Low Base Interest Rates: An Opportunity in the Euro Debt Crisis

DIW Weekly Report 5 / 2014, S. 3-13

Marius Kokert, Dorothea Schäfer, Andreas Stephan

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Member states of the euro area have been struggling with the legacies of the severe financial and economic crisis for four years now. But debt ratios are still rising. Negative primary balances, low growth, and low inflation do not allow for a recovery similar to the one in the US after the Second World War. Between 1946 and 1953, the US was able to almost halve its debt with no haircuts. The crisis countries of the euro area were able to "buy time" with bailout packages and low interest rates. But as long as the other influencing factors are not developing more positively, it remains uncertain whether the current stabilization of the euro debt crisis is sustainable. The ECB's low interest rate policy undoubtedly offers some relief in this situation. First, the interest burden for most countries in the euro area has declined in recent years. This effect has tended to stifle increases in the debt ratio. Second, low interest rates strengthen the economy. In turn, this increases government tax revenue and improves the primary balance. Low interest rates have also played an important role in driving down the debt ratio in the US. At the moment they appear to be the only lever in the euro area with which to make euro area countries' debt more sustainable. What matters now is that they seize this opportunity.

Dorothea Schäfer

Forschungsdirektorin in der Abteilung Makroökonomie

JEL-Classification: E44;G1;H63;N20
Keywords: sovereign debt, financial crisis, history of national debt, financial markets
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