Greek economy staggers to its feet

The Greek economy is slowly picking itself up off the floor. The debt crisis that began in 2009 wiped a quarter off the country’s national income — the extent of the damage done to the US in the Great Depression. Household incomes slipped by a third, while 25% of shops in central Athens closed. But now things are finally looking up. Growth reached 1.4% last year, the first “substantial” annual increase since 2007, say Nektaria Stamouli and Marcus Walker in The Wall Street Journal.

A manufacturing gauge has risen to a 17-year high, investment is rebounding, and some companies that had fled are coming back, impressed by the improving backdrop. Netherlands-based food retailer Spar, for instance, having abandoned Greece two years ago, now plans to open 350 shops.

Meanwhile, electric-car group Tesla, enticed by low wages and an educated workforce, is opening a research and development centre in Athens.

That’s all very well, says Phyllis Papadavid on Bloomberg, but it’s hard to see growth accelerating significantly when there is still so much to do on the structural-reform front. The government has been “backsliding” on privatising key industries. “Rent-seeking and clientelism are still a feature of policymaking.” Overregulation and corruption haven’t declined much either: according to the International Monetary Fund, the shadow economy has actually grown recently, and now comprises 27% of GDP.

What’s more, while Greece is set to exit its bailout programme in the summer, there is little sign so far that its creditors will grant it enough debt relief to make its borrowings – worth 176% of GDP – sustainable. “Investing in Greece,” concludes Papadavid, “is not for the faint of heart.”