Greece: the third economic adjustment programme
Eurogroup welcomed progress and started the discussion on debt sustainability
Agreement on main elements of policy reforms
Eurogroup encourages a rapid conclusion of the staff level agreement
Eurogroup welcomes progress in talks on Greece's programme
ESM and EFSF approve short-term debt relief measures for Greece
The third economic adjustment programme for Greece started on 19 August 2015 and is scheduled to run until 20 August 2018.
The financial assistance of up to €86 billion under the programme is provided by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
The conditions for receiving financial assistance include a number of measures and reforms that Greece has committed to implementing in order to address its current economic challenges.
The overall aim of the programme is to secure a return to sustainable economic growth in Greece.
Greece made an official request for stability support in the form a government loan from the ESM on 8 July 2015. It made the request in order to meet its debt obligations and to ensure the stability of the financial system.
On 8 July 2015, the ESM Board of Governors tasked the European Commission with assessing the existence of risks to the financial stability of the euro area, the debt sustainability of Greece and its potential financing needs. This evaluation is necessary before negotiations on a programme can begin.
Following the European Commission's evaluation, carried out in liaison with the ECB and issued on 10 July 2015, the ESM board of governors agreed that the negotiation of a new financial assistance programme for Greece could begin.
The debt sustainability analysis for Greece, carried out by the European Commission in liaison with the ECB, concluded that debt sustainability could be achieved through a far-reaching and credible reform programme and additional debt-related measures without nominal haircuts.
In line with the 12 July Euro Summit statement, on 14 August 2015, the Eurogroup confirmed it was ready to consider possible additional measures to ensure that Greece's gross financing needs remain at a sustainable level. These measures might include possible longer grace and repayment periods and will be conditional on full implementation of measures agreed in the programme.
At its meeting on 24 May 2016, the Eurogroup agreed on a number measures to ensure the sustainability of Greece's public debt. The measures are divided into short-, medium- and long-term. Some of them are to be implemented before the end of the programme, and others - upon successful conclusion of the programme. The scope of the latter will be determined based on an updated debt sustainability analysis.
On 5 December 2016, the Eurogroup endorsed the full set of short-term debt relief measures for Greece. These measures will have a significant positive impact on the sustainability of Greece's public debt. They include:
- smoothing Greece's repayment profile within the current weighted average maturity of loans up to 32,5 years
- reducing interest rate-related risk using EFSF and ESM funding strategy, without incurring additional costs for the former programme countries
- waiving the step-up interest rate margin for 2017, related to the debt buy-back tranche of the 2nd Greek programme
The boards of directors of the ESM and the EFSF have formally adopted the measures on 23 January 2017 and opened the way for their implementation.
Following the assessment of risk, financing needs and debt sustainability, on 13 July 2015 the leaders of the euro area countries reached an agreement with Greece on a set of prior actions that needed to be implemented in order for negotiations to start on the conditions to be set out in the memorandum of understanding.
The agreed priori actions included:
- VAT and pension reform measures
- transposition of the Bank recovery and resolution directive (banking union rules)
- safeguarding the independence of Greek statistical authority (ELSTAT)
- adoption of a Code of Civil Procedure
Greece implemented these agreed prior actions by 14 August 2015.
The Eurogroup agreed to start negotiations on the new programme on 16 July 2015, and the ESM board of governors decided, in principle, to grant stability support to Greece on 17 July 2015.
Memorandum of understanding
The ESM board of governors approved the memorandum of understanding, specifying the reform policies which Greece is expected to fulfil, on 19 August 2015, after it was endorsed by the ESM member states in accordance with their national procedures.
On the same date the board of governors also approved the loan agreement (the 'Master financial assistance facility agreement').
In June 2016, during the first review of the programme, a supplemental memorandum of understanding was signed. It updated the conditionality until the third quarter of 2017 by specifying the deliverables in the areas of the original memorandum of understanding.
Greece's programme: key points
The reforms agreed in the memorandum of understanding can be grouped into four main strands:
- restoring fiscal sustainability
- safeguarding financial stability
- implementing reforms conducive to growth and jobs
- modernising the government sector
Among other agreed conditions, Greece has committed to make full use of the available EU technical assistance for designing the reforms. Such technical assistance is coordinated by the new Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS) of the European Commission.
Restoring fiscal sustainability
What is a primary surplus?
A government is considered to have achieved a primary surplus when its current revenue is higher than its current spending (except for interest on debt). Running primary surpluses over the medium term makes it possible to reduce public debt and restore fiscal sustainability, which is essential for returning the economy to sustainable growth.
Greece is expected to target a medium-term primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP. It is to be achieved primarily through:
- fiscal reforms, including reforms of the VAT and pension systems, supported by an ambitious programme to strengthen tax compliance and public financial management
- fighting tax evasion, while ensuring adequate protection of vulnerable groups
The agreed fiscal adjustment path to achieve the primary surplus is as follows:
- -0.25% in 2015
- 0.5% in 2016
- 1.75% in 2017
- 3.5% in 2018
Safeguarding financial stability
Greece is expected to take measures to put its financial sector on a sound footing.
The conditions agreed in the memorandum of understanding include:
- addressing the non-performing loans (NPLs) in the banking sector
- recapitalising banks
- strengthening the governance of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) as well as that of banks
The comprehensive assessment and asset quality review of major Greek banks was carried out by the ECB in the autumn of 2015. Following the assessment, the affected banks have been recapitalised as agreed in the Eurogroup statement of 14 August 2015.
For this purpose the European Stability Mechanism disbursed €5.4 billion to the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund to complement private capital raised by the banks, following the required European Commission decisions on state aid.
Growth, competitiveness and investment
Greece is expected to design and implement a wide range of reforms conducive to increased growth, competitiveness and investment. The reforms are expected particularly in labour markets and product markets, including the energy market. The reforms should ensure full compliance with the EU requirements and aim at converging to European best practices.
The labour market reforms are expected to review the frameworks for collective bargaining and wage setting, industrial action and collective dismissals. Addressing undeclared work should also be one of the priorities.
Greece is also expected to implement a privatisation programme as well as policies that support investment. The Greek authorities committed to adopt legislation to ensure transparent privatisation.
In addition, among the programme's conditions there is a requirement to establish an independent fund, to be managed by the Greek authorities under the supervision of the relevant EU institutions. The task of the fund is to privatise independently evaluated Greek state assets.
According to the Euro Summit statement of 12 July 2015, the funds that the privatisation programme is expected to yield, will be used for:
- the repayment of recapitalisation of banks and other assets
- decreasing Greece's debt to GDP ratio
Modernising the state and public administration
Modernisation of the state and public administration is one of the key priorities of the programme. A particularly important goal is to increase the efficiency of the public sector in delivering essential public goods and services.
The programme includes measures to enhance the efficiency of the judicial system and to strengthen the fight against corruption. It also requires enhancement of the institutional and operational independence of national institutions such as revenue administration and the statistics authority (ELSTAT).
Financial assistance under the programme
The European Stability Mechanism is ready to provide financial assistance of up to €86 billion. The ESM raises the funds on financial markets and then provides loans to the Greek government.
A new International Monetary Fund programme for Greece would reduce the amount needed from the ESM.
In addition, the amount of financial assistance needed for Greece could be reduced if the country regained access to borrowing on financial markets during the implementation of the programme. The amount will also be affected by the success of the reform measures carried out by Greece, including privatisation of state assets.
Support from the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM)
During the negotiations on the new programme, in July 2015, the EFSM provided Greece a bridge loan of €7 billion.
The loan was repaid when the ESM programme began, and it was included in the overall amount of €86 billion earmarked for the ESM programme.
Payment of the financial assistance
Financial assistance for Greece is provided in separate tranches, which are further divided into sub-tranches and instalments.
The release of each instalment depends on the successful implementation of the agreed conditions.
The first tranche under the ESM programme amounts to €26 billion; it was released following approval by the ESM board of governors on 19 August 2015, and the overall amount of €24.1 billion was paid out to Greece.
On 24 May 2016, the Eurogroup endorsed the staff-level agreement on the first review of the programme, which paved the way for the disbursement by the ESM of the second tranche (€10.3bn) of financial assistance in several instalments, following the relevant endorsement procedures by the ESM and the euro area member states.
On 9 June 2016, the European Commission published a report on compliance with the memorandum of understanding in the context the first review of the programme. The compliance report, which also includes an updated debt sustainability analysis, gave an overall positive evaluation of the programme's implementation and issued an opinion that the next release of financial assistance to cover debt servicing needs and clear the arrears would be possible.
Milestones are the conditions in the programme whose implementation permits the disbursement of an agreed instalment of the financial assistance. For example, payment of two instalments of the first tranche were linked to two sets of milestones.
During the first review of the programme, the institutions and the Greek authorities agreed on 15 specific milestones to be implemented by the end of September 2016. They were related to the following programme deliverables:
- pension reforms
- bank governance
- energy sector reforms
- completing the setting up of the privatisation fund
- establishing the revenue agency
(The detailed list of milestones is available in the June 2016 compliance report, chapter 5).
On 10 October the Eurogroup welcomed the implementation of the agreed 15 milestones by Greece and considered that the next sub-tranche - €1.1 billion - could be disbursed for Greece's debt servicing needs, subject to the authorisation of the ESM board of governors.
In line with the ESM Treaty, an IMF programme is usually sought alongside an ESM programme. In the case of the third programme for Greece, the decision of the Fund to provide further financial support to Greece will depend on its assessment of whether:
- all fiscal, structural and financial-sector reforms that are included in the first review of the ESM programme implementation have been completed
- the need for additional measures has been considered
- an agreement on possible debt relief to ensure debt sustainability has been reached
On 24 May 2016, the IMF expressed its intention to recommend to the IMF Executive Board to approve a financial arrangement before the end of 2016, which will support the implementation of the agreed reforms in Greece.
The progress of the implementation of the programme is monitored by the European Commission, in liaison with the ECB, ESM and, wherever possible, the IMF. The review missions to Athens are to take place every three months and can be supplemented by interim missions.
The reviews, depending on the progress achieved by the Greek authorities in implementing the conditions of the programme, provide an opportunity to update the macroeconomic assumptions and conditions of the programme.
Greece has had two adjustment programmes in the period 2010-2015.
The first programme
Financing during the first adjustment programme was provided on the basis of bilateral loans from euro-area member states to Greece via the 'Greek Loan Facility' mechanism. It was announced by the Eurogroup on 2 May 2010.
Under the first programme Greece received the total of€52.9 billion in financial assistance. The IMF disbursed an additional amount of about €20 billion.
The second programme
The second adjustment programme replaced the first. It was endorsed by the Eurogroup on 9 March 2012 and ran until June 2015.
The financing was provided by the euro-area member states via the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) mechanism. In this period, the EFSF disbursed €141.8 billion and the IMF approximately €12 billion.