Working paper

Incorporating the impact of social investments and reforms in the European Union’s new fiscal framework

This paper proposes an approach for quantifying the impact of public investments and reforms on debt sustainability

Publishing date
14 March 2024
WP 07

The European Union’s new fiscal framework aims to incentivise public investment and reforms by offering the option to extend the four-year fiscal adjustment period to seven years, thereby lowering the average annual fiscal adjustment requirement. EU countries can propose investment and reforms in the context of their national medium-term fiscal structural plans. When they do, these investments and reforms can be expected to also inform the fiscal adjustment proposed by member states. Yet, the EU lacks an agreed methodology for deciding on the potential quantitative impact of investment and reforms on the fiscal adjustment required under the new rules.  

This paper first analyses the ‘investment friendliness’ of the new framework. Although the incentives offered for raising investment are powerful, the bar for extending the adjustment period mainly through higher investment is high, and the design of the new rules will make it hard to actually raise investment.

We next propose an approach for quantifying the impact of investment and reform on debt sustainability in the context of the new framework, taking into account uncertainty about their implementation and their economic effects. Such a methodology would also help the European Commission evaluate the impacts of recently adopted measures, the impacts of which are not yet observable. Developing this methodology will require revisiting the current commonly agreed methodologies for medium- and long-term capital stock and total factor productivity projections.

We illustrate the potential impact of investment on debt sustainability analyses through calculations on three social investment measures, that is, combinations of reform and public spending that aim to increase human capital and labour force participations. While the impact of individual reforms on fiscal adjustment needs is generally modest, the combined impact of several measures could be notable.


This paper was prepared at the request of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and was supported by the Federal Public Service Social Security (BCI-2023-social investment). The opinions expressed in this document are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU.

About the authors

  • Zsolt Darvas

    Zsolt Darvas is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel and part-time Senior Research Fellow at the Corvinus University of Budapest. He joined Bruegel in 2008 as a Visiting Fellow, and became a Research Fellow in 2009 and a Senior Fellow in 2013.

    From 2005 to 2008, he was the Research Advisor of the Argenta Financial Research Group in Budapest. Before that, he worked at the research unit of the Central Bank of Hungary (1994-2005) where he served as Deputy Head.

    Zsolt holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Corvinus University of Budapest where he teaches courses in Econometrics but also at other institutions since 1994. His research interests include macroeconomics, international economics, central banking and time series analysis.

  • Lennard Welslau

    Lennard is a Research analyst at Bruegel. His research interests lie in the fields of macroeconomics, international economics, and data science. He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics in Freiburg and Buenos Aires and holds an MSc in Economics from the University of Copenhagen. In his thesis, he used a small open economy heterogeneous agent New Keynesian (HANK) model to investigate the role of wage flexibility in countries facing external demand and interest rate shocks.

    Prior to joining Bruegel, he worked as a trainee with the European Central Bank, held research assistant positions at the Walter Eucken Institute and the Copenhagen Business School, and contributed to the work of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) as a research consultant, working on empirical trade modelling.

    Lennard is a native German speaker and is fluent in English and Spanish.

  • Jeromin Zettelmeyer

    Jeromin Zettelmeyer has been Director of Bruegel since September 2022. Born in Madrid in 1964, Jeromin was previously a Deputy Director of the Strategy and Policy Review Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Prior to that, he was Dennis Weatherstone Senior Fellow (2019) and Senior Fellow (2016-19) at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Director-General for Economic Policy at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (2014-16); Director of Research and Deputy Chief Economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (2008-2014), and an IMF staff member, where he worked in the Research, Western Hemisphere, and European II Departments (1994-2008).

    Jeromin holds a Ph.D. in economics from MIT (1995) and an economics degree from the University of Bonn (1990). He is a Research Fellow in the International Macroeconomics Programme of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), and a member of the CEPR’s Research and Policy Network on European economic architecture, which he helped found. He is also a member of CESIfo. He has published widely on topics including financial crises, sovereign debt, economic growth, transition to market, and Europe’s monetary union. His recent research interests include EMU economic architecture, sovereign debt, debt and climate, and the return of economic nationalism in advanced and emerging market countries.    

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