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Business

The eurozone crisis by the numbers

The financial crisis in Greece and other eurozone countries has been dragging on for years. We take a closer look at how hard some countries were struck, and how they're trying to get back into shape.

Greece's economy has shrunk dramatically since 2008 - the year before the US financial crisis fully spilled over and inundated Europe. Indeed, the economic collapse paralyzed Athens' economic output far more than that of the other euro members.

By 2010, the situation had gotten so dire that a total of five eurozone states had to seek help from the European Union: Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Cyprus formally applied for bailout programs. They received loans from the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In return, they agreed to implement austerity measures which were supervised by the creditors.

In December 2013, Ireland left the program, with Portugal following suit in May 2014.

While Brussels did throw Spain a liquidity lifeline in 2012 to help save its moribund banks, the southern European country never formally entered a bailout program, and was not subjected to external review of its finances by the IMF.

Today, Greece and Cyprus are the only countries still on financial life support.

Cyprus was the last country to be given a bailout (March 2013). Because of that and its small size, it is not listed in the following graphs. The data for Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has been included for comparison.

Taxes and austerity

As the crisis slammed the breaks on economic activity, tax receipts dwindled, leaving governments with less revenue. As a result, administrations began slashing spending and implementing - at times crippling - austerity measures.

Portugal deserves a closer look: In the six years between 2008 and 2014, the country managed to grow revenue and spending by 4 percent. But the years in between were far from painless, with drastic spending cuts and higher taxes. For instance, in 2012 Lisbon shaved year-on-year expenditures by more than 7 percent.

Mountains of debt

In the years since 2008, sovereign debt - another term for the debt incurred by the government - shot up across the entire bloc. Spain and Ireland, which used to be well below the limits set by eurozone rules, saw their debt balloon by as much as two-thirds.

Private sector debt - that is, the money owed by private households and companies, excluding banks - also rose overall.

Combined, private and public debt reached staggering heights: In Greece and Portugal, it was more than triple the size of annual economic output; in Ireland, it was almost four times the size.

Out of work

When the economy tanked, unemployment skyrocketed. From 2008 to 2014, the jobless rate doubled in Ireland while it quadrupled in Greece. It was even worse for Greeks and Spaniards over the age of 25: Nearly a quarter was out of work. For 15-24-year-olds, the numbers were - and still are - all but hopeless.

In several countries, the combination of high unemployment, cuts in social spending and tax hikes has led to a spike in support for parties on both sides of the political fringes.

In an otherwise bleak outlook, Germany has been one of the few bright spots in terms of employment and growth.

A measure of adjustment

Germany's economic boom means the government in Berlin has been able to loosen its belt a little. Greece and Ireland, on the other hand, have been forced to tighten theirs, as the inspectors supervising the bailout programs have kept a close eye on the countries' primary budget surplus - the difference between government revenue and expenses before interest payments on debt.

Looking at the data it becomes clear that for many of the crisis-hit countries, reaching a primary budget surplus of even 1.0 percent - which Greece is expected to do this year - seems highly ambitious. Currently, Ireland and Spain don't even come close.

It wouldn't be the first time international lenders have made projections that proved utterly unrealistic. Under Greece's first bailout program, in 2010, they predicted that the country would run a primary surplus of 6 percent by 2014. Two years later, they had downgraded their outlook to 4.5 percent.

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