eurozone
6.4 Odious debt
6.5 National statistics
6.6 Collateral for Finland
7 Political impact
8 See also
9 References
Public debt $ and %GDP (2010) for selected
European countries
Government debt of Eurozone, Germany and crisis
countries compared to Eurozone GDP
Government deficit of Eurozone compared to USA
and UK
10 External links
The European sovereign debt crisis resulted from a
combination of complex factors, including the globalization
of finance; easy credit conditions during the 2002-2008
period that encouraged high-risk lending and borrowing
practices; the 2007-2012 global financial crisis;
international trade imbalances; real-estate bubbles that have
since burst; the 2008-2012 global recession; fiscal policy
choices related to government revenues and expenses; and
approaches used by nations to bail out troubled banking
industries and private bondholders, assuming private debt
burdens or socializing losses.
One narrative describing the causes of the crisis begins with
the significant increase in savings available for investment
during the 2000-2007 period when the global pool of fixed-
income securities increased from approximately $36 trillion
in 2000 to $70 trillion by 2007. This "Giant Pool of
Money" increased as savings from high-growth developing
nations entered global capital markets. Investors searching
for higher yields than those offered by U.S. Treasury bonds
sought alternatives globally.
The temptation offered by such readily available savings
overwhelmed the policy and regulatory control mechanisms
in country after country as global fixed-income investors
searched for yield, generating bubble after bubble across the
globe. While these bubbles have burst, causing asset prices
(e.g., housing and commercial property) to decline, the
liabilities owed to global investors remain at full price,
generating questions regarding the solvency of governments
and their banking systems.
How each European country involved in this crisis
borrowed and invested the money varies. For example,
Ireland's banks lent the money to property developers,
generating a massive property bubble. When the bubble
burst, Ireland's government and taxpayers assumed private
debts. In Greece, the government increased its commitments
to public workers in the form of extremely generous wage
and pension benefits, with the former doubling in real terms
over 10 years.
Iceland's banking system grew
enormously, creating debts to global investors ("external
debts") several times GDP.
The interconnection in the global financial system means
that if one nation defaults on its sovereign debt or enters into
recession putting some of the external private debt at risk,
the banking systems of creditor nations face losses. For example, in October 2011, Italian borrowers owed
Public debt as a percent of GDP (2010)
French banks $366 billion (net). Should Italy be unable to finance itself, the French banking system and
economy could come under significant pressure, which in turn would affect France's creditors and so on. This is
referred to as financial contagion.
Another factor contributing to interconnection is the concept of debt
protection. Institutions entered into contracts called credit default swaps (CDS) that result in payment should
default occur on a particular debt instrument (including government issued bonds). But, since multiple CDSs can
be purchased on the same security, it is unclear what exposure each country's banking system now has to
Greece hid its growing debt and deceived EU officials with the help of derivatives designed by major
Although some financial institutions clearly profited from the growing Greek
government debt in the short run,
there was a long lead-up to the crisis.
Rising government debt levels
In 1992, members of the European Union signed the Maastricht Treaty, under which they pledged to limit their
deficit spending and debt levels. However, a number of EU member states, including Greece and Italy, were
able to circumvent these rules and mask their deficit and debt levels through the use of complex currency and
credit derivatives structures.
The structures were designed by prominent U.S. investment banks, who
received substantial fees in return for their services.
The adoption of the Euro led to many Eurozone countries of different credit worthiness receiving similar and
very low interest rates for their bonds during years preceding the crisis, which author Michael Lewis referred to
as "a sort of implicit Germany guarantee."
A number of economists have suggested that the debt crisis
was caused by excessive government spending. According
to their analysis, increased debt levels were also due to the
large bailout packages provided to the financial sector
during the late-2000s financial crisis, and the global
economic slowdown thereafter. The average fiscal deficit in
the euro area in 2007 was only 0.6% before it grew to 7%
during the financial crisis. In the same period, the average
government debt rose from 66% to 84% of GDP. The
authors also stressed that fiscal deficits in the euro area were
stable or even shrinking since the early 1990s.
economist Paul Krugman named Greece as the only country where fiscal irresponsibility is at the heart of the
Either way, high debt levels alone may not explain the crisis. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, the
position of the euro area looked "no worse and in some respects, rather better than that of the US or the UK."
The budget deficit for the euro area as a whole (see graph) is much lower and the euro area's government
debt/GDP ratio of 86% in 2010 was about the same level as that of the US. Moreover, private-sector
indebtedness across the euro area is markedly lower than in the highly leveraged Anglo-Saxon economies.
Trade imbalances
Commentator and Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf has asserted that the root of the crisis was growing
trade imbalances. He notes in the run-up to the crisis, from 1999 to 2007, Germany had a considerably better
public debt and fiscal deficit relative to GDP than the most affected eurozone members. In the same period, these
countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain) had far worse balance of payments positions.
German trade surpluses increased as a percentage of GDP after 1999, the deficits of Italy, France and Spain all
Current account balances relative to GDP (2010)
Paul Krugman wrote in 2009 that a trade deficit by definition requires a corresponding inflow of capital to fund
it, which can drive down interest rates and stimulate the creation of bubbles: "For a while, the inrush of capital
created the illusion of wealth in these countries, just as it did for American homeowners: asset prices were rising,
currencies were strong, and everything looked fine. But bubbles always burst sooner or later, and yesterday`s
miracle economies have become today`s basket cases, nations whose assets have evaporated but whose debts
remain all too real."
A trade deficit can also be affected by changes in relative
labor costs, which made southern nations less competitive
and increased trade imbalances. Since 2001, Italy's unit
labor costs rose 32% relative to Germany's.
unit labor costs rose much faster than Germany's during the
last decade.
However, most EU nations had increases in
labor costs greater than Germany's.
Those nations that
allowed "wages to grow faster than productivity" lost
Germany's restrained labor costs, while
a debatable factor in trade imbalances,
are an important
factor for its low unemployment rate.
More recently,
Greece's trading position has improved;
in the period
2011 to 2012, imports dropped 20.9% while exports grew
16.9%, reducing the trade deficit by 42.8%.
Simon Johnson explains the hope for convergence in the Euro-zone and what went wrong. The Euro locks
countries into an exchange rate amounting to 'very big bet that their economies would converge in productivity.
If not, workers would move to countries with greater productivity. Instead the opposite happened: the gap
between German and Greek productivity increased resulting in a large current account surplus financed by
capital flows. The capital flows could have been invested to increase productivity in the peripheral nations.
Instead capital flows were squandered in consumption and consumptive investments.
Further, Eurozone countries with sustained trade surpluses (i.e., Germany) do not see their currency appreciate
relative to the other Eurozone nations due to a common currency, keeping their exports artificially cheap.
Germany's trade surplus within the Eurozone declined in 2011 as its trading partners were less able to find
financing necessary to fund their trade deficits, but Germany's trade surplus outside the Eurozone has soared as
the Euro declined in value relative to the dollar and other currencies.
Structural problem of Eurozone system
There is a structural contradiction within the euro system, namely that there is a monetary union (common
currency) without a fiscal union (e.g., common taxation, pension, and treasury functions).
In the Eurozone
system, the countries are offered to follow a similar fiscal path, but they do not have common treasury to enforce
it. That is, countries with same monetary system have freedom in fiscal policies in taxation and expenditure. So,
even though there are some agreements on monetary policy and through European Central Bank, countries may
not be able to or would simply choose not to follow it. This feature brought fiscal free riding of peripheral
economies, especially represented by Greece, as it is hard to control and regulate national financial institutions.
Furthermore, there is also a problem that the euro zone system has a difficult structure for quick response.
Eurozone, having 17 nations as its members, require unanimous agreement for a decision making process. This
would lead to failure in complete prevention of contagion of other areas, as it would be hard for the Euro zone to
respond quickly to the problem.
In addition, as of June 2012 there was no "banking union" meaning that there was no Europe-wide approach to
bank deposit insurance, bank oversight, or a joint means of recapitalization or resolution (wind-down) of failing
Bank deposit insurance helps avoid bank runs. Recapitalization refers to injecting money into banks
so that they can meet their immediate obligations and resume lending, as was done in 2008 in the U.S. via the
TARP program.
Columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote in June 2012: "In Europe, hyperconnectedness both exposed just how
uncompetitive some of their economies were, but also how interdependent they had become. It was a deadly
combination. When countries with such different cultures become this interconnected and interdependent -
when they share the same currency but not the same work ethics, retirement ages or budget discipline - you end
up with German savers seething at Greek workers, and vice versa."
Monetary policy inflexibility
Further information: Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union
Since membership of the Eurozone establishes a single monetary policy, individual member states can no longer
act independently, preventing them from printing money in order to pay creditors and ease their risk of default.
By "printing money", a country's currency is devalued relative to its (eurozone) trading partners, making its
exports cheaper, in principle leading to an improved balance of trade, increased GDP and higher tax revenues in
nominal terms.
In the reverse direction moreover, assets held in a currency which has devalued suffer losses on the part of those
holding them. For example, by the end of 2011, following a 25 percent fall in the rate of exchange and 5 percent
rise in inflation, eurozone investors in Pound Sterling, locked in to euro exchange rates, had suffered an
approximate 30 percent cut in the repayment value of this debt.
Loss of confidence
Prior to development of the crisis it was assumed by both regulators and banks that sovereign debt from the
eurozone was safe. Banks had substantial holdings of bonds from weaker economies such as Greece which
offered a small premium and seemingly were equally sound. As the crisis developed it became obvious that
Greek, and possibly other countries', bonds offered substantially more risk. Contributing to lack of information
about the risk of European sovereign debt was conflict of interest by banks that were earning substantial sums
underwriting the bonds.
The loss of confidence is marked by rising sovereign CDS prices, indicating market
expectations about countries' creditworthiness (see graph).
Furthermore, investors have doubts about the possibilities of policy makers to quickly contain the crisis. Since
countries that use the euro as their currency have fewer monetary policy choices (e.g., they cannot print money
in their own currencies to pay debt holders), certain solutions require multi-national cooperation. Further, the
European Central Bank has an inflation control mandate but not an employment mandate, as opposed to the U.S.
Federal Reserve, which has a dual mandate.
According to The Economist, the crisis "is as much political as economic" and the result of the fact that the euro
area is not supported by the institutional paraphernalia (and mutual bonds of solidarity) of a state.
Heavy bank
withdrawals have occurred in weaker Eurozone states such as Greece and Spain.
Bank deposits in the
Eurozone are insured, but by agencies of each member government. If banks fail, it is unlikely the government
will be able to fully and promptly honor their commitment, at least not in euros, and there is the possibility that
they might abandon the euro and revert to a national currency; thus, euro deposits are safer in Dutch, German, or
Austrian banks than they are in Greece or Spain.
As of June, 2012, many European banking systems were under significant stress, particularly Spain. A series of
"capital calls" or notices that banks required capital contributed to a freeze in funding markets and interbank
lending, as investors worried that banks might be hiding losses or were losing trust in one-another.
In June, 2012, as the Euro hit new lows with no bottom in sight, there were reports that the wealthy were
Sovereign CDS prices of selected European
countries (2010-2011). The left axis is in basis
points; a level of 1,000 means it costs $1 million to
protect $10 million of debt for five years.
moving assets out of the Eurozone.
Mario Draghi,
president of the European Central Bank, has called for an
integrated European system of deposit insurance which
would require European political institutions craft effective
solutions for problems beyond the limits of the power of the
European Central Bank.
As of June 6, 2012, closer
integration of European banking appeared to be under
consideration by political leaders.
Interest on long term sovereign debt
In June, 2012, following negotiation of the Spanish bailout
line of credit interest on long-term Spanish and Italian debt
continued to rise rapidly, casting doubt on the efficacy of
bailout packages as anything more than a stopgap measure.
The Spanish rate, over 6% before the line of credit was
approved, approached 7%, a rough rule of thumb indicator
of serious trouble.
Rating agency views
On 5 December 2011, S&P placed its long-term sovereign
ratings on 15 members of the eurozone on "CreditWatch"
with negative implications; S&P wrote this was due to
"systemic stresses from five interrelated factors: 1)
Tightening credit conditions across the eurozone; 2)
Markedly higher risk premiums on a growing number of
eurozone sovereigns including some that are currently rated
'AAA'; 3) Continuing disagreements among European
policy makers on how to tackle the immediate market
confidence crisis and, longer term, how to ensure greater
economic, financial, and fiscal convergence among eurozone members; 4) High levels of government and
household indebtedness across a large area of the eurozone; and 5) The rising risk of economic recession in the
eurozone as a whole in 2012. Currently, we expect output to decline next year in countries such as Spain,
Portugal and Greece, but we now assign a 40% probability of a fall in output for the eurozone as a whole."
Evolution of the crisis
See also: 2000s European sovereign debt crisis timeline
In the first few weeks of 2010, there was renewed anxiety about excessive national debt, with lenders
demanding ever higher interest rates from several countries with higher debt levels, deficits and current account
deficits. This in turn made it difficult for some governments to finance further budget deficits and service existing
debt, particularly when economic growth rates were low, and when a high percentage of debt was in the hands
of foreign creditors, as in the case of Greece and Portugal.
Some governments have focused on austerity measures (e.g., higher taxes and lower expenses) which has
contributing to social unrest and significant debate among economists, many of whom advocate greater deficits
when economies are struggling. Especially in countries where budget deficits and sovereign debts have increased
sharply, a crisis of confidence has emerged with the widening of bond yield spreads and risk insurance on CDS
between these countries and other EU member states, most importantly Germany.
By the end of 2011,
Germany was estimated to have made more than C9 billion out of the crisis as investors flocked to safer but near
Greece's debt percentage since 1999 compared to the average
of the eurozone.
100,000 people protest against the
harsh austerity measures in front of
parliament building in Athens, 29
May 2011
zero interest rate German federal government bonds (bunds).
While Switzerland equally benefited from lower interest rates, the crisis also harmed its export sector due to a
substantial influx of foreign capital and the resulting rise of the Swiss franc. In September 2011 the Swiss
National Bank surprised currency traders by pledging that "it will no longer tolerate a euro-franc exchange rate
below the minimum rate of 1.20 francs", effectively weakening the Swiss franc. This is the biggest Swiss
intervention since 1978.
Main article: Greek government-debt crisis
In the early mid-2000s, Greece's economy was one
of the fastest growing in the eurozone and was
associated with a large structural deficit.
As the
world economy was hit by the global financial crisis
in the late 2000s, Greece was hit especially hard
because its main industries - shipping and tourism
- were especially sensitive to changes in the
business cycle. The government spent heavily to
keep the economy functioning and the country's
debt increased accordingly.
On 23 April 2010, the Greek government requested
an initial loan of C45 billion from the EU and
International Monetary Fund (IMF), to cover its
financial needs for the remaining part of
A few days later Standard & Poor's
slashed Greece's sovereign debt rating to BB+ or
"junk" status amid fears of default,
in which
case investors were liable to lose 30-50% of their
Stock markets worldwide and the Euro
currency declined in response to the downgrade.
On 1 May 2010, the Greek government announced
a series of austerity measures
to secure a three year C110 billion
This was met with great anger by the Greek public, leading to
massive protests, riots and social unrest throughout Greece.
Troika (EU, ECB and IMF), offered Greece a second bailout loan worth
C130 billion in October 2011, but with the activation being conditional
on implementation of further austerity measures and a debt restructure
agreement. A bit surprisingly, the Greek prime minister George
Papandreou first answered that call, by announcing a December 2011
referendum on the new bailout plan,
but had to back down amidst
strong pressure from EU partners, who threatened to withhold an
overdue C6 billion loan payment that Greece needed by mid-
On 10 November 2011 Papandreou instead opted to
resign, following an agreement with the New Democracy party and the Popular Orthodox Rally, to appoint non-
MP technocrat Lucas Papademos as new prime minister of an interim national union government, with
responsibility for implementing the needed austerity measures to pave the way for the second bailout loan.
All the implemented austerity measures, have so far helped Greece bring down its primary deficit before interest
payments, from C24.7bn (10.6% of GDP) in 2009 to just C5.2bn (2.4% of GDP) in 2011,
but as a side-
effect they also contributed to a worsening of the Greek recession, which began in October 2008 and only
became worse in 2010 and 2011.
The austerity relies primarily on tax increases which harms the private
sector and economy.
Overall the Greek GDP had its worst decline in 2011 with 6.9%,
a year where the
seasonal adjusted industrial output ended 28.4% lower than in 2005,
and with 111,000 Greek companies
going bankrupt (27% higher than in 2010).
As a result, the seasonal adjusted unemployment rate also
grew from 7.5% in September 2008 to a record high of 19.9% in November 2011, while the Youth
unemployment rate during the same time rose from 22.0% to as high as 48.1%.
Youth unemployment
ratio hit 13 percent in 2011.
Overall the share of the population living at "risk of poverty or social exclusion" did not increase noteworthy
during the first 2 years of the crisis. The figure was measured to 27.6% in 2009 and 27.7% in 2010 (only being
slightly worse than the EU27-average at 23.4%),
but for 2011 the figure was now estimated to have risen
sharply above 33%.
In February 2012, an IMF official negotiating Greek austerity measures admitted that
excessive spending cuts were harming Greece.
Some economic experts argue that the best option for Greece and the rest of the EU, would be to engineer an
'orderly default, allowing Athens to withdraw simultaneously from the eurozone and reintroduce its national
currency the drachma at a debased rate.
However, if Greece were to leave the euro, the economic and
political impact would be devastating. According to Japanese financial company Nomura an exit would lead to a
60% devaluation of the new drachma. Analysts at French bank BNP Paribas added that the fallout from a Greek
exit would wipe 20% off Greece's GDP, increase Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio to over 200%, and send inflation
soaring to 40%-50%.
Also UBS warned of hyperinflation, a bank run and even "military coups and possible
civil war that could afflict a departing country".
To prevent this from happening, the troika (EU, IMF and ECB) eventually agreed in February 2012 to provide a
second bailout package worth C130 billion,
conditional on the implementation of another harsh austerity
package, reducing the Greek spendings with C3.3bn in 2012 and another C10bn in 2013 and 2014.
For the
first time, the bailout deal also included a debt restructure agreement with the private holders of Greek
government bonds (banks, insurers and investment funds), to "voluntarily" accept a bond swap with a 53.5%
nominal write-off, partly in short-term EFSF notes, partly in new Greek bonds with lower interest rates and the
maturity prolonged to 11-30 years (independently of the previous maturity).
It is the world's biggest debt restructuring deal ever done, affecting some C206 billion of Greek government
The debt write-off had a size of C107 billion, and caused the Greek debt level to fall from roughly
C350bn to C240bn in March 2012, with the predicted debt burden now showing a more sustainable size equal
to 117% of GDP,
somewhat lower than the originally expected 120.5%.
On 9 March 2012 the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) issued a communique calling the
debt restructuring deal with its private sector involvement (PSI) a "Restructuring Credit Event" which will trigger
payment of credit default swaps. According to Forbes magazine Greece`s restructuring represents a
This credit event implies that previous Greek bond holders are being given, for 1000C of previous notional,
150C in 'PSI payment notes issued by the EFSF and 315C in 'New Greek Bonds issued by the Hellenic
Republic, including a 'GDP-linked security. The latter represents a marginal coupon enhancement in case the
Greek growth meets certain conditions. While the market price of the portfolio proposed in the exchange is of the
order of 21% of the original face value (15% for the two EFSF PSI notes - 1 and 2 years - and 6% for the New
Greek Bonds - 11 to 30 years), the duration of the set of New Greek Bonds is slightly below 10 years.
Mid May 2012 the crisis and impossibility to form a new government after elections led to strong speculations
Irish government deficit compared to other European
countries and the United States (2000-2013)
Greece would have to leave the Eurozone shortly due. This phenomenon became known as "Grexit" and started
to govern international market behaviour.
The center-right's narrow victory in the June 17th election
gives hope that a coalition will enable Greece to stay in the Euro-zone.
A victory by the anti-austerity axis
could have been "an excuse to cut Greece out of the euro zone" according to the Wall Street Journal.
Main article: 2008-2012 Irish financial crisis
The Irish sovereign debt crisis was not based on
government over-spending, but from the state
guaranteeing the six main Irish-based banks who
had financed a property bubble. On 29 September
2008, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, Jnr issued a
one-year guarantee to the banks' depositors and
He renewed it for another year in
September 2009 soon after the launch of the
National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), a
body designed to remove bad loans from the six
Irish banks had lost an estimated 100 billion euros,
much of it related to defaulted loans to property
developers and homeowners made in the midst of
the property bubble, which burst around 2007. The
economy collapsed during 2008. Unemployment
rose from 4% in 2006 to 14% by 2010, while the
federal budget went from a surplus in 2007 to a
deficit of 32% GDP in 2010, the highest in the
history of the eurozone, despite austerity
Ireland could have guaranteed bank deposits and let
private bondholders who had invested in the banks
face losses, but instead borrowed money from the
ECB to pay these bondholders, shifting the losses
and debt to its taxpayers, with severe negative
impact on Ireland's creditworthiness. As a result, the
government started negotiations with the EU, the
IMF and three nations: the United Kingdom,
Denmark and Sweden, resulting in a C67.5 billion "bailout" agreement of 29 November 2010
with additional C17.5 billion coming from Ireland's own reserves and pensions, the government received
C85 billion,
of which C34 billion were used to support the country's ailing financial sector.
In return
the government agreed to reduce its budget deficit to below three percent by 2015.
In April 2011, despite all
the measures taken, Moody's downgraded the banks' debt to junk status.
In July 2011 European leaders agreed to cut the interest rate that Ireland was paying on its EU/IMF bailout loan
from around 6% to between 3.5% and 4% and to double the loan time to 15 years. The move was expected to
save the country between 600-700 million euros per year.
On 14 September 2011, in a move to further ease
Ireland's difficult financial situation, the European Commission announced it would cut the interest rate on its
C22.5 billion loan coming from the European Financial Stability Mechanism, down to 2.59 per cent - which is
the interest rate the EU itself pays to borrow from financial markets.
The Euro Plus Monitor report from November 2011 attests to Ireland's vast progress in dealing with its financial
crisis, expecting the country to stand on its own feet again and finance itself without any external support from
the second half of 2012 onwards.
According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research Ireland's
export-led recovery "will gradually pull its economy out of its trough". As a result of the improved economic
outlook, the cost of 10-year government bonds, which has already fallen substantially since mid July 2011 (see
the graph "Long-term Interest Rates"), is expected to fall further to 4 per cent by 2015.
In the first half of 2011, Portugal requested a C78 billion IMF-EU bailout package in a bid to stabilise its public
finances. These measures were put in place as a direct result of decades-long governmental overspending and an
over bureaucratised civil service. After the bailout was announced, the Portuguese government headed by Pedro
Passos Coelho managed to implement measures to improve the State's financial situation and the country started
to be seen as moving on the right track. However, the unemployment level rose to over 14.8 percent, taxes were
increased, and civil service-related lower-wages were frozen and higher-wages were cut by 14.3%, on top of the
government's spending cuts.
A report released in January 2011 by the Dirio de Notcias
and published in Portugal by Gradiva, had
demonstrated that in the period between the Carnation Revolution in 1974 and 2010, the democratic Portuguese
Republic governments encouraged over-expenditure and investment bubbles through unclear Public-private
partnerships and funding of numerous ineffective and unnecessary external consultancy and advisory of
committees and firms. This allowed considerable slippage in state-managed public works and inflated top
management and head officer bonuses and wages. Persistent and lasting recruitment policies boosted the number
of redundant public servants. Risky credit, public debt creation, and European structural and cohesion funds
were mismanaged across almost four decades. Prime Minister Scrates's cabinet was not able to forecast or
prevent this in 2005, and later it was incapable of doing anything to improve the situation when the country was
on the verge of bankruptcy by 2011.
Robert Fishman, in the New York Times article "Portugal's Unnecessary Bailout", points out that Portugal fell
victim to successive waves of speculation by pressure from bond traders, rating agencies and speculators.
the first quarter of 2010, before pressure from the markets, Portugal had one of the best rates of economic
recovery in the EU. From the perspective of Portugal's industrial orders, exports, entrepreneurial innovation and
high-school achievement, the country matched or even surpassed its neighbors in Western Europe.
On 16 May 2011, the eurozone leaders officially approved a C78 billion bailout package for Portugal, which
became the third eurozone country, after Ireland and Greece, to receive emergency funds. The bailout loan was
equally split between the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism, the European Financial Stability Facility,
and the International Monetary Fund.
According to the Portuguese finance minister, the average interest rate
on the bailout loan is expected to be 5.1 percent.
As part of the deal, the country agreed to cut its budget
deficit from 9.8 percent of GDP in 2010 to 5.9 percent in 2011, 4.5 percent in 2012 and 3 percent in 2013.
The Portuguese government also agreed to eliminate its golden share in Portugal Telecom to pave the way for
In 2012, all public servants had already seen an average wage cut of 20% relative to their
2010 baseline, with cuts reaching 25% for those earning more than 1,500 euro per month. This led to a flood of
specialized technicians and top officials leaving the public service, many looking for better positions in the
private sector or in other European countries.
On 6 July 2011, the ratings agency Moody's had cut Portugal's credit rating to junk status, Moody's also
launched speculation that Portugal could follow Greece in requesting a second bailout.
In December 2011, it was reported that Portugal's estimated budget deficit of 4.5 percent in 2011 would be
substantially lower than expected, due to a one-off transfer of pension funds. The country would therefore meet
its 2012 target a year earlier than expected.
Despite the fact that the economy is expected to contract by 3
percent in 2011 the IMF expects the country to be able to return to medium and long-term debt sovereign
markets by late 2013.
Any deficit means increasing the nation's debt. To bring down the debt to sustainable
levels will require a 10% budget surplus for several years according to some estimates.
See also: 2008-2012 Spanish financial crisis
Spain has a comparatively low debt among advanced economies.
The country's public debt relative to GDP
in 2010 was only 60%, more than 20 points less than Germany, France or the US, and more than 60 points less
than Italy, Ireland or Greece.
Debt was largely avoided by the ballooning tax revenue from the housing
bubble, which helped accommodate a decade of increase government spending without debt accumulation.
Like Italy, Spain has most of its debt controlled internally, and both countries were in a better fiscal situation than
Greece and Portugal at the outset of the financial crisis.
As one of the largest eurozone economies, the condition of Spain's economy is of particular concern to
international observers, and has faced pressure from the United States, the IMF, other European countries and
the European Commission to cut its deficit more aggressively.
Spain's public debt was approximately
U.S. $820 billion in 2010, roughly the level of Greece, Portugal, and Ireland combined.
Rumors raised by speculators about a Spanish bail-out were dismissed by then Spanish Prime Minister Jos Luis
Rodrguez Zapatero as "complete insanity" and "intolerable".
Nevertheless, shortly after the announcement
of the EU's new "emergency fund" for eurozone countries in early May 2010, Spain had to announce new
austerity measures designed to further reduce the country's budget deficit, in order to signal financial markets that
it was safe to invest in the country.
The Spanish government had hoped to avoid such deep cuts, but weak
economic growth as well as domestic and international pressure forced the government to expand on cuts already
announced in January.
Spain succeeded in trimming its deficit from 11.2% of GDP in 2009 to 9.2% in 2010
and 8.5% in 2011.
Due to the European crisis and over spending by regional governments the latest figure is higher than the original
target of 6%.
To build up additional trust in the financial markets, the government amended the Spanish
Constitution in 2011 to require a balanced budget at both the national and regional level by 2020. The
amendment states that public debt can not exceed 60% of GDP, though exceptions would be made in case of a
natural catastrophe, economic recession or other emergencies.
Under pressure from the EU the new
conservative Spanish government led by Mariano Rajoy aims to cut the deficit further to 5.3 percent in 2012 and
3 percent in 2013.
While public debt was restrained prior to the crisis, private mortgage debt fueled a housing bubble.
subsequent burst weakened private banks leading to government bailouts. In May 2012, Bankia received a 19
billion euro bailout,
on top of the previous 4.5 billion euros to prop up Bankia.
Questionable accounting
methods disguised bank losses.
As of June 6, 2012 a bailout package for Spain of between C40 and 100 billion was reported to be under
consideration. The package was described as available if requested which it was on June 9, 2012 and granted for
an amount up to C100 billion. The exact amount will depend on audits of the condition of Spanish banks which
are in progress. The loan will be to the Spanish government but earmarked for relief of troubled banks.
A larger economy than other countries which have received bailout packages, Spain had considerable bargaining
power regarding the terms of a bailout.
Due to reforms already instituted by Spain's conservative
government less stringent austerity requirements are included then was the case with earlier bailout packages for
Ireland, Portugal, and Greece.
Total financing needs of selected countries in % of GDP
During June 2012, the Spanish debt crisis became a prime concern for the Euro-zone.
Interest on Spain`s
10-year bonds reached the 7% level and it faced difficulty in accessing bond markets. Spain accepted a C100 aid
package for its banks. 'Spanish banks have propped up the government, which is now forced to turn to Europe
for help propping up the weaker banks. Stronger banks are shying away from buying government bonds. The
aid package (counted towards Spain`s gross debt but it is not considered a sovereign debt bailout) brings Spain`s
debt close to the 90% level, the Euro-zone average. It is expected to increase given a negative growth rate of
1.7%, 25% unemployment, falling housing prices, and a deficit of 5.4%. Spain is the EU`s fourth-largest
economy, larger than Greece, Portugal and Ireland combined.
In September 2011, yields on Cyprus long-term bonds have risen above 12%, since the small island of 840,000
people was downgraded by all major credit ratings agencies following a devastating explosion at a power plant
in July and slow progress with fiscal and structural reforms. Since January 2012, Cyprus is relying on a C 2.5bn
emergency loan from Russia to cover its budget deficit and re-finance maturing debt. The loan has an interest
rate of 4.5% and it is valid for 4.5 years
though it is expected that Cyprus will be able to fund itself again by
the first quarter of 2013.
On June 12, 2012 financial media reported that a bailout request by Cyprus was
imminent. Despite its low population and small economy Cyprus has an off-shore banking industry which is
disproportional to its economy.
A request was made to the European Financial Stability Facility or the
European Stability Mechanism on June 25, 2012. It is anticipated that a bailout package would include
requirements for fiscal reforms. The request follows a downgrade of Cyprus bonds to BB+ by Fitch, also on
June 25, 2012, which disqualified bonds issued by Cyprus from being accepted as collateral by the European
Central Bank.
On 13 March 2012 Moody's has slashed Cyprus's credit rating into Junk status, warning that the Cyprus
government will have to inject fresh capital into its banks to cover losses incurred through Greece's debt swap.
Cyprus's banks were highly exposed to Greek debt and so are disproportionately hit by the haircut taken by
It was reported on June 25, 2012 by The Financial Times that banks in Cyprus held C22 billion of
Greek private sector debt.
Possible spread to other countries
One of the central concerns prior to the bailout was
that the crisis could spread to several other countries
after reducing confidence in other European
economies. According to the UK Financial Policy
Committee "Market concerns remain over fiscal
positions in a number of euro area countries and the
potential for contagion to banking systems."
Besides Ireland, with a government deficit in 2010
of 32.4% of GDP, and Portugal at 9.1%, other
countries such as Spain with 9.2% are also at
For 2010, the OECD forecast $16 trillion would be raised in government bonds among its 30 member countries.
Financing needs for the eurozone come to a total of C1.6 trillion, while the U.S. is expected to issue
US$1.7 trillion more Treasury securities in this period,
and Japan has 213 trillion of government bonds to
roll over.
Greece has been the notable example of an industrialised country that has faced difficulties in the
markets because of rising debt levels but even countries such as the U.S., Germany and the UK, have had
fraught moments as investors shunned bond auctions due to concerns about public finances and the
Economic data from Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, United
Kingdom, Spain, Germany, the EU and the eurozone for
The 2010 annual budget deficit and public debt, both
relative to GDP for selected European countries.
Italy's deficit of 4.6 percent of GDP in 2010 was similar to Germany`s at 4.3 percent and less than that of the
U.K. and France. Italy even has a surplus in its primary budget, which excludes debt interest payments.
However, its debt has increased to almost 120 percent of GDP (U.S. $2.4 trillion in 2010) and economic growth
was lower than the EU average for over a decade.
This has led investors to view Italian bonds more and
more as a risky asset.
On the other hand, the public debt of Italy has a longer maturity and a substantial share of it is held domestically.
Overall this makes the country more resilient to
financial shocks, ranking better than France and
About 300 billion euros of Italy's 1.9
trillion euro debt matures in 2012. It will therefore
have to go to the capital markets for significant
refinancing in the near-term.
On 15 July and 14 September 2011, Italy's
government passed austerity measures meant to
save C124 billion.
Nonetheless, by 8
November 2011 the Italian bond yield was 6.74
percent for 10-year bonds, climbing above the 7
percent level where the country is thought to lose
access to financial markets.
On 11 November
2011, Italian 10-year borrowing costs fell sharply
from 7.5 to 6.7 percent after Italian legislature
approved further austerity measures and the
formation of an emergency government to replace
that of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The measures include a pledge to raise C15 billion
from real-estate sales over the next three years, a
two-year increase in the retirement age to 67 by
2026, opening up closed professions within 12
months and a gradual reduction in government
ownership of local services.
The interim
government expected to put the new laws into
practice is led by former European Union
Competition Commissioner Mario Monti.
As in other countries, the social effects have been
severe, with child labour even re-emerging in
poorer areas.
In 2010, Belgium's public debt was 100% of its GDP-the third highest in the eurozone after Greece and
and there were doubts about the financial stability of the banks,
following the country's major
financial crisis in 2008-2009. After inconclusive elections in June 2010, by November 2011
the country still
had only a caretaker government as parties from the two main language groups in the country (Flemish and
Walloon) were unable to reach agreement on how to form a majority government.
In November 2010
Long-term interest rates of selected European countries.
Note that weak non-eurozone countries (Hungary, Romania)
lack the sharp rise in interest rates characteristic of weak
eurozone countries.
financial analysts forecast that Belgium would be the next country to be hit by the financial crisis as Belgium's
borrowing costs rose.
However the government deficit of 5% was relatively modest and Belgian government 10-year bond yields in
November 2010 of 3.7% were still below those of Ireland (9.2%), Portugal (7%) and Spain (5.2%).
Furthermore, thanks to Belgium's high personal savings rate, the Belgian Government financed the deficit from
mainly domestic savings, making it less prone to fluctuations of international credit markets.
Nevertheless on
25 November 2011, Belgium's long-term sovereign credit rating was downgraded from AA+ to AA by Standard
and Poor
and 10-year bond yields reached
Shortly after, Belgian negotiating parties reached an
agreement to form a new government. The deal
includes spending cuts and tax rises worth about
C11 billion, which should bring the budget deficit
down to 2.8% of GDP by 2012, and to balance the
books in 2015.
Following the announcement
Belgium 10-year bond yields fell sharply to
France's public debt in 2010 was approximately
U.S. $2.1 trillion and 83% GDP, with a 2010
budget deficit of 7% GDP.
By 16 November
2011, France's bond yield spreads vs. Germany had
widened 450% since July, 2011.
C.D.S. contract value rose 300% in the same
On 1 December 2011, France's bond yield had
retreated and the country auctioned C4.3 billion
worth of 10 year bonds at an average yield of
3.18%, well below the perceived critical level of
By early February 2012, yields on French 10 year bonds had fallen to 2.84%.
United Kingdom
Main article: United Kingdom national debt
According to the Financial Policy Committee "Any associated disruption to bank funding markets could spill
over to UK banks."
The UK has the highest gross foreign debt of any European country (C7.3 trillion;
C117,580 per person) due in large part to its highly leveraged financial industry, which is closely connected with
both the United States and the eurozone.
In 2012 the U.K. economy was in recession, being negatively impacted by reduced economic activity in Europe,
and apprehensive regarding possible future impacts of the Eurozone crisis. The Bank of England made
substantial funds available at reduced interest to U.K. banks for loans to domestic enterprises. The bank is also
providing liquidity by purchase of large quantities of government bonds, a program which may be
Bank of England support of British banks with respect to the Eurozone crisis was backed by the
British Treasury.
Bank of England governor Mervyn King stated in May 2012 that the Euro zone is "tearing itself apart" and
advised British banks to pay bonuses and dividends in stock to hoard cash. He acknowledged that the Bank of
England, the Financial Services Authority, and the British government were preparing contingency plans for a
Greek exit from the Euro or a collapse of the currency, but refused to discuss them to avoid adding to the
Known contingency plans include emergency immigration controls to prevent millions of Greek and
other EU residents from entering the country to seek work, and the evacuation of Britons from Greece during
civil unrest.
A Euro collapse would damage London's role as a major financial centre because of the increased risk to UK
banks. The pound and gilts would likely benefit, however, as investors seek safer investments.
The London
real estate market has similarly benefited from the crisis, with French, Greeks, and other Europeans buying
property with capital moved out of their home countries,
and a Greek exit from the Euro would likely
increase such transfer of capital.
Switzerland was impacted by the Eurozone crisis as money was moved into Swiss assets seeking safety from the
Eurozone crisis as well as by apprehension of further worsening of the crisis. This resulted in appreciation of the
Swiss Franc with respect to the Euro and other currencies which drove down internal prices and raised the price
of exports. Credit Suisse was required to increase its capitalization by the Swiss National Bank which also
declared its intention to continue to retard rise of Swiss franc by substantial purchases of other currencies;
purchases of the Euro had the effect of maintaining the value of the Euro which before Swiss intervention had
fallen below the Swiss comfort level. Real estate values in Switzerland are extremely high, thus posing a possible
In relationship to the total amounts involved in the Eurozone crisis, the economy of Germany is relatively small
and would be unable, even if it were willing, to guarantee payment of the sovereign debts of the rest of the
Eurozone as Spain and even Italy and France are added to potentially defaulting nations. Thus, according to
Chancellor Angela Merkel, German participation in rescue efforts are conditioned on negotiation of Eurozone
reforms which have the potential to resolve the underlying imbalances which are driving the crisis.
Policy reactions
EU emergency measures
European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF)
Main article: European Financial Stability Facility
On 9 May 2010, the 27 EU member states agreed to create the European Financial Stability Facility, a legal
aiming at preserving financial stability in Europe by providing financial assistance to eurozone
states in difficulty. The EFSF can issue bonds or other debt instruments on the market with the support of the
German Debt Management Office to raise the funds needed to provide loans to eurozone countries in financial
troubles, recapitalize banks or buy sovereign debt.
Emissions of bonds are backed by guarantees given by the euro area member states in proportion to their share in
the paid-up capital of the European Central Bank. The C440 billion lending capacity of the facility is jointly and
severally guaranteed by the eurozone countries' governments and may be combined with loans up to C60 billion
from the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (reliant on funds raised by the European Commission
Debt profile of Eurozone countries
using the EU budget as collateral) and up to C250 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to obtain
a financial safety net up to C750 billion.
The EFSF issued C5 billion of five-year bonds in its inaugural benchmark issue 25 January 2011, attracting an
order book of C44.5 billion. This amount is a record for any sovereign bond in Europe, and C24.5 billion more
than the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism(EFSM), a separate European Union funding vehicle, with
a C5 billion issue in the first week of January 2011.
On 29 November 2011, the member state finance ministers agreed to expand the EFSF by creating certificates
that could guarantee up to 30% of new issues from troubled euro-area governments, and to create investment
vehicles that would boost the EFSF`s firepower to intervene in primary and secondary bond markets.
Reception by financial markets
Stocks surged worldwide after the EU announced the EFSF's creation. The facility eased fears that the Greek
debt crisis would spread,
and this led to some stocks rising to the highest level in a year or more.
euro made its biggest gain in 18 months,
before falling to a new four-year low a week later.
after the euro rose again as hedge funds and other short-term traders unwound short positions and carry trades in
the currency.
Commodity prices also rose following the announcement.
The dollar Libor held at a nine-month high.
Default swaps also fell.
The VIX closed down a record
almost 30%, after a record weekly rise the preceding week that prompted the bailout.
The agreement is
interpreted as allowing the ECB to start buying government debt from the secondary market which is expected to
reduce bond yields.
As a result Greek bond yields fell sharply from over 10% to just over 5%.
bonds yields also fell with the EU bailout.
Usage of EFSF funds
The EFSF only raises funds after an aid request is
made by a country.
As of the end of December
2011, it has been activated two times. In November
2010, it financed C17.7 billion of the total
C67.5 billion rescue package for Ireland (the rest
was loaned from individual European countries, the
European Commission and the IMF). In May 2011
it contributed one third of the C78 billion package
for Portugal. As part of the second bailout for
Greece, the loan was shifted to the EFSF,
amounting to C164 billion (130bn new package
plus 34.4bn remaining from Greek Loan Facility)
throughout 2014.
This leaves the EFSF with
C250 billion or an equivalent of C750 billion in
leveraged firepower.
According to German
newspaper Sueddeutsche, this is more than enough
to finance the debt rollovers of all flagging
European countries until end of 2012, in case
The EFSF is set to expire in 2013, running one year
parallel to the permanent C500 billion rescue funding program called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM),
which will start operating as soon as member states representing 90% of the capital commitments have ratified it.
This is expected to be in July 2012.
On 13 January 2012, Standard & Poor`s downgraded France and Austria from AAA rating, lowered Spain, Italy
(and five other
) euro members further, and maintained the top credit rating for Finland, Germany,
Luxembourg, and the Netherlands; shortly after, S&P also downgraded the EFSF from AAA to AA+.
European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM)
Main article: European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism
On 5 January 2011, the European Union created the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), an
emergency funding programme reliant upon funds raised on the financial markets and guaranteed by the
European Commission using the budget of the European Union as collateral.
It runs under the supervision
of the Commission
and aims at preserving financial stability in Europe by providing financial assistance to
EU member states in economic difficulty.
The Commission fund, backed by all 27 European Union
members, has the authority to raise up to C60 billion
and is rated AAA by Fitch, Moody's and Standard &
Under the EFSM, the EU successfully placed in the capital markets a C5 billion issue of bonds as part of the
financial support package agreed for Ireland, at a borrowing cost for the EFSM of 2.59%.
Like the EFSF, the EFSM will also be replaced by the permanent rescue funding programme ESM, which is due
to be launched in July 2012.
Brussels agreement and aftermath
On 26 October 2011, leaders of the 17 eurozone countries met in Brussels and agreed on a 50% write-off of
Greek sovereign debt held by banks, a fourfold increase (to about C1 trillion) in bail-out funds held under the
European Financial Stability Facility, an increased mandatory level of 9% for bank capitalisation within the EU
and a set of commitments from Italy to take measures to reduce its national debt. Also pledged was C35 billion
in "credit enhancement" to mitigate losses likely to be suffered by European banks. Jos Manuel Barroso
characterised the package as a set of "exceptional measures for exceptional times".
The package's acceptance was put into doubt on 31 October when Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou
announced that a referendum would be held so that the Greek people would have the final say on the bailout,
upsetting financial markets.
On 3 November 2011 the promised Greek referendum on the bailout package
was withdrawn by Prime Minister Papandreou.
In late 2011, Landon Thomas in the New York Times noted that some, at least, European banks were
maintaining high dividend payout rates and none were getting capital injections from their governments even
while being required to improve capital ratios. Thomas quoted Richard Koo, an economist based in Japan, an
expert on that country's banking crisis, and specialist in balance sheet recessions, as saying:
I do not think Europeans understand the implications of a systemic banking crisis.... When all banks
are forced to raise capital at the same time, the result is going to be even weaker banks and an even
longer recession - if not depression.... Government intervention should be the first resort, not the last
Beyond equity issuance and debt-to-equity conversion, then, one analyst "said that as banks find it more difficult
to raise funds, they will move faster to cut down on loans and unload lagging assets" as they work to improve
capital ratios. This latter contraction of balance sheets "could lead to a depression, the analyst said.
Reduced lending was a circumstance already at the time being seen in a "deepen[ing] crisis" in commodities
trade finance in western Europe.
ECB Securities Markets Program (SMP) covering bond
purchases from May 2010 till June 2012.
Final agreement on the second bailout package
In a marathon meeting on 20/21 February 2012 the Eurogroup agreed with the IMF and the Institute of
International Finance on the final conditions of the second bailout package worth C130 billion. The lenders
agreed to increase the nominal haircut from 50% to 53.5%. EU Member States agreed to an additional retroactive
lowering of the interest rates of the Greek Loan Facility to a level of just 150 basis points above the Euribor.
Furthermore, governments of Member States where central banks currently hold Greek government bonds in
their investment portfolio commit to pass on to Greece an amount equal to any future income until 2020.
Altogether this should bring down Greece's debt to between 117%
and 120.5% of GDP by 2020.
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank (ECB) has taken a
series of measures aimed at reducing volatility in the
financial markets and at improving liquidity.
In May 2010 it took the following actions:
It began open market operations buying
government and private debt securities,
reaching C219.5 billion by February
though it simultaneously absorbed
the same amount of liquidity to prevent a rise
in inflation.
According to Rabobank
economist Elwin de Groot, there is a 'natural
limit of C300 billion the ECB can
It reactivated the dollar swap lines
Federal Reserve support.
It changed its policy regarding the necessary
credit rating for loan deposits, accepting as
collateral all outstanding and new debt
instruments issued or guaranteed by the
Greek government, regardless of the nation's credit rating.
The move took some pressure off Greek government bonds, which had just been downgraded to junk status,
making it difficult for the government to raise money on capital markets.
On 30 November 2011, the ECB, the U.S. Federal Reserve, the central banks of Canada, Japan, Britain and the
Swiss National Bank provided global financial markets with additional liquidity to ward off the debt crisis and to
support the real economy. The central banks agreed to lower the cost of dollar currency swaps by 50 basis points
to come into effect on 5 December 2011. They also agreed to provide each other with abundant liquidity to make
sure that commercial banks stay liquid in other currencies.
Long Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO)
On 22 December 2011, the ECB
started the biggest infusion of credit into the European banking system in
the euro's 13 year history. Under its Long Term Refinancing Operations (LTROs) it loaned C489 billion to 523
banks for an exceptionally long period of three years at a rate of just one percent.
Previous refinancing
operations matured after three, six and twelve months.
The by far biggest amount of C325 billion was
tapped by banks in Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain.
This way the ECB tried to make sure that banks have enough cash to pay off C200 billion of their own maturing
debts in the first three months of 2012, and at the same time keep operating and loaning to businesses so that a
credit crunch does not choke off economic growth. It also hoped that banks would use some of the money to buy
government bonds, effectively easing the debt crisis.
On 29 February 2012, the ECB held a second auction,
LTRO2, providing 800 Eurozone banks with further C529.5 billion in cheap loans.
Net new borrowing
under the C529.5 billion February auction was around C313 billion; out of a total of C256 billion existing ECB
lending (MRO + 3m&6m LTROs), C215 billion was rolled into LTRO2.
In September 2011, Jrgen Stark became the second German after Axel A. Weber to resign from the ECB
Governing Council in 2011. Weber, the former Deutsche Bundesbank president, was once thought to be a likely
successor to Jean-Claude Trichet as bank president. He and Stark were both thought to have resigned due to
"unhappiness with the ECB`s bond purchases, which critics say erode the bank`s independence". Stark was
"probably the most hawkish" member of the council when he resigned. Weber was replaced by his Bundesbank
successor Jens Weidmann, while Belgium's Peter Praet took Stark's original position, heading the ECB's
economics department.
Money supply growth
In April, 2012, statistics showed a growth trend in the M1 "core" money supply. Having fallen from an over 9%
growth rate in mid-2008 to negative 1% +/- for several months in 2011, M1 core has built to a 2-3% range in
early 2012. "'It is still early days but a further recovery in peripheral real M1 would suggest an end to recessions
by late 2012,' said Simon Ward from Henderson Global Investors who collects the data." While attributing the
money supply growth to ECB's LTRO policies, an analysis in The Telegraph said lending "continued to fall
across the eurozone in March [and] ... [t]he jury is out on the ... three-year lending adventure (LTRO)".
Reorganization of the European banking system
On June 16, 2012 the European Central Bank together with other European leaders hammered out plans for the
ECB to become a bank regulator and to form a deposit insurance program to augment national programs. Other
economic reforms promoting European growth and employment were also proposed.
European Stability Mechanism (ESM)
Main article: European Stability Mechanism
The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is a permanent rescue funding programme to succeed the temporary
European Financial Stability Facility and European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism in July 2012.
On 16 December 2010 the European Council agreed a two line amendment to the EU Lisbon Treaty to allow for
a permanent bail-out mechanism to be established
including stronger sanctions. In March 2011, the
European Parliament approved the treaty amendment after receiving assurances that the European Commission,
rather than EU states, would play 'a central role' in running the ESM.
According to this treaty, the ESM
will be an intergovernmental organisation under public international law and will be located in
Such a mechanism serves as a "financial firewall." Instead of a default by one country rippling through the entire
interconnected financial system, the firewall mechanism can ensure that downstream nations and banking
systems are protected by guaranteeing some or all of their obligations. Then the single default can be managed
while limiting financial contagion.
European Fiscal Compact
Main article: European Fiscal Compact
In March 2011 a new reform of the Stability and Growth Pact was initiated, aiming at straightening the rules by
adopting an automatic procedure for imposing of penalties in case of breaches of either the deficit or the debt
By the end of the year, Germany, France and some other smaller EU countries went a step further
and vowed to create a fiscal union across the eurozone with strict and enforceable fiscal rules and automatic
penalties embedded in the EU treaties.
On 9 December 2011 at the European Council meeting, all 17
members of the eurozone and six countries that aspire to join agreed on a new intergovernmental treaty to put
strict caps on government spending and borrowing, with penalties for those countries who violate the limits.
All other non-eurozone countries apart from the UK are also prepared to join in, subject to parliamentary
The treaty will enter into force on 1 January 2013, if by that time 12 members of the euro area have
ratified it.
Originally EU leaders planned to change existing EU treaties but this was blocked by British prime minister
David Cameron, who demanded that the City of London be excluded from future financial regulations, including
the proposed EU financial transaction tax.
By the end of the day, 26 countries had agreed to the plan,
leaving the United Kingdom as the only country not willing to join.
Cameron subsequently conceded that
his action had failed to secure any safeguards for the UK.
Britain's refusal to be part of the Franco-German
fiscal compact to safeguard the eurozone constituted a de facto refusal (PM David Cameron vetoed the project)
to engage in any radical revision of the Lisbon Treaty at the expense of British sovereignty: centrist analysts such
as John Rentoul of The Independent concluded that "Any Prime Minister would have done as Cameron
Economic reforms and recovery proposals
Increase investment
There has been substantial criticism over the austerity measures implemented by most European nations to
counter this debt crisis. Some argue that an abrupt return to "non-Keynesian" financial policies is not a viable
and predict that deflationary policies now being imposed on countries such as Greece and Spain
might prolong and deepen their recessions.
In a 2003 study that analyzed 133 IMF austerity programmes,
the IMF's independent evaluation office found that policy makers consistently underestimated the disastrous
effects of rigid spending cuts on economic growth.
Current austerity "cuts have been relatively small
compared to the size of the problem and meaningful structural reforms were seldom implemented."
austerity cuts came with even larger tax increases.
In early 2012 an IMF official, who negotiated Greek austerity measures, admitted that spending cuts were
harming Greece.
Nouriel Roubini adds that the new credit available to the heavily indebted countries did
not equate to an immediate revival of economic fortunes: "While money is available now on the table, all this
money is conditional on all these countries doing fiscal adjustment and structural reform."
According to Keynesian economists "growth-friendly austerity" relies on the false argument that public cuts
would be compensated for by more spending from consumers and businesses, a theoretical claim that has not
materialized. The case of Greece shows that excessive levels of private indebtedness and a collapse of public
confidence (over 90% of Greeks fear unemployment, poverty and the closure of businesses)
led the private
sector to decrease spending in an attempt to save up for rainy days ahead. This led to even lower demand for
both products and labor, which further deepened the recession and made it ever more difficult to generate tax
revenues and fight public indebtedness.
According to New York Times chief economics commentator
Martin Wolf, "structural tightening does deliver actual tightening. But its impact is much less than one to one. A
1 percentage point reduction in the structural deficit delivers a 0.67 percentage point improvement in the actual
fiscal deficit." This means that Ireland e.g. would require structural fiscal tightening of more than 12% to
eliminate its 2012 actual fiscal deficit. A task that is difficult to achieve without an exogenous eurozone-wide
economic boom.
Austerity is bound to fail if it relies largely on tax increases
instead of cuts in
government expenditures coupled with encouraging "private investment and risk-taking, labor mobility and
flexibility, an end to price controls, tax rates that encouraged capital formation ..." as Germany has done in the
decade before the crisis.
Instead of austerity, Keynes suggested increasing investment and cutting income tax for low earners to kick-start
the economy and boost growth and employment.
Since struggling European countries lack the funds to
engage in deficit spending, German economist and member of the German Council of Economic Experts Peter
Bofinger and Sony Kapoor of the global think tank Re-Define suggest financing additional public investments
by growth-friendly taxes on "property, land, wealth, carbon emissions and the under-taxed financial sector".
They also called on EU countries to renegotiate the EU savings tax directive and to sign an agreement to help
each other crack down on tax evasion and avoidance. Currently authorities capture less than 1% in annual tax
revenue on untaxed wealth transferred to other EU members. Furthermore the two suggest providing C40 billion
in additional funds to the European Investment Bank (EIB), which could then lend ten times that amount to the
employment-intensive smaller business sector.
The EU is currently discussing a possible C10 billion
increase in the EIB's capital base.
Apart from arguments over whether or not austerity, rather than increased or frozen spending, is a
macroeconomic solution,
union leaders have also argued that the working population is being unjustly held
responsible for the economic mismanagement errors of economists, investors, and bankers. Over 23 million EU
workers have become unemployed as a consequence of the global economic crisis of 2007-2010, and this has
led many to call for additional regulation of the banking sector across not only Europe, but the entire world.
In April, 2012, Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs in Brussels,
"enthusiastically announced to EU parliamentarians in mid-April that 'there was a breakthrough before Easter'.
He said the European heads of state had given the green light to pilot projects worth billions, such as building
highways in Greece." Other growth initiatives include "project bonds" wherein the EIB would "provide
guarantees that safeguard private investors. In the pilot phase until 2013, EU funds amounting to C230 million
are expected to mobilize investments of up to C4.6 billion." Der Spiegel also said: "According to sources inside
the German government, instead of funding new highways, Berlin is interested in supporting innovation and
programs to promote small and medium-sized businesses. To ensure that this is done as professionally as
possible, the Germans would like to see the southern European countries receive their own state-owned
development banks, modeled after Germany's [Marshall Plan-era-origin] Kreditanstalt fr Wiederaufbau (KfW)
banking group. It's hoped that this will get the economy moving in Greece and Portugal."
Increase competitiveness
See also: Euro Plus Pact
Slow GDP growth rates correspond to slower growth in tax revenues and higher safety net spending, increasing
deficits and debt levels. Indian-American journalist Fareed Zakaria described the factors slowing growth in the
eurozone, writing in November 2011: "Europe's core problem [is] a lack of growth... Italy's economy has not
grown for an entire decade. No debt restructuring will work if it stays stagnant for another decade... The fact is
that Western economies - with high wages, generous middle-class subsidies and complex regulations and taxes -
have become sclerotic. Now they face pressures from three fronts: demography (an aging population),
technology (which has allowed companies to do much more with fewer people) and globalization (which has
allowed manufacturing and services to locate across the world)." He advocated lower wages and steps to bring
in more foreign capital investment.
British economic historian Robert Skidelsky disagreed saying it was excessive lending by banks, not deficit
spending that created this crisis. Government's mounting debts are a response to the economic downturn as
Change in unit labour costs, 2000-2010
Eurozone economic health and
adjustment progress 2011 (Source:
Euro Plus Monitor)
spending rises and tax revenues fall, not its cause.
To improve the situation, crisis countries must significantly
increase their international competitiveness. Typically this is
done by depreciating the currency, as in the case of Iceland,
which suffered the largest financial crisis in 2008-2011 in
economic history but has since vastly improved its position.
Since eurozone countries cannot devalue their currency,
policy makers try to restore competitiveness through internal
devaluation, a painful economic adjustment process, where
a country aims to reduce its unit labour costs.
German economist Hans-Werner Sinn noted in 2012 that
Ireland was the only country that had implemented relative wage moderation in the last five years, which helped
decrease its relative price/wage levels by 16%. Greece would need to bring this figure down by 31%, effectively
reaching the level of Turkey.
Other economists argue that no matter how much Greece and Portugal drive down their wages, they could never
compete with low-cost developing countries such as China or India. Instead weak European countries must shift
their economies to higher quality products and services, though this is a long-term process and may not bring
immediate relief.
Jeremy J. Siegel argues that the need to make labor competitive requires devaluation. This could be achieved by
Greece leaving the Euro but that would lead to runs on the banks of Greece and other EU nations. This could be
achieved by internal devaluation but this is difficult politically. Siegel argues that the only option left is for the
devaluation of the Euro as a whole (parity with the dollar)--if it is to survive.
On 15 November 2011, the Lisbon Council published the Euro Plus
Monitor 2011. According to the report most critical eurozone member
countries are in the process of rapid reforms. The authors note that "Many
of those countries most in need to adjust [...] are now making the greatest
progress towards restoring their fiscal balance and external
competitiveness". Greece, Ireland and Spain are among the top five
reformers and Portugal is ranked seventh among 17 countries included in
the report (see graph).
Address current account imbalances
Regardless of the corrective measures chosen to solve the current
predicament, as long as cross border capital flows remain unregulated in the
euro area,
current account imbalances are likely to continue. A country that runs a large current account or
trade deficit (i.e., importing more than it exports) must ultimately be a net importer of capital; this is a
mathematical identity called the balance of payments. In other words, a country that imports more than it exports
must either decrease its savings reserves or borrow to pay for those imports. Conversely, Germany's large trade
surplus (net export position) means that it must either increase its savings reserves or be a net exporter of capital,
lending money to other countries to allow them to buy German goods.
The 2009 trade deficits for Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal were estimated to be $42.96 billion, $75.31bn and
$35.97bn, and $25.6bn respectively, while Germany's trade surplus was $188.6bn.
A similar imbalance
exists in the U.S., which runs a large trade deficit (net import position) and therefore is a net borrower of capital
from abroad. Ben Bernanke warned of the risks of such imbalances in 2005, arguing that a "savings glut" in one
Current account imbalances (1997-2013)
country with a trade surplus can drive capital into other countries with trade deficits, artificially lowering interest
rates and creating asset bubbles.
A country with a large trade surplus would generally see the value of its currency appreciate relative to other
currencies, which would reduce the imbalance as the relative price of its exports increases. This currency
appreciation occurs as the importing country sells its currency to buy the exporting country's currency used to
purchase the goods. Alternatively, trade imbalances can be reduced if a country encouraged domestic saving by
restricting or penalizing the flow of capital across borders, or by raising interest rates, although this benefit is
likely offset by slowing down the economy and increasing government interest payments.
Either way, many of the countries involved in the crisis are on the euro, so devaluation, individual interest rates
and capital controls are not available. The only solution left to raise a country's level of saving is to reduce
budget deficits and to change consumption and savings
habits. For example, if a country's citizens saved more
instead of consuming imports, this would reduce its trade
It has therefore been suggested that countries
with large trade deficits (e.g. Greece) consume less and
improve their exporting industries. On the other hand,
export driven countries with a large trade surplus, such as
Germany, Austria and the Netherlands would need to shift
their economies more towards domestic services and
increase wages to support domestic consumption.
May 2012 German finance minister Wolfgang Schuble has
signaled support for a significant increase in German wages
to help decrease current account imbalances within the
U.S. President Barack Obama stated in June 2012: "Right
now, [Europe's] focus has to be on strengthening their
overall banking system...making a series of decisive actions
that give people confidence that the banking system is
solid...In addition, they`re going to have to look at how do
they achieve growth at the same time as they`re carrying out
structural reforms that may take two or three or five years to fully accomplish. So countries like Spain and Italy,
for example, have embarked on some smart structural reforms that everybody thinks are necessary -- everything
from tax collection to labor markets to a whole host of different issues. But they've got to have the time and the
space for those steps to succeed. And if they are just cutting and cutting and cutting, and their unemployment rate
is going up and up and up, and people are pulling back further from spending money because they're feeling a
lot of pressure -- ironically, that can actually make it harder for them to carry out some of these reforms over the
long term...[I]n addition to sensible ways to deal with debt and government finances, there's a parallel discussion
that's taking place among European leaders to figure out how do we also encourage growth and show some
flexibility to allow some of these reforms to really take root."
The Economist wrote in June 2012: "Outside Germany, a consensus has developed on what Mrs. Merkel must
do to preserve the single currency. It includes shifting from austerity to a far greater focus on economic growth;
complementing the single currency with a banking union (with euro-wide deposit insurance, bank oversight and
joint means for the recapitalization or resolution of failing banks); and embracing a limited form of debt
mutualization to create a joint safe asset and allow peripheral economies the room gradually to reduce their debt
burdens. This is the refrain from Washington, Beijing, London and indeed most of the capitals of the euro zone.
Why hasn`t the continent`s canniest politician sprung into action?"
Proposed long-term solutions
European fiscal union
Increased European integration giving a central body increased control over the budgets of member states was
proposed on June 14, 2012 by Jens Weidmann President of the Deutsche Bundesbank,
expanding on ideas
first proposed by Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank. Control, including
requirements that taxes be raised or budgets cut, would be exercised only when fiscal imbalances developed.
This proposal is similar to contemporary calls by Angela Merkel for increased political and fiscal union which
would "allow Europe oversight possibilities."
Main article: Eurobonds
A growing number of investors and economists say Eurobonds would be the best way of solving a debt
though their introduction matched by tight financial and budgetary coordination may well require
changes in EU treaties.
On 21 November 2011, the European Commission suggested that eurobonds issued
jointly by the 17 euro nations would be an effective way to tackle the financial crisis. Using the term "stability
bonds", Jose Manuel Barroso insisted that any such plan would have to be matched by tight fiscal surveillance
and economic policy coordination as an essential counterpart so as to avoid moral hazard and ensure sustainable
public finances.
Germany remains largely opposed at least in the short term to a collective takeover of the debt of states that have
run excessive budget deficits and borrowed excessively over the past years, saying this could substantially raise
the country's liabilities.
European Monetary Fund
On 20 October 2011, the Austrian Institute of Economic Research published an article that suggests transforming
the EFSF into a European Monetary Fund (EMF), which could provide governments with fixed interest rate
Eurobonds at a rate slightly below medium-term economic growth (in nominal terms). These bonds would not be
tradable but could be held by investors with the EMF and liquidated at any time. Given the backing of all
eurozone countries and the ECB "the EMU would achieve a similarly strong position vis-a-vis financial
investors as the US where the Fed backs government bonds to an unlimited extent." To ensure fiscal discipline
despite lack of market pressure, the EMF would operate according to strict rules, providing funds only to
countries that meet fiscal and macroeconomic criteria. Governments lacking sound financial policies would be
forced to rely on traditional (national) governmental bonds with less favorable market rates.
The econometric analysis suggests that "If the short-term and long- term interest rates in the euro area were
stabilized at 1.5 % and 3 %, respectively, aggregate output (GDP) in the euro area would be 5 percentage points
above baseline in 2015". At the same time sovereign debt levels would be significantly lower with e.g. Greece's
debt level falling below 110% of GDP, more than 40 percentage points below the baseline scenario with market
based interest levels. Furthermore, banks would no longer be able to unduly benefit from intermediary profits by
borrowing from the ECB at low rates and investing in government bonds at high rates.
Drastic debt write-off financed by wealth tax
According to the Bank for International Settlements, the combined private and public debt of 18 OECD
countries nearly quadrupled between 1980 and 2010, and will likely continue to grow, reaching between 250%
(for Italy) and about 600% (for Japan) by 2040.
The same authors also found in a previous study that
Overall debt levels in 2009 and write-offs necessary in the Eurozone,
UK and U.S. to reach sustainable grounds.
increased financial burden imposed by aging populations and lower growth makes it unlikely that indebted
economies can grow out of their debt problem if only one of the following three conditions is met:
government debt is more than 80 to 100 percent of GDP;
non-financial corporate debt is more
than 90 percent;
private household debt is more than
85 percent of GDP.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) adds
that if the overall debt load continues to
grow faster than the economy, then large-
scale debt restructuring becomes inevitable.
To prevent a vicious upward debt spiral
from gaining momentum the authors urge
policy makers to "act quickly and
decisively" and aim for an overall debt level
well below 180 percent for the private and
government sector. This number is based on
the assumption that governments,
nonfinancial corporations, and private households can each sustain a debt load of 60 percent of GDP, at an
interest rate of 5 percent and a nominal economic growth rate of 3 percent per year. Lower interest rates and/or
higher growth would help reduce the debt burden further.
To reach sustainable levels the Eurozone must reduce its overall debt level by C6.1 trillion. According to BCG
this could be financed by a one-time wealth tax of between 11 and 30 percent for most countries, apart from the
crisis countries (particularly Ireland) where a write-off would have to be substantially higher. The authors admit
that such programs would be "drastic", "unpopular" and "require broad political coordination and leadership"
but they maintain that the longer politicians and central bankers wait, the more necessary such a step will be.
Instead of a one-time write-off, German economist Harald Spehl has called for a 30 year debt-reduction plan,
similar to the one Germany used after World War II to share the burden of reconstruction and development.
Similar calls have been made by political parties in Germany including the Greens and The Left.
Debt defaults and national exits from the Eurozone
Further information: Grexit
In mid May 2012 the financial crisis in Greece and the impossibility of forming a new government after elections
led to strong speculation that Greece would have to leave the Eurozone shortly.
phenomenon had already become known as "Grexit" and started to govern international market behaviour.
Economists have expressed concern that the phenomenon may well become a typical example of what is called a
self-fulfilling prophecy.
Reuters stated that the implementation of Grexit would have to occur "within days or even hours of the decision
being made"
due to the high volatility that would result.
"The euro should now be recognized as an experiment that failed", wrote Martin Feldstein in 2012.
Economists, mostly from outside Europe, and associated with Modern Monetary Theory and other post-
Keynesian schools condemned the design of the Euro currency system from the beginning
and have
since been advocating that Greece (and the other debtor nations) unilaterally leave the eurozone, which would
allow Greece to withdraw simultaneously from the eurozone and reintroduce its national currency the drachma at
a debased rate.
Economists who favor this radical approach to solve the Greek debt crisis typically argue that a default is
unavoidable for Greece in the long term, and that a delay in organising an orderly default (by lending Greece
more money throughout a few more years), would just wind up hurting EU lenders and neighboring European
countries even more.
Fiscal austerity or a euro exit is the alternative to accepting differentiated government
bond yields within the Euro Area. If Greece remains in the euro while accepting higher bond yields, reflecting its
high government deficit, then high interest rates would dampen demand, raise savings and slow the economy.
An improved trade performance and less reliance on foreign capital would be the result.
[citation needed]
However, there is opposition in this view. The national exits are expected to be an expensive proposition. The
breakdown of the currency would lead to insolvency of several euro zone countries, a breakdown in intrazone
payments. Having instability and the public debt issue still not solved, the contagion effects and instability would
spread into the system.
Having that the exit of Greece would trigger the breakdown of the eurozone, this is
not welcomed by many politicians, economists and journalists. According to Steven Erlanger from The New
York Times, a 'Greek departure is likely to be seen as the beginning of the end for the whole euro zone project,
a major accomplishment, whatever its faults, in the postwar construction of a Europe 'whole and at peace.
Likewise, the two big leaders of the Euro zone, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President
Nicolas Sarkozy have said on numerous occasions that they would not allow the eurozone to disintegrate and
have linked the survival of the Euro with that of the entire European Union.
In September 2011, EU
commissioner Joaqun Almunia shared this view, saying that expelling weaker countries from the euro was not
an option: "Those who think that this hypothesis is possible just do not understand our process of
Solutions which involve greater integration of European banking and fiscal management and supervision of
national decisions by European umbrella institutions can be criticized as Germanic domination of European
political and economic life:
This would effectively turn the European Union into a kind of postmodern version of the old
Austro-Hungarian empire, with a Germanic elite presiding uneasily over a polyglot imperium and its
restive local populations.
The European bailouts are largely about shifting exposure from banks and others, who otherwise are lined up for
losses on the sovereign debt they recklessly bought, onto European taxpayers.
EU treaty violations
No bail-out clause
The EU's Maastricht Treaty contains juridical language which appears to rule out intra-EU bailouts. First, the
'no bail-out clause (Article 125 TFEU) ensures that the responsibility for repaying public debt remains national
and prevents risk premiums caused by unsound fiscal policies from spilling over to partner countries. The clause
thus encourages prudent fiscal policies at the national level.
The European Central Bank's purchase of distressed country bonds can be viewed as violating the prohibition of
monetary financing of budget deficits (Article 123 TFEU). The creation of further leverage in EFSF with access
to ECB lending would also appear to violate the terms of this article.
Articles 125 and 123 were meant to create disincentives for EU member states to run excessive deficits and state
Standard & Poor's Headquarters in
Lower Manhattan, New York City
debt, and prevent the moral hazard of over-spending and lending in good times. They were also meant to protect
the taxpayers of the other more prudent member states. By issuing bail-out aid guaranteed by prudent eurozone
taxpayers to rule-breaking eurozone countries such as Greece, the EU and eurozone countries also encourage
moral hazard in the future.
While the no bail-out clause remains in place, the "no bail-out doctrine" seems to
be a thing of the past.
Convergence criteria
The EU treaties contain so called convergence criteria. Concerning government finance the states have agreed
that the annual government budget deficit should not exceed 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and that
the gross government debt to GDP should not exceed 60% of the GDP. For eurozone members there is the
Stability and Growth Pact which contains the same requirements for budget deficit and debt limitation but with a
much stricter regime. Nevertheless the main crisis states Greece and Italy (status November 2011) have
substantially exceeded these criteria over a long period of time.
Actors fueling the crisis
Credit rating agencies
The international U.S.-based credit rating agencies-Moody's, Standard
& Poor's and Fitch-which have already been under fire during the
housing bubble
and the Icelandic crisis
-have also
played a central and controversial role
in the current European bond
market crisis.
On one hand, the agencies have been accused of
giving overly generous ratings due to conflicts of interest.
On the
other hand, ratings agencies have a tendency to act conservatively, and
to take some time to adjust when a firm or country is in trouble.
the case of Greece, the market responded to the crisis before the
downgrades, with Greek bonds trading at junk levels several weeks
before the ratings agencies began to describe them as such.
European policy makers have criticized ratings agencies for acting politically, accusing the Big Three of bias
towards European assets and fueling speculation.
Particularly Moody's decision to downgrade Portugal's
foreign debt to the category Ba2 "junk" has infuriated officials from the EU and Portugal alike.
State owned
utility and infrastructure companies like ANA - Aeroportos de Portugal, Energias de Portugal, Redes
Energticas Nacionais, and Brisa - Auto-estradas de Portugal were also downgraded despite claims to having
solid financial profiles and significant foreign revenue.
France too has shown its anger at its downgrade. French central bank chief Christian Noyer criticized the
decision of Standard & Poor's to lower the rating of France but not that of the United Kingdom, which "has
more deficits, as much debt, more inflation, less growth than us". Similar comments were made by high ranking
politicians in Germany. Michael Fuchs, deputy leader of the leading Christian Democrats, said: "Standard and
Poor's must stop playing politics. Why doesn't it act on the highly indebted United States or highly indebted
Britain?", adding that the latter's collective private and public sector debts are the largest in Europe. He further
added: "If the agency downgrades France, it should also downgrade Britain in order to be consistent."
Credit rating agencies were also accused of bullying politicians by systematically downgrading eurozone
countries just before important European Council meetings. As one EU source put it: "It is interesting to look at
the downgradings and the timings of the downgradings ... It is strange that we have so many downgrades in the
weeks of summits."
Regulatory reliance on credit ratings
Think-tanks such as the World Pensions Council have criticized European powers such as France and Germany
for pushing for the adoption of the Basel II recommendations, adopted in 2005 and transposed in European
Union law through the Capital Requirements Directive (CRD), effective since 2008. In essence, this forced
European banks and more importantly the European Central Bank, e.g. when gauging the solvency of EU-based
financial institutions, to rely heavily on the standardized assessments of credit risk marketed by only two private
company US agencies- Moody`s and S&P.
Counter measures
Due to the failures of the ratings agencies, European regulators obtained new powers to supervise ratings
With the creation of the European Supervisory Authority in January 2011 the EU set up a whole
range of new financial regulatory institutions,
including the European Securities and Markets Authority
which became the EU`s single credit-ratings firm regulator.
Credit-ratings companies have to
comply with the new standards or will be denied operation on EU territory, says ESMA Chief Steven
Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has called for an "independent" European ratings agency, which
could avoid the conflicts of interest that he claimed US-based agencies faced.
European leaders are
reportedly studying the possibility of setting up a European ratings agency in order that the private U.S.-based
ratings agencies have less influence on developments in European financial markets in the future.
According to German consultant company Roland Berger, setting up a new ratings agency would cost C300
million. On 30 January 2012, the company said it was already collecting funds from financial institutions and
business intelligence agencies to set up an independent non-profit ratings agency by mid 2012, which could
provide its first country ratings by the end of the year.
In April 2012, in a similar attempt, the Bertelsmann
Stiftung presented a blueprint for establishing an international non-profit credit rating agency (INCRA) for
sovereign debt, structured in way that management and rating decisions are independent from its financiers.
But attempts to regulate more strictly credit rating agencies in the wake of the European sovereign debt crisis
have been rather unsuccessful. Some European financial law and regulation experts have argued that the hastily
drafted, unevenly transposed in national law, and poorly enforced EU rule on ratings agencies (Regulation EC N
1060/2009) has had little effect on the way financial analysts and economists interpret data or on the potential
for conflicts of interests created by the complex contractual arrangements between credit rating agencies and their
There has been considerable controversy about the role of the English-language press in regard to the bond
market crisis.
Greek Prime Minister Papandreou is quoted as saying that there was no question of Greece leaving the euro and
suggested that the crisis was politically as well as financially motivated. "This is an attack on the eurozone by
certain other interests, political or financial".
The Spanish Prime Minister Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero has
also suggested that the recent financial market crisis in Europe is an attempt to undermine the euro.
ordered the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia intelligence service (National Intelligence Center, CNI in Spanish)
to investigate the role of the "Anglo-Saxon media" in fomenting the crisis.
So far
no results have been reported from this investigation.
Other commentators believe that the euro is under attack so that countries, such as the U.K. and the U.S., can
continue to fund their large external deficits and government deficits,
and to avoid the collapse of the
The U.S. and U.K. do not have large domestic savings pools to draw on and therefore are
dependent on external savings e.g. from China.
This is not the case in the eurozone which is self
Both the Spanish and Greek Prime Ministers have accused financial speculators and hedge funds of worsening
the crisis by short selling euros.
German chancellor Merkel has stated that "institutions bailed out with
public funds are exploiting the budget crisis in Greece and elsewhere."
According to The Wall Street Journal several hedge-fund managers launched "large bearish bets" against the
euro in early 2010.
On 8 February, the boutique research and brokerage firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co.
hosted an exclusive "idea dinner" at a private townhouse in Manhattan, where a small group of hedge-fund
managers from SAC Capital Advisors LP, Soros Fund Management LLC, Green Light Capital Inc., Brigade
Capital Management LLC and others argued that the euro was likely to fall to parity with the US dollar and were
of the opinion that Greek government bonds represented the weakest link of the euro and that Greek contagion
could soon spread to infect all sovereign debt in the world. Three days later the euro was hit with a wave of
selling, triggering a decline that brought the currency below $1.36.
There was no suggestion by regulators
that there was any collusion or other improper action.
On 8 June, exactly four months after the dinner, the
Euro hit a four year low at $1.19 before it started to rise again.
Traders estimate that bets for and against the
euro account for a huge part of the daily three trillion dollar global currency market.
The role of Goldman Sachs
in Greek bond yield increases is also under scrutiny.
It is not yet clear to
what extent this bank has been involved in the unfolding of the crisis or if they have made a profit as a result of
the sell-off on the Greek government debt market.
In response to accusations that speculators were worsening the problem, some markets banned naked short
selling for a few months.
Speculation about the breakup of the eurozone
Economists, mostly from outside Europe and associated with Modern Monetary Theory and other post-
Keynesian schools, condemned the design of the euro currency system from the beginning because it ceded
national monetary and economic sovereignty but lacked a central fiscal authority. When faced with economic
problems, they maintained, "Without such an institution, EMU would prevent effective action by individual
countries and put nothing in its place."
Some non-Keynesian economists, such as Luca A. Ricci of the
IMF, contend the eurozone does not fulfill the necessary criteria for an optimum currency area, though it is
moving in that direction.
As the debt crisis expanded beyond Greece, these economists continued to advocate, albeit more forcefully, the
disbandment of the eurozone. If this was not immediately feasible, they recommended that Greece and the other
debtor nations unilaterally leave the eurozone, default on their debts, regain their fiscal sovereignty, and re-adopt
national currencies.
Bloomberg suggested in June 2011 that, if the Greek and Irish bailouts should fail,
an alternative would be for Germany to leave the eurozone in order to save the currency through
instead of austerity. The likely substantial fall in the euro against a newly reconstituted
Deutsche Mark would give a "huge boost" to its members' competitiveness.
The Wall Street Journal conjectured that Germany could return to the Deutsche Mark,
or create another
currency union
with the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Luxembourg and other European countries such as
Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the Baltics.
A monetary union of these countries with current
account surpluses would create the world's largest creditor bloc, bigger than China
or Japan. The Wall Street
Journal added that without the German-led bloc, a residual euro would have the flexibility to keep interest rates
and engage in quantitative easing or fiscal stimulus in support of a job-targeting economic policy
instead of inflation targeting in the current configuration.
George Soros warns in 'Does the Euro have a Future? that there is no escape from the 'gloomy scenario of a
prolonged European recession and the consequent threat to the Eurozone`s political cohesion so long as 'the
authorities persist in their current course. He argues that to save the Euro long-term structural changes are
essential in addition to the immediate steps needed to arrest the crisis. The changes he recommends include even
greater economic integration of the European Union.
Soros writes that a treaty is needed to transform the European Financial Stability Fund into a full-fledged
European Treasury. Following the formation of the Treasury, European Council could then ask the European
Commission Bank to step into the breach and indemnify the European Commission Bank in advance against
potential risks to the Treasury`s solvency. Soros acknowledges that converting the EFSF into a European
Treasury will necessitate 'a radical change of heart. In particular, he cautions, Germans will be wary of any
such move, not least because many continue to believe that they have a choice between saving the Euro and
abandoning it. Soros writes however that a collapse of European Union would precipitate an uncontrollable
financial meltdown and thus 'the only way to avert 'another Great Depression is the formation of a European
The Economist provides a somewhat modified approach to saving the euro in that "a limited version of
federalization could be less miserable solution than break-up of the euro."
The recipe to this tricky
combination of the limited federalization, greatly lies on mutualization for limiting the fiscal integration. In order
for overindebted countries to stabilize the dwindling euro and economy, the overindebted countries require
"access to money and for banks to have a "safe" euro-wide class of assets that is not tied to the fortunes of one
country" which could be obtained by "narrower Eurobond that mutualises a limited amount of debt for a limited
amount of time."
The proposition made by German Council of Economic Experts provides detailed blue
print to mutualize the current debts of all euro-zone economies above 60% of their GDP. Instead of the breakup
and issuing new national governments bonds by individual euro-zone governments, "everybody, from Germany
(debt: 81% of GDP) to Italy(120%) would issue only these joint bonds until their national debts fell to the 60%
threshold. The new mutualized-bond market, worth some C2.3 trillion, would be paid off over the next 25 years.
Each country would pledge a specified tax (such as a VAT surcharge) to provide the cash." However, so far
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has opposed to all forms of mutualization.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy
have, on numerous occasions,
publicly said that they would not allow the eurozone to disintegrate, linking the survival of the euro with that of
the entire European Union.
In September 2011, EU commissioner Joaqun Almunia shared this view,
saying that expelling weaker countries from the euro was not an option.
Furthermore, former ECB president
Jean-Claude Trichet also denounced the possibility of a return of the Deutsche Mark.
Iceland, not part of the EU, is regarded as one of Europe's recovery success stories. It defaulted on its debt and
drastically devalued it currency, which has effectively reduced wages by 50% making exports more
Lee Harris argues that floating exchange rates allows wage reductions by currency
devaluations, a politically easier option than the economically equivalent but politically impossible method of
lowering wages by political enactment.
Sweden's floating rate currency gives it a short term advantage,
structural reforms and constraints account for longer-term prosperity. Labor concessions, a minimal reliance on
public debt, and tax reform helped to further a pro-growth policy.
The British betting company Ladbrokes stopped taking bets on Greece exiting the Eurozone in May 2012 after
odds fell to 1/3, and reported "plenty of support" for 33/1 odds for a complete disbanding of the Eurozone during
The challenges to the speculation about the breakup or salvage of the eurozone is rooted in its innate nature that
the breakup or salvage of eurozone is not only an economical decision but also a critical political decision
followed by complicated ramifications that "If Berlin pays the bills and tells the rest of Europe how to behave, it
risks fostering destructive nationalist resentment against Germany and would strengthen the camp in Britain
arguing for an exit-a problem not just for Britons but for all economically liberal Europeans.
Odious debt
Main article: Odious debt
Some protesters, commentators such as Libration correspondent Jean Quatremer and the Lige based NGO
Committee for the Abolition of the Third World Debt (CADTM) allege that the debt should be characterized as
odious debt.
The Greek documentary Debtocracy examines whether the recent Siemens scandal and
uncommercial ECB loans which were conditional on the purchase of military aircraft and submarines are
evidence that the loans amount to odious debt and that an audit would result in invalidation of a large amount of
the debt
National statistics
In 1992, members of the European Union signed an agreement known as the Maastricht Treaty, under which
they pledged to limit their deficit spending and debt levels. However, a number of EU member states, including
Greece and Italy, were able to circumvent these rules and mask their deficit and debt levels through the use of
complex currency and credit derivatives structures.
The structures were designed by prominent U.S.
investment banks, who received substantial fees in return for their services and who took on little credit risk
themselves thanks to special legal protections for derivatives counterparties.
Financial reforms within the U.S.
since the financial crisis have only served to reinforce special protections for derivatives-including greater
access to government guarantees-while minimizing disclosure to broader financial markets.
The revision of Greece`s 2009 budget deficit from a forecast of "6-8% of GDP" to 12.7% by the new Pasok
Government in late 2009 (a number which, after reclassification of expenses under IMF/EU supervision was
further raised to 15.4% in 2010) has been cited as one of the issues that ignited the Greek debt crisis.
This added a new dimension in the world financial turmoil, as the issues of "creative accounting" and
manipulation of statistics by several nations came into focus, potentially undermining investor confidence.
The focus has naturally remained on Greece due to its debt crisis. There has however been a growing number of
reports about manipulated statistics by EU and other nations aiming, as was the case for Greece, to mask the
sizes of public debts and deficits. These have included analyses of examples in several
or have focused on Italy,
the United
the United States,
and even
Collateral for Finland
On 18 August 2011, as requested by the Finnish parliament as a condition for any further bailouts, it became
apparent that Finland would receive collateral from Greece, enabling it to participate in the potential new
C109 billion support package for the Greek economy.
Austria, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Slovakia
responded with irritation over this special guarantee for Finland and demanded equal treatment across the
eurozone, or a similar deal with Greece, so as not to increase the risk level over their participation in the
The main point of contention was that the collateral is aimed to be a cash deposit, a collateral the
Greeks can only give by recycling part of the funds loaned by Finland for the bailout, which means Finland and
the other eurozone countries guarantee the Finnish loans in the event of a Greek default.
After extensive negotiations to implement a collateral structure open to all eurozone countries, on 4 October
2011, a modified escrow collateral agreement was reached. The expectation is that only Finland will utilise it,
due to i.a. requirement to contribute initial capital to European Stability Mechanism in one installment instead of
five installments over time. Finland, as one of the strongest AAA countries, can raise the required capital with
relative ease.
At the beginning of October, Slovakia and Netherlands were the last countries to vote on the EFSF expansion,
which was the immediate issue behind the collateral discussion, with a mid-October vote.
On 13 October
2011 Slovakia approved euro bailout expansion, but the government has been forced to call new elections in
In February 2012, the four largest Greek banks agreed to provide the C880 million in collateral to Finland in
order to secure the second bailout program.
Political impact
Handling of the ongoing crisis has led to the premature end of a number of European national governments and
impacted the outcome of many elections:
Greece - May 2012 - The Greek legislative election, 2012 were the first time in the history of the country,
at which the bipartisanship (consisted of PASOK and New Democracy parties), which ruled the country
for over 40 years, collapsed in votes as a punishment for their support to the strict measures proposed by
the country's foreign lenders and the Troika (consisted of the European Union, the IMF and the European
Central Bank). The extreme right-wing, radical left-wing, communist and populist political parties that
have opposed the policy of strict measures, won the majority of the votes.
France - May 2012 - The French presidential election, 2012 became the first time since 1981 that an
incumbent failed to gain a second term, when Nicolas Sarkozy lost to Franois Hollande.
Finland - April 2011 - The approach to the Portuguese bailout and the EFSF dominated the April 2011
election debate and formation of the subsequent government.
Republic of Ireland - After a high deficit in the governments budget in 2010 and the uncertainty
surrounding the proposed bailout from the IMF, the 30th Dil (parliament) collapsed the following year,
which led to a subsequent general election, collapse of the preeceding government parties, Fianna Fil and
the Green Party, the resignation of the Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen and the rise of the Fine Gael
parliamentary party, which formed a government alongside the Labour Party in the 31st Dil, which led to
a change of government and the appointment of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.
Greece - November 2011 - After intense criticism from within his own party, the opposition and other
EU governments, for his proposal to hold a referendum on the austerity and bailout measures, PM George
Papandreou announced his resignation in favour of a national unity government between three parties, of
which only two currently remain in the coalition. Meanwhile, the popularity of Papandreou's PASOK
party dropped from 42.5% in 2010 to as low as 7% in some polls in 2012. Following the vote in the Greek
parliament on the austerity and bailout measures, which both leading parties supported but many MPs of
these two parties voted against, Papandreou and Antonis Samaras expelled a total of 44 MPs from their
respective parliamentary groups, leading to PASOK losing its parliamentary majority. Early elections were
held in May 2012.
Italy - November 2011 - Following market pressure on government bond prices in response to concerns
about levels of debt, the Government of Silvio Berlusconi lost its majority, resigned and was replaced by
the Government of Mario Monti.
Netherlands - April 2012 - After talks between the VVD, CDA and PVV over a new austerity package of
15 billion euros failed, the Rutte cabinet collapsed. Early elections were called for 12 September 2012. To
prevent fines from the EU - a new budget was demanded by April 30 - five different parties called the
kunduz coalition forged together an emergency budget for 2013 in just two days.
Portugal - March 2011 - Following the failure of parliament to adopt the government austerity measures,
PM Jos Scrates and his government resigned, bringing about early elections in June 2011.
Slovakia - October 2011 - In return for the approval of the EFSF by her coalition partners, PM Iveta
Radiov had to concede early elections in March 2012, following which Robert Fico became PM.
Slovenia - September 2011 - Following the failure of June referendums on measures to combat the
economic crisis and the departure of coalition partners, the Borut Pahor government lost a motion of
confidence and December 2011 early elections were set, following which Janez Jansa became PM.
Spain - July 2011 - Following the failure of the Spanish government to handle the economic situation,
PM Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero announced early elections in November. "It is convenient to hold
elections this fall so a new government can take charge of the economy in 2012, fresh from the balloting"
he said. Following the elections, Mariano Rajoy became PM.
See also
2000s commodities boom
2007-2012 global financial crisis
2008-2012 Icelandic financial crisis
2008-2012 global recession
Crisis situations and protests in Europe since 2000
European sovereign-debt crisis: List of acronyms
European sovereign-debt crisis: List of protagonists
Federal Reserve Economic Data FRED
Late-2000s recession in Europe
List of countries by credit rating
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External links
2011 Dahrendorf Symposium ( - Changing the Debate on Europe
- Moving Beyond Conventional Wisdoms
2011 Dahrendorf Symposium Blog (
Eurostat - Statistics Explained: Structure of government debt
( (October
2011 data)
Interactive Map of the Debt Crisis
( Economist Magazine, 9
February 2011
European Debt Crisis
ref=global) New York Times topic page updated daily.
Tracking Europe's Debt Crisis (
tracker.html?ref=europeansovereigndebtcrisis) New York Times topic page, with latest headline by country
(France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain).
Map of European Debts (
map.html) New York Times 20 December 2010
Budget deficit from 2007 to 2015 ( Economist Intelligence Unit 30 March
Protests in Greece in Response to Severe Austerity Measures in EU, IMF Bailout
( - video report by
Democracy Now!
Diagram of Interlocking Debt Positions of European Countries
( New York Times 1 May
Argentina: Life After Default (
learnt-from-the-aftermath-of-default/) Sand and Colours 2 August 2010
Google - public data ( : Government
Debt in Europe
Stefan Collignon: Democratic requirements for a European Economic Government
( Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, December 2010 (PDF 625 KB)
Nick Malkoutzis: Greece - A Year in Crisis ( Friedrich-
Ebert-Stiftung, Juni 2011
Rainer Lenz: Crisis in the Eurozone ( Friedrich-Ebert-
Stiftung, Juni 2011
Wolf, Martin, "Creditors can huff but they need debtors" (
11e1-ac2a-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1cYDHnKg3) , Financial Times, 1 November 2011 7:28 pm.
More Pain, No Gain for Greece: Is the Euro Worth the Costs of Pro-Cyclical Fiscal Policy and Internal
Devaluation? ( Center for Economic and
Policy Research, February 2012
"Liquidity only buys time" - Where are European experts for a long-term and holistic approach? Interview
with Liu Olin: The Euro Crisis. A Chinese Economist's View. (03/2012) (
NPR-Michael Lewis-How the Financial Crisis Created a New Third World-October 2011
Global Financial Stability Report (
International Monetary Fund, April 2012
OECD Economic Outlook-May 2012
SSA Markets: news and data on the sovereign, supra-national and agency debt market, by the publishers
of EuroWeek. (
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2011 in economics 2011 in Europe European sovereign-debt crisis Government finances
Late-2000s financial crisis
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