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First step

Dagmar Breitenbach
March 10, 2012

The euro zone breathed a sigh of relief at the Greek debt swap deal. But it's only the first step at the beginning of an arduous path, says DW's Henrik Böhme.

--- DW-Grafik: Peter Steinmetz

Maybe Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos was indeed right to call the debt swap deal a "historic moment" for Greece. But the stress should be on 'moment', not on 'historic'. Private creditors have to accept losses on the value of their investments, cutting Athens' public debt by 107 billion euro. The first good news of the day is that banks, insurance companies and hedge funds - and no longer just the taxpayers - are stepping into the breach to secure the future of Greece. The bad news: that alone doesn't mean Greece is out of the woods.

Of course, Europe and above all the Greeks can breathe a sigh of relief for the time being. But even if no one wants to say it aloud at the moment: it's only a partial debt cut, and that means the problem has only been partially solved. Only a real haircut, a complete debt cut, can enable Greece to become capable to act again. Athens may now have achieved improved debt sustainability - but still faces debt to the amount of 160 percent of GDP while the country's economic performance continues to shrink. In the framework of the bailout plan, Athens should be able to get money on the capital market in 2014 and be back on its feet by 2020 to the extent that the Greek mountain of debt has sunk to 120 percent of GDP. A lot can happen in the next eight years. And it doesn't sound like a real perspective.

But one thing really has to happen: Greece has to reinvent itself. With the help of its European partners, the country must restructure to European standards. It won't be possible to solve these problems in just a decade - it'll more likely be a generation. Even if it hurts the Greeks' pride: They need to accept outside help. Young people are already leaving Greece by the hundreds, searching for opportunities in other countries, including Germany. They are fleeing a lack of prospects.

Henrik Böhme
DW economic expert Henrik BöhmeImage: DW

Now, fresh billions of euros will flow to Athens - which is also good news. But it's mainly good news for the banks and insurance firms

Even if Greece has agreed to accept losses, the new billions granted by the European partners are designed solely to cover interest and repayments. The funds are not meant to help rebuild Greece, and they're certainly not meant to help ordinary Greek citizens who are the ones to carry the brunt of the mandated austerity measures.

A bit of pressure has escaped from this major European crisis. But one should not forget that Greece must seize the moment and dare a new beginning. The Europeans won't abandon Greece. Soon, however, Europe will have to turn its attention to the next shaky candidate. Portuguese state bonds came under pressure immediately after the Greek debt swap deal had been clinched. Financial markets fear Portugal is next - and that is really bad news.

Author: Henrik Böhme / db
Editor: Gabriel Borrud