More a whisper than a loud clap, Greece has imposed yet another embargo in its painful financial bailout years.

Saturday’s formal end to “increased surveillance” by EU creditors means the country will no longer face quarterly scrutiny of its public finances to win debt relief payments.

It gives Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s centre-right government more freedom on the budget at a time when Greece, like all of Europe, is grappling with the post-pandemic cost and energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine. As Moscow cuts natural gas in Europe, energy prices soar, fueling galloping inflation and threatening to plunge Europe into recession.

Nevertheless, Greece – like EU partners Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Ireland – will still be monitored by its creditors when paying off its debts. In the case of Greece, it would take two more generations, with the final debt due for repayment in 2070.

Wolfango Piccoli, co-chair and research director at Teneo Consultancy, which has covered Greece’s financial crisis for years, said the end of increased surveillance is unlikely to have a meaningful impact.

“This is primarily a technical matter that most investors are expected to ignore,” he said.

While Mitsotakis’s government may try to score domestic political points with an exit from increased surveillance, “it would be a fruitless exercise,” Piccoli said.

“The vast majority of the public is focused on the crisis of survival,” he said.

That’s true for Ephthymia Pandi, a 23-year-old central Athens florist who grew up during Greece’s financial crisis and not much has changed since.

“I think the crisis has inevitably continued, it never ended,” she said. “What I see is constant duplication. … Unemployment is still high and wages are low, while the cost of living is high.”

Saturday’s milestone comes just four years after the end of the international debt program, which battered Greeks but still left members of the European Union and its common currency, the euro. The Greek crisis stirred global markets and pushed EU unity to its limits.

Investors stopped lending money to Greece in 2010 after Athens admitted to misrepresenting key budget data. To keep the country afloat, its European partners and the International Monetary Fund approved three rescue loan programs totaling 290 billion euros ($293 billion) from 2010 to 2018.

In return, the creditors did exactly what many Greeks still see as a pound of meat: deep state spending and wage cuts, tax increases, privatization and other sweeping reforms aimed at correcting public finances. The economy shrank by more than a quarter, unemployment soared to nearly 28%, and skilled professionals fled in large numbers.

The programs led to a balanced budget and a successful return to government borrowing from international markets. Last year, the economy recovered most of the pandemic-induced 9% contraction of 2020 and is projected to grow by 3.5% this year amid an expected bumper tourism season.

The recession and COVID-19 relief measures pushed Greece’s public debt to 206% of economic output in 2020, but it dipped in 2021 and is expected to reach 185% this year.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, stated that “As a result of Greece’s efforts, the resilience of the Greek economy has been significantly improved and the risk of spillover effects on the euro-area economy has been significantly reduced.”

“It is no longer appropriate to put Greece under greater surveillance,” it added.

But challenges remain, many beyond Athens’ control. Inflation hit 11.6% in July, slightly below a three-decade high, but still higher than the 19-country euro area’s 8.9%. While state subsidies are protecting homes and businesses from rising energy bills, gas, fuel and electricity prices are expected to rise further in winter, as in the rest of Europe. Also, unemployment in Greece stood at around 15% last year and is expected to drop to single digits only in 2024.

In a reminder of the crisis years, Greece’s credit rating remains below investment grade, raising the cost of borrowing from international markets. However, the bulk of the country’s debt with its European partners is on benign terms and Athens is expected to achieve investment grade next year.

Tenno’s Piccoli suspects that the exit from the increased surveillance “will make a huge difference in relation to a potential credit rating upgrade in 2023.”

Greek public administration expert Panagiotis Karkatsulis said the country needed to move fast with some grassroots reforms – including speeding up the crumbling justice system, eliminating bureaucracy and tackling corruption – that fell between the rifts .

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