Greece got the rescue. But it’s the rest of Europe that’s breathing easier. A $172 billion bailout isn’t likely to keep Greece from eventually defaulting on its debts and abandoning the euro, many economists say.
The sad truth about the bailout is that it mostly just buys time. The breather allows European governments and banks to strengthen their financial defenses, leaving them less vulnerable if Greece cracks up a few months or even a few years from now. The bailout -- plus an agreement endorsed late past week by most private lenders to reduce Greece’s debts - “does more to protect Europe from Greece than for Greece itself,” says Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. A Feb. 15 report prepared for European and IMF officials concluded that Greece is likely to miss its debt-reduction targets and need another bailout. The austerity measures meant to reduce Greece’s debts could backfire by pushing the country deeper into recession. The Greek government, facing riots in the streets and an election this spring, might balk at its budget-cutting commitments and demand easier terms. “The real crunch time is going to be September or October by which time we will know whether the new Greek government formed after the election will be able implement the new program,” Kirkegaard says.