As has been evident since the autumn of 2009, when an acute fiscal crisis erupted in Greece, economic policy in 2008 – 2010 was not able to provide a reliable economic environment in Greece. Even though the high annual economic growth rates of the 2000s (4% in 2004 – 2007) improved the country’s competitiveness, and made Greece a more attractive economic location than it was in the 1990s, the Greek economy’s basic structural deficiencies saw no change. Economic growth was not followed by a more equitable distribution of income. The fact that in 2007, GDP per capita stood at $28,423, making Greece the 21st richest country in the world (according to OECD data), does not tell the whole story. In the period under review, the poverty rate remained at 20%, and economic inequalities were not curbed. In addition, Greece was the least competitive among all OECD countries.
The budget deficit amounted to 13.6% of GDP in 2009 and public debt soared to 115% of GDP by the end of that year. Inflation reached approximately 4% in 2008, decreased to 1.2% in 2009, but rose again to about 3% in the early months of 2010, in the wake of the crisis.
Throughout the period in question, the Greek economy continued to suffer from relatively low international competitiveness. Levels of inward foreign direct investment (FDI) are low; the openness of the economy is constrained by various barriers to market entry (as evidenced by the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business reports); and heavy, inefficient state regulation of the domestic product markets sustain higher costs. A new debate emerged in 2009 about the benefits of opening up the so-called closed professions in order to create more competitive pricing. The new government is expected to introduce reforms on this issue as a result of the EU/IMF loans it has received.
The stability of the macroeconomic policy framework has been repeatedly called into question by doubts as to the credibility of the fiscal data supplied by the government. EUROSTAT revealed that it had questioned the validity of the Greek data five times in the 2005 – 2009 period. The credibility of the data could not be relied upon, it indicated.
The consequence was that international financial markets became alarmed as to the ability of the Greek government to cover its high levels of debt maturing in 2010 and onwards, given that public debt was set to rise to 120% of GDP that year, and was forecast to rise to 140% thereafter. An unprecedented fiscal crisis arose for Greece and the euro zone, prompting an EU/IMF bailout. Thus, the stability of the domestic economic setting was shattered, accompanied by major political and social unrest.
The crisis brought Greece to the brink of defaulting on high levels of maturing debt. This eventuality still cannot be ruled out over the next three years, but the aid package provided by the euro zone countries and the IMF, as well as the new measures announced for those euro zone states in fiscal difficulty, hold out the change of preventing such default.
The Greek economy is largely based on services such as tourism, construction and public sector services (including transportation, education, health, and utilities supplied by public bodies and state-owned enterprises). Roughly three-fourths of the Greek workforce is employed in the tertiary sector. The economy is heavily dependent on imports of energy (oil) as well as imported capital and consumer goods, to the point that in 2009 the total value of exports was just one-third the total value of imports (the value of imports was $61.47 billion, and that of exports only $18.64 billion). Unemployment hovered around 9% in 2009, but had already surpassed the 11% mark by April 2010.
For data on GDP per capita in comparative perspective, see OECD Factbook 2009: Economic,
Environmental and Social Statistics. For data on inflation, see OECD Economic Outlook 86, Table 18 and also
http://www.theodora.com/wfbcurren t/greece/greece_economy.html (accessed: 22 March 2010).