The finance ministers of the euro states and the head of the IMF have been unable to agree on how to help Greece out of its fiscal troubles. Greece's next aid payment is still not secure.
The wait for the report of the Greek troika - the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) - has gone on for weeks. The German government in Berlin has said repeatedly that it could only decide on the next steps towards Greece when it had digested the report.
Now the finance ministers of the eurogroup have heard details of the report and are discussing it. It contains both positive and negative points. It certifies Greece's significant progress in making savings and pursuing reforms. But it expresses doubt about debt sustainability, meaning the country's ability to service its huge debt in a set period of time and then to pay it down. And new fiscal shortfalls for next year have already been found. Greece is hoping for the next tranche of around 30 billion euros from the current aid program. If the money does not come, the country is threatened with bankruptcy in a matter of days. It's not the first time.
Praise for Greek austerity
But the euro countries do not want to let things get that far. Some finance ministers have explicitly praised Greece's austerity efforts. Frenchman Pierre Moscovici spoke of the country's "courageous" efforts, saying the Greek people have "earned" more help. Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker was more cautious: The troika report "is positive in its fundamental tone because the Greeks really delivered." IMF chief Christine Lagarde said, "Greece has done an awful lot of work and shown real resolve. It's now for the creditors to do the same," she said, warning: "We are in not for a quick fix but a real fix."
But what is the "real fix"? One thing is certain: The Greek debt is rising. By Commission calculations, it is expected to rise by 2014 to a totally unsustainable 190 percent of gross domestic product. Originally, the creditors had formulated the goal of reducing Greece's national debt to 120 per cent in 2020, so that the country would - hopefully - be able to finance itself on the market again. Now the finance ministers have indicated a willingness to push this target back by two years. But IMF chief Lagarde stuck to the 2020 fixed target at a press conference.
After the haircut for private creditors, there are now calls for debt forgiveness from public creditors. But after the discussions, Juncker said he personally believes that this will not happen. The issue is politically sensitive because politicians have said time and again that taxpayers should not be asked to pay each time.
Also, hardly any government can justify another bailout package for Greece to its own citizens. But any postponement of goals comes at a price, as Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter warned: "More time means more money, and the taxpayers are shaking their heads as to why we need more money for Greece again every three months."
Schäuble demands thoroughness
The finance ministers have postponed the decision for now as to how exactly they want to solve the problem. On November 20 they plan to meet again. Until then, all options should be explored. On Friday (16.11.2012), Greece must serve debts of more than four billion euros. But the ECB could step in at short notice to help.
Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble says he will not be swayed by all the looming deadlines. When asked about Greece's immediate problems, he said stoically, "We have to be thorough."
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