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Second Greek bailout will see almost two-thirds of Greek debt taxpayer-owned by 2014

21 Jun 2011
With EU leaders scrambling to come up with a solution to the raging Greek and eurozone debt crisis, Open Europe has published a briefing arguing that a second Greek bail-out package would only increase the political and economic cost of the crisis, without providing any real solutions. Considering Greece’s poor growth prospects and increasing debt burden, the country is likely to default within the next few years, even if it gets some breathing space through a second bail-out. EU leaders should instead be planning for how such a default could be managed in as orderly a manner possible.

Crucially, the cost of a Greek default to the European economy will only increase with time. Most importantly, via the bail-outs, so-called official sector (taxpayer-backed) loans are gradually replacing private sector loans. We estimate that today each household in the eurozone underwrites €535 in Greek debt (through loan guarantees). However, by 2014 and following a second bailout, this will have increased to a staggering €1,450 per household. The cost to European taxpayers of what looks like an inevitable Greek default will therefore increase radically in the next few years, making a second bail-out far more contentious than any of the previous eurozone rescue packages.

Open Europe economic analyst Raoul Ruparel said,

“A second Greek bail-out is almost certain to result in outright losses for taxpayers further down the road because, even with the help of additional money, Greece remains likely to default within the next few years. Another bailout will also increase the cost of a Greek default, transferring a far bigger chunk of the burden from private investors to taxpayers.”

“EU leaders are playing with fire by putting yet another bailout package on the table. Far from uniting Europe, a second Greek bailout will simply spur on the growing divisions between the EU’s north and south. Taxpayers in richer countries resent underwriting foreign governments’ debt, while citizens in the eurozone’s south are growing increasingly hostile to EU-mandated austerity measures. How this tension will play out in future is anyone’s guess.”

“Although the uncertainty associated with such an exercise shouldn’t be underestimated, EU leaders should plan for a full, orderly restructuring, which would deal with Greece’s massive debt burden, as soon as possible. However, an honest discussion also needs to be had about whether Greece can realistically remain within the eurozone.”

To read the full briefing, click here:

Executive summary:

- EU member states have in total amassed quantifiable exposure to Greece of €311bn (via their banking sectors, the bail-out packages and the ECB’s liquidity programme). France and Germany have exposure of €82bn and €84bn respectively, while the UK only has €10.35bn exposure – although this figure is misleadingly low, as Britain’s huge exposure to other European banks leaves it vulnerable to any escalation of the crisis in Greece through indirect exposure and undermined market confidence.

- On the surface, the interconnectivity of Europe’s economies and banking sector may seem like an argument in favour of another bail-out. In a best case scenario, to carry Greece over until 2014 a second bail-out would have to cover a funding gap of at least €122 billion, in addition to the money the country is already receiving from its first rescue package. This assumes a scenario in which Greece can make good on its deficit targets and privatisation commitments. However, it is far from clear that Greece will meet these targets, not least given domestic resistance to more austerity measures. Therefore, the country’s funding gap leading up to 2014 could well be in the area of €166bn, potentially requiring Greece to make a third request for external aid.

- Despite a second Greek bail-out being EU leaders’ preferred option, it is only likely to increase the economic and political cost of the eurozone crisis. No country in modern economic history has faced similar debt levels to those of Greece – a debt-to-GDP ratio above 150% - and avoided a default. Even with the help of a second bail-out and a debt rollover, Greece is still likely to default within the next few years, as the country’s poor growth prospects and growing debt burden mean that it will be unable to fund itself post-2014.

- It is therefore better for Greece to restructure its debt as soon as possible. Then an honest discussion needs to be had about whether the country can realistically stay inside the eurozone. A restructuring of Greek debt would require the eurozone to enter unchartered territory – and it is impossible to fully identify all the consequences of such a move. However, these doubts will very much remain even under a second bail-out – the various uncertainties associated with the bail-out packages and attached conditions mean that the threat of an eventual default will not go away in any case.

- The cost of restructuring will also increase with time, as Greece’s debt burden will only rise over the next few years. To bring down Greece’s debt to sustainable levels today, half of it would need to be written off. In 2014, two-thirds of Greece’s debt will need to be written off to have the same effect, meaning a radical increase in the cost to creditors.

- Unfortunately, this is a debt crisis and someone will have to take losses. We estimate that the first round effects of a 50% write down on Greece’s debt would cost the European economy between €123bn - €144bn (uncertainty regarding the ECB’s exposure accounts for the range). Of this cost, €23.55bn would be a direct cost to taxpayers through bilateral loans under the first Greek bailout as well as indirect costs of between €44.5bn - €65.75bn via ECB guarantees. €28bn will be absorbed by Greek banks, while €27bn by other private investors. However, these are only first round losses. It cannot be emphasised enough that the main cost from a debt restructuring comes in the form of contagion and the knock-on effects of losses throughout the European banking system.

- Although this is a substantial cost, we estimate that in 2014 following a second bailout, a haircut of 69% would be needed, equal to €175bn, to reach the same debt level. Even more critically, via the bail-outs, so-called official sector (taxpayer-backed) loans are gradually replacing private sector exposure. We estimate that, under a second bailout, the share of Greece’s debt underwritten by foreign taxpayers (via the EU, ECB and the IMF) will go from 26% today to a massive 64% in 2014. Put differently, each household in the eurozone today underwrites €535 in Greek debt – by 2014 and following a second bailout, this will have increased to a staggering €1,450 per household. On top of this, there are also numerous European banks which are largely taxpayer owned which have significant exposure to Greece (for example the Belgian-French Dexia and German Hypo Real Estate). This makes a second Greek bail-out far more politically contentious than any of the existing rescue packages, given the likelihood of debt write-downs with taxpayers footing a huge chunk of the bill.


1) For more information, please contact the office on 0044 (0)207 197 2333, Mats Persson on 0044 (0)779 946 0691 or Raoul Ruparel on 0044 (0)757 696 5823.

2) Open Europe is an independent think-tank calling for reform of the European Union. Its supporters include: Lord Leach of Fairford, Director, Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd; Sir Martin Jacomb, former Chairman, Prudential plc; Sir Stuart Rose, former Chairman, Marks and Spencer plc; Sir Crispin Davis, former Chief Executive, Reed Elsevier Group plc; Sir David Lees, Chairman, Tate and Lyle plc; Sir Henry Keswick, Chairman, Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd; Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG, Life President, J Sainsbury plc; Sir John Egan, Chairman, Severn Trent plc; Lord Kalms of Edgware, President, DSG International plc; Hugh Sloane, Founder, Sloane Robinson.

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