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5/19/16

The ECB Grants Debt Relief To All Except Greece "for the time being" - by Paul De Grauwe

It looks like Greece may get some debt relief. There is as yet no certainty about this because some German politicians continue to conduct rear-guard battles to prevent it. What is certain, however, is that all Eurozone countries, with the exception of Greece, have been enjoying debt relief since early 2015. That may seem surprising to the outsider. Some explanation is necessary here.

As part of its new policy of ‘quantitative easing’ (QE), the ECB has been buying government bonds of the Eurozone countries since March 2015. Since the start of this new policy, the ECB has bought about €645 billion in government bonds. And it has announced that it will continue to do so, at an accelerated monthly rate, until at least March 2017 (Draghi and Const├óncio 2015).

By then, it will have bought an estimated €1,500 billion of government bonds. The ECB’s intention is to pump money in the economy. In so doing, it hopes to lift the Eurozone economy out of stagnation.

I have no problems with this. On the contrary, I have been an advocate of such a policy (De Grauwe and Ji 2015). What I do have problems with is the fact that Greece is excluded from this QE programme. The ECB does not buy Greek government bonds. As a result, the ECB excludes Greece from the debt relief that it grants to the other countries of the Eurozone.

How is this possible? When the ECB buys government bonds from a Eurozone country, it is as if these bonds cease to exist. Although the bonds remain on the balance sheet of the ECB (in fact, most of these are recorded on the balance sheets of the national central banks), they have no economic significance anymore.

Each national treasury will pay interest on these bonds, but the central banks will refund these interest payments at the end of the year to the same national treasuries. This means that as long as the government bonds remain on the balance sheets of the national central banks, the national governments do not pay interest anymore on the part of its debt held on the books of the central bank

Read more: he ECB Grants Debt Relief To All Except Greece

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