Looking at the evolution of Greece government debt/GDP one can see that it is still at a very high level. (however, the forecast indicates a positive trend).

According to Wikipedia's article on the matter, an economist argues that restructuring of all European debt is inevitable:

Economist Thomas Piketty said in July 2015: "We need a conference on all of Europe’s debts, just like after World War II. A restructuring of all debt, not just in Greece but in several European countries, is inevitable." This reflected the difficulties that Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland had faced (along with Greece) before ECB-head Mario Draghi signaled a pivot to looser monetary policy

Question: Who can decide a major (several countries) restructuring of debt in European Union?

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    In general always the creditors which in the case of Greece once were the banks and now are primarily the EU and the IMF. For the EU it would be the ECB and the Council or Commission of the EU who decide. Independent of that I agree, at some point in the future a restructuring of that debt is inevitable. Please note, that by setting artificially low interest rates, one can already now introduce the same effect as a restructuring without calling it one. It's not only the height of the debt but actually the amount of required down-payment that decides if a debt is too high. Feb 9, 2018 at 8:52
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    There's a saying in finance that goes something like: if you owe $1k to a bank it's your problem; if you owe $100M to a bank it's the bank's problem. Ultimately, the amount of debt involved is large enough that it de facto is the creditors' problem and they'll probably be forced to get a hair cut at some point or another... The same remark holds for other countries like the US, Japan, or the UK - unless, of course, the private sector debt, which is the actual problem, somehow goes away with slow growth rates. Feb 9, 2018 at 20:23
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    In answering this question, it might also be beneficial to consider who may not decide such a "restructuring" (loan forgiveness). The Northern European countries have made it clear that the ECB is not allowed to. OTOH, that's only talking about what they ECB may not do. We know from the past (such as EU budget rules) that legal barriers are not a big a hurdle as most people would expect. In fact, the EU budget rules don't even appear to be guidelines anymore.
    – MSalters
    Feb 12, 2018 at 15:57
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    The answer is ambiguous. AFAIK there is no "European debt", but "debt from several European countries". Any one of them may try to renegotiate its own debt, but it is likely that debtors in other EU country will use the EU mechanisms as leverage against it... Are you asking about the more "formal" requirement (no EU level decision involved) or about what would be needed for an "agreed on" debt restructuring?
    – SJuan76
    Feb 13, 2018 at 17:55
  • @SJuan76 - the second option: "what would be needed for an "agreed on" debt restructuring?"
    – Alexei
    Feb 13, 2018 at 18:45

1 Answer 1


The powers that be. Which is going to include a combination of EU-level and local mechanisms and some of the creditors. A little known story about Greek restructuring (that the ECB vowed will never be repeated):

In comparison with debt restructurings for emerging market sovereigns, Eurozone countries will enjoy some significant advantages. By far the most important will be the local law advantage. The debt stocks of many Eurozone countries are in large part governed by the law of the debtor country. No emerging market sovereign borrower has ever enjoyed this advantage. Debt instruments governed by the sovereign's own law allow the local legislature to change the law in ways that can facilitate the restructuring of those instruments.

This is precisely what the Greek Parliament did in 2012 to minimize the number of holdout creditors in the Greek debt restructuring. Parliament enacted what amounted to a class voting mechanism covering all Greek law‐governed GGBs (representing roughly 93 per cent of the total debt stock). That mechanism specified that if holders of two‐thirds of the Greek law‐governed GGBs approved a restructuring proposal, the result would bind all holders of those bonds

And the Greek state was sued everywhere where that could be challenged, ECJ, ICSID etc. But won everywhere!

The validity of this action by the Greek Parliament was subsequently challenged in lawsuits in Greek, German and Austrian courts, in a major International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) arbitration, and in a complaint filed with the European Court of Human Rights (Grund, 2017). None of these legal challenges to the validity of Parliament's action has succeeded.

The most important of these precedents for future sovereign debt restructurings in Europe is likely to be the June 2016 decision of the European Court of Human Rights in a case captioned Mamatas and Others v. Hellenic Republic. [...] The lessons that may be drawn from the Mamatas precedent for any future debt restructuring by a Eurozone member are:

  • Only a severe financial crisis will justify an extraordinary action such as a legislatively‐imposed class voting mechanism.
  • The member concerned would be well advised to follow the Greek path of allowing a supermajority of affected creditors to control the process, rather than attempt a direct legislative write down of the debts.
  • Using a debt restructuring technique that resembles the operation of the now‐mandatory collective action clauses in Eurozone sovereign bonds will help deflect a claim that creditor expectations have been traumatized.

Now more recently (2018) there have been more organized attempts to have the ESM play an official role

Ten European Union finance ministers want any unsustainable public debt in the euro zone to undergo restructuring, with losses imposed on the private sector, before a public bailout is organized, a joint position paper by the 10 ministers said.

The paper was drafted for a meeting on Monday of all EU finance ministers except Britain’s, which will be devoted to changes to the euro zone bailout fund. It was signed by the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Slovakia. Although it did not sign, Germany, the euro zone’s biggest economy, is of the same opinion and Austria is also sympathetic.

The 19 countries that share the euro have a bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which is a lender of last resort to governments that have lost market access. [...]

the 10 ministers also called for the ESM’s role in debt restructuring to be spelled out more clearly.

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