According to the last data released by Eurostat and the European Commission half of Europe would be subject in 2011 and 2012 to the automatic sanctions proposed in the Summit for the case of excessive debt or deficit.
At the recent summit in Brussels it was proposed to change the procedure applicable to the European Union countries that do not fulfil the deficit and debt ceilings, and incorporate “automatic sanctions” in case of deviation.
The proposal[i] retains the existing deficit and debt reference values (3 percent and 60 percent, respectively) and adds a new fiscal rule: the annual structural deficit should not exceed 0.5% of nominal GDP. Regarding the procedure, introduces major intervention measures, including evaluation of budget drafts and monitoring plans to reduce the deficit and debt.
The current provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (see below) require the compliance of the same two above criteria, ceilings that the major European economies did not fulfil in recent years, without any consequence.
England has announced that it will veto the Union Treaty reform, so the new rules will apply to the remaining 26 countries under agreements concluded outside the Treaty.
The proposed reform is very difficult to apply, unless half of Europe is automatically “penalized” in 2011 and 2012, including France and Germany.[ii]
According to the European Commission in 2011 and 2012 France and Spain will not fulfil the requirements under both of these criteria, and in both cases their debt will increase. Germany will fulfil the deficit ceiling but not the debt one; in 2011 Italy will not fulfil any of the two values and in 2012 will fulfil the deficit ceiling but it will exceed by far the debt reference value.
The only countries in the euro area that fulfil both values in the same period are Estonia, Finland and Luxembourg.
The only EU countries that are not euro group Members that fulfil both values are Bulgaria and Sweden, the latter is also the only EU country with a surplus. Lithuania would fulfil both values in 2012.
Great Britain does not fulfil any of the two values, but would be out of automatic penalties because it will not hold any agreement about it.
If the reforms are finally introduced, and if there is no room for a “flexible interpretation” in crisis and emergency times, during the next two years half of Europe would be subject to “automatic sanctions.”
Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union[iii]
(ex Article 104 TEC)
1. Member States shall avoid excessive government deficits.
2. The Commission shall monitor the development of the budgetary situation and of the stock of government debt in the Member States with a view to identifying gross errors. In particular it shall examine compliance with budgetary discipline on the basis of the following two criteria:
(a) whether the ratio of the planned or actual government deficit to gross domestic product exceeds a reference value, unless:
— either the ratio has declined substantially and continuously and reached a level that comes close to the reference value,
— or, alternatively, the excess over the reference value is only exceptional and temporary and the ratio remains close to the reference value;
(b) whether the ratio of government debt to gross domestic product exceeds a reference value, unless the ratio is sufficiently diminishing and approaching the reference value at a satisfactory pace.
The reference values are specified in the Protocol on the excessive deficit procedure annexed to the Treaties.
3. If a Member State does not fulfil the requirements under one or both of these criteria, the Commission shall prepare a report. The report of the Commission shall also take into account whether the government deficit exceeds government investment expenditure and take into account all other relevant factors, including the medium-term economic and budgetary position of the Member State.
The Commission may also prepare a report if, notwithstanding the fulfilment of the requirements under the criteria, it is of the opinion that there is a risk of an excessive deficit in a Member State.
4. The Economic and Financial Committee shall formulate an opinion on the report of the Commission.
5. If the Commission considers that an excessive deficit in a Member State exists or may occur, it shall address an opinion to the Member State concerned and shall inform the Council accordingly.
6. The Council shall, on a proposal from the Commission, and having considered any observations which the Member State concerned may wish to make, decide after an overall assessment whether an excessive deficit exists.
7. Where the Council decides, in accordance with paragraph 6, that an excessive deficit exists, it shall adopt, without undue delay, on a recommendation from the Commission, recommendations addressed to the Member State concerned with a view to bringing that situation to an end within a given period. Subject to the provisions of paragraph 8, these recommendations shall not be made public.
8. Where it establishes that there has been no effective action in response to its recommendations within the period laid down, the Council may make its recommendations public.
9. If a Member State persists in failing to put into practice the recommendations of the Council, the Council may decide to give notice to the Member State to take, within a specified time limit, measures for the deficit reduction which is judged necessary by the Council in order to remedy the situation.
In such a case, the Council may request the Member State concerned to submit reports in accordance with a specific timetable in order to examine the adjustment efforts of that Member State.
10. The rights to bring actions provided for in Articles 258 and 259 may not be exercised within the framework of paragraphs 1 to 9 of this Article.
11. As long as a Member State fails to comply with a decision taken in accordance with paragraph 9, the Council may decide to apply or, as the case may be, intensify one or more of the following measures:
— to require the Member State concerned to publish additional information, to be specified by the Council, before issuing bonds and securities,
— to invite the European Investment Bank to reconsider its lending policy towards the Member State concerned,
— to require the Member State concerned to make a non-interest-bearing deposit of an appropriate size with the Union until the excessive deficit has, in the view of the Council, been corrected,
— to impose fines of an appropriate size.
The President of the Council shall inform the European Parliament of the decisions taken.
12. The Council shall abrogate some or all of its decisions or recommendations referred to in paragraphs 6 to 9 and 11 to the extent that the excessive deficit in the Member State concerned has, in the view of the Council, been corrected. If the Council has previously made public recommendations, it shall, as soon as the decision under paragraph 8 has been abrogated, make a public statement that an excessive deficit in the Member State concerned no longer exists.
13. When taking the decisions or recommendations referred to in paragraphs 8, 9, 11 and 12, the Council shall act on a recommendation from the Commission.
When the Council adopts the measures referred to in paragraphs 6 to 9, 11 and 12, it shall act without taking into account the vote of the member of the Council representing the Member State concerned.
A qualified majority of the other members of the Council shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(a).
14. Further provisions relating to the implementation of the procedure described in this Article are set out in the Protocol on the excessive deficit procedure annexed to the Treaties.
The Council shall, acting unanimously in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after consulting the European Parliament and the European Central Bank, adopt the appropriate provisions which shall then replace the said Protocol.
Subject to the other provisions of this paragraph, the Council shall, on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, lay down detailed rules and definitions for the application of the provisions of the said Protocol.
PROTOCOL (No 12)
ON THE EXCESSIVE DEFICIT PROCEDURE
THE HIGH CONTRACTING PARTIES,
DESIRING TO lay down the details of the excessive deficit procedure referred to in Article 126 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,
HAVE AGREED upon the following provisions, which shall be annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:
The reference values referred to in Article 126(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union are:
— 3 % for the ratio of the planned or actual government deficit to gross domestic product at market prices;
— 60 % for the ratio of government debt to gross domestic product at market prices.
In Article 126 of the said Treaty and in this Protocol:
— ‘government’ means general government, that is central government, regional or local government and social security funds, to the exclusion of commercial operations, as defined in the European System of Integrated Economic Accounts;
— ‘deficit’ means net borrowing as defined in the European System of Integrated Economic Accounts;
— ‘investment’ means gross fixed capital formation as defined in the European System of Integrated Economic Accounts;
— ‘debt’ means total gross debt at nominal value outstanding at the end of the year and consolidated between and within the sectors of general government as defined in the first indent.
In order to ensure the effectiveness of the excessive deficit procedure, the governments of the Member States shall be responsible under this procedure for the deficits of general government as defined in the first indent of Article 2. The Member States shall ensure that national procedures in the budgetary area enable them to meet their obligations in this area deriving from these Treaties. The Member States shall report their planned and actual deficits and the levels of their debt promptly and regularly to the Commission.
The statistical data to be used for the application of this Protocol shall be provided by the Commission.
[iii] C 83/100 Official Journal of the European Union 30.3.2010