BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union moved Wednesday to overhaul its euro single currency rulebook as the 27-nation bloc’s economies creak under high debt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“Our common EU fiscal rules date back to the 1990s and we have since withstood major economic shocks,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said. “We now face different challenges and economic priorities, and our rules need to reflect these changes.”
The central pillar of the overhaul, laid out by the commission, the EU’s executive branch, would see member countries design and present plans outlining their fiscal targets, measures they might use to address any imbalances and the main reforms and investment they aim to undertake.
Key targets from the old Stability and Growth Pact will remain, even though the rules were essentially suspended in 2020 following the COVID-19 outbreak. Countries must aim to keep their government deficit near to or below 3% of gross domestic product, and their public debt below 60% of GDP.
The individual national plans would cover at least four years and must be approved by the commission and the other EU member countries.
Should a country miss its targets, the commission would issue recommendations on a “technical trajectory” aimed at ensuring that debt is brought down and that the deficit is brought back to at most 3% of GDP.
The aim is to ensure that debt is reduced by 0.5% each year and continues to decline longer term. The commission would permit “escape clauses” to be used in extraordinary circumstances, like a repeat of the pandemic or an extended war in Europe, by countries whose plans would become too onerous.
EU member countries and the European Parliament must now thrash out the proposals. The commission insisted that the overhaul is a “pressing priority” and urged the parties to agree on the plan “as quickly as possible, so as to adequately respond to the challenges ahead.”
Germany reacted quickly to the commission’s scheme, saying that it needs more work.
“No one should be under the misunderstanding that Germany will automatically consent to the proposals. We will only agree to rules that enable a reliable path to lower debts and stable public finances,” Finance Minister Christian Lindner said in a statement.
In a Financial Times opinion piece on Tuesday, Lindner said the EU needs uniform fiscal rules that ensure fair treatment for all. He said that having the commission negotiate any remedy with individual member countries “would make the issue of debt reduction a subject of political negotiation.”