BERLIN — Greece will further slash its spending, its finance minister said Wednesday, in a last-ditch attempt to convince an international group of creditors that his country is meeting the conditions of a bailout that it agreed to a year ago.
Without an $11 billion installment of bailout funds, Greek officials have said the Mediterranean nation would go broke by the end of October. But some analysts said Wednesday that the potential economic maelstrom from a sudden Greek default was so strong that it was unlikely that Germany and others would withhold the funds, at least this time around.
Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos told Greece’s parliament on Wednesday that “we are doing and will do whatever it takes. We won’t put the country’s fate at risk.”
The new cuts will slash government pensions, extend a property tax hike and put 30,000 civil servants on notice that they will lose their jobs in a year, a government spokesman said after a cabinet meeting Wednesday.
European financial officials said last weekend that they would decide in early October whether to release the money.
“It’s very clear that the German government would only allow the country to default if they thought the damage would be limited,” said Clemens Fuest, an Oxford economist who is on an advisory panel to the German Finance Ministry. Whether the damage would be containable right now, he said, was unclear.
Greek debt now trades at prices far below its face value, a sign that most investors don’t expect to recover much of the loans. The question for many is how a Greek default would be managed.
If Greek coffers ran empty in October, banks around Europe — as well as the viability of struggling countries like Portugal and Ireland — could be in serious danger, several analysts said. Concerns about global consequences were serious enough for U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to fly to Europe last week to urge finance ministers to do more to save Greece. And the International Monetary Fund issued a report Wednesday that scolded euro-zone and U.S. leaders for not doing more to manage their debt. The report said the rising threat of losses on government bonds for six European countries represents an implicit cost to banks of about $240 billion.
If Greece defaulted, “we don’t really know what would happen because we’ve never seen this before,” said Carl Weinberg, chief economist of High Frequency Economics. But “when Greece eventually does fail, there will be a banking crisis in Europe of historic proportions,” he said. Banks would be forced to write off Greek debts and recapitalize; some banks could fail; and the existing European bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, would face major stresses.
But the economic rescue has proved deeply unpopular with German voters, who shoulder much of the financial burden of the bailout. German taxpayers feel that they scrimped over the past decade while the Greeks enjoyed rocketing salaries and generous government benefits.
“The Greeks must really be serious, and the German citizens must feel that the Greeks are serious,” said Ulrike Guerot, the head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. But, she said, forcing private investors to take a loss is “too risky” right now, even if they eventually will need to do so.
French banks are heavily involved with Greek debt. German banks are less so, but much of the debt exposure is concentrated in the state-owned banks and could put additional pressure on taxpayers in the event of a failure.
On Wednesday, the European Central Bank said that it had loaned $500 million to a single, unidentified bank for a week, raising concerns that banks are too scared about each other’s viability to extend the short-term loans that help provide liquidity to the economy.
Greece discussed its austerity measures with the so-called troika of creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank — in late-night telephone conversations Monday and Tuesday. An inspection team sent to Greece earlier this month left suddenly when it discovered new shortfalls. The European Commission announced late Tuesday that the review would resume early next week, and German officials have said they will approve the newest $11 billion bailout payment only if the review gives a green light.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have dinner with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in Berlin on Sept. 27, her spokesman said Wednesday.
“We are not really prepared for a crisis of this sort in our euro area,” said Christoph Schmidt, a member of the German Council of Economic Experts, a panel that meets with Merkel regularly. “Everybody is hoping” that the creditors will decide that Greece’s reforms are “still online,” he said. But if they don’t, he said, the money should be cut off.