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The European sovereign debt crisis is an ongoing financial crisis that has made it difficult or impossible for some countries in the euro area to repay or re-finance their government debt without the assistance of third parties. In 1992, members of the European Union signed the Maastricht Treaty, under which they pledged to limit their deficit spending and debt levels. However, in the early 2000s, a number of EU member states were failing to stay within the confines of the Maastricht criteria and turned to securitising future government revenues to reduce their debts and/or deficits. Sovereigns sold rights to receive future cash flows, allowing governments to raise funds without violating debt and deficit targets, but sidestepping best practice and ignoring internationally agreed standards. This allowed the sovereigns to mask their deficit and debt levels through a combination of techniques, including inconsistent accounting, off-balance-sheet transactions as well as the use of complex currency and credit derivatives structures. Germany, for example, received €15.5 billion from the securitization of pension-related payments from Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Post, and Deutsche Postbank in 2005‒06, but guaranteed payments so investors bore only the risk of the German government's credit and the transactions were ultimately recorded in Europe's fiscal statistics as government borrowing, not asset sales. (via Freebase)