Working paper

A quantitative evaluation of the European Commission’s fiscal governance proposal

This paper focuses on the fiscal adjustment that the first regulation would require of countries with debt above the treaty benchmarks.

Publishing date
18 September 2023
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In the new European Union fiscal framework proposed by the European Commission in April 2023, medium-term fiscal adjustment requirements would be determined by country-by-country debt sustainability analysis (DSA), the 3 percent deficit ceiling and simple rules requiring minimum deficit and debt adjustments (‘safeguards’). These elements are controversial, with some EU countries (and ourselves) preferring a DSA-based approach, while others prefer to stick to simple rules. This paper evaluates the proposal by replicating the DSA methodology and computing fiscal adjustment implications for all EU countries with debt above 60 percent or deficits above 3 percent of GDP.

To access the replication code, click here

We find that the proposed framework would require ambitious fiscal adjustment: on average, more than 2 percent of GDP over the medium term, in addition to the adjustment that is already planned for 2023-24. However, for most high-debt countries, these requirements are below those implied by the current framework.

We also find that for most countries with debt above 60 percent of GDP, these adjustment requirements are driven by the DSA rather than the safeguards, but with significant exceptions. The main exception is France, for which the ‘debt safeguard’ – which requires debt to fall within four years – imposes much higher fiscal adjustment than the DSA. If the adjustment period were to be extended from four to seven years (as is possible under the framework for countries that submit growth-enhancing reform and investment plans), the safeguards would also be binding for several other countries. In addition, a requirement to reduce the deficit by at least half a percent per year if it exceeds 3 percent of GDP could become binding ex post, in response to output shocks, even if countries implement the fiscal adjustment required ex ante.

Finally, we find that while the Commission’s DSA methodology is reasonable, it would benefit from review. This should be done by an independent expert group in consultation with the Commission, member states and other stakeholders, and endorsed by the Council. We recommend the endorsement of the Commission’s proposal after ambiguous aspects are clarified, the debt safeguard and other safeguards are removed or modified, the excessive deficit procedure is reformed to avoid procyclical adjustment, and a process for reviewing the DSA methodology is put in place.

The authors are grateful to François Courtoy and Stéphanie Pamies for patiently answering their questions on the European Commission’s DSA methodology, to Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Marco Buti, Grégory Claeys, Maria Demertzis, Judith Hermes, Mateusz Mońko, Francesco Papadia, Peter Palus, Lucio Pench, Jean Pisani-Ferry, Lucrezia Reichlin, Dorothée Rouzet,  André Sapir, Armin Steinbach, Gabriele Velpi and Stavros Zenios for comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper, and to Olivier Blanchard for discussions that led to section 3.2 of the paper.

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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