The IMF and the European Debt Crisis

International Monetary Fund

The book explores the Fund’s engagement in Europe in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, and especially after 2010. It explains how, why, and with what consequences the International Monetary Fund—along with the European Central Bank and the European Commission (together known as “the troika”)—supported adjustment programs in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Cyprus as well as helping to monitor Spain’s adjustment program and exploring modalities for supporting Italy. Additionally, it analyzes how the euro area developments interacted with and affected the rest of Europe, including not only eastern and southeastern Europe but also the United Kingdom, where the political fallout from post-financial crisis populism—in the form of “Brexit” from the European Union—was, in the end, the most extreme. The IMF’s European programs embroiled the Fund in numerous controversies over the exceptionally large lending, over whether or not to impose losses on private creditors, and over the mix between external financing and internal adjustment undertaken by program countries. They also required the IMF to confront longstanding questions about its governance and evenhandedness in the treatment of different segments of its membership. The crisis programs, with Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus, all revolved around debt sustainability. In the Greek case, after an intense internal debate, the IMF initially chose a program without debt reduction because it feared that such a program–even if ultimately in the interests of Greece, the client country–would trigger a panic of banks and other creditors and thus generate contagion for the rest of Europe. Learning from the Greek case, in Ireland and Portugal, the IMF pushed for debt reduction, to which the government in Ireland but not in Portugal was sympathetic. There was thus no private sector debt reduction in Ireland and Portugal. The European programs were caught up in big geopolitical debates about the appropriate role of the Fund in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The book examines the intellectual and policy shifts that took place in the IMF as a result of the controversies about its European programs. It concludes with some reflections on how all the programs also produced genuine policy reform and held out the possibility of a return to growth and prosperity.

21st Century