The European Commission presented its autumn economic policy package, including the Opinions on euro area Draft Budgetary Plans (DBPs) for 2021 and policy recommendations for the euro area. This is the second step in the 2021 European Semester cycle, which started in September with the publication of the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy (ASGS) with the concept of competitive sustainability at its heart. The ASGS also provided strategic guidance for Member States in drafting their Recovery and Resilience Plans and set out the relationship between the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) and the Semester. This package draws upon the Autumn 2020 Economic Forecast – prepared in a context of high uncertainty – which projected that the economic shock caused by the coronavirus pandemic would leave output in the euro area and the EU below its pre-pandemic level in 2022.
Opinions on the Draft Budgetary Plans of euro area Member States
The Opinions on the 2021 DBPs take into account the ongoing health crisis, the high level of uncertainty and the severe economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak. Given the activation of the general escape clause of the Stability and Growth Pact, the fiscal recommendations issued by the Council in July 2020 were of a qualitative nature. These Opinions therefore look especially at whether the planned supportive budgetary measures for 2021 are temporary and if not, whether offsetting measures are planned.
The Commission has assessed that all DBPs are overall in line with the Council’s recommendations of 20 July 2020. Most of the measures support economic activity against the background of considerable uncertainty. Some measures set out in the Draft Budgetary Plans of France, Italy, Lithuania and Slovakia do not appear to be temporary or matched by offsetting measures. Lithuania has submitted its Draft Budgetary Plan based on a no-policy-change scenario and is invited to submit an updated Draft Budgetary Plan.
For Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, given the level of their government debt and high sustainability challenges in the medium-term before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to ensure that, when taking supporting budgetary measures, fiscal sustainability in the medium-term is preserved.
Steps under the Stability and Growth Pact in relation to Romania
Romania has been under the excessive deficit procedure (EDP) since April 2020 due to the breach of the Treaty deficit threshold in 2019. In light of the continued high uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Commission considers that no decision on further steps in Romania’s excessive deficit procedure should be taken at this juncture. It will reassess Romania’s budgetary situation in spring 2021.
Euro area recommendation, Alert Mechanism Report, and proposal for a Joint Employment Report
The recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area presents tailored advice to euro area Member States on those topics that affect the functioning of the euro area as a whole. This year it also provides policy guidance on the priorities that euro area Member States should pursue in their Recovery and Resilience Plans. The recommendation calls on euro area Member States to make sure that their fiscal policies remain supportive in 2021. It also calls on Member States to reorient fiscal policies towards achieving prudent medium-term positions once epidemiological and economic conditions allow. It encourages Member States to strengthen national institutional frameworks and to implement priority reforms and investments that can make the euro area and its members more sustainable and resilient. Such reforms and investment measures should create the right conditions for the economic recovery consistent with the green and digital transitions. It also calls for the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union and to strengthen the international role of the euro.
The Alert Mechanism Report (AMR), a screening device to detect potential macroeconomic imbalances, finds that while macroeconomic imbalances were narrowing until the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, risks of imbalances appear to be on the rise in Member States that were already experiencing imbalances prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It recommends that in-depth reviews to identify and assess the severity of possible macroeconomic imbalances should be prepared for the same 12 Member States that had already been identified as having imbalances or excessive imbalances in February 2020. These are Croatia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden.
The proposal for a Joint Employment Report analyses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the employment and social situation in Europe. The COVID-19 crisis has broken a six-year long positive trend on the labour market. The total number of people in employment and the employment rate have dropped significantly, though the increase in the unemployment rate has been moderate so far thanks to the swift adoption of short-time work schemes and similar measures. Member States that already experienced serious socio-economic challenges before the pandemic are now even more exposed to vulnerabilities. The economic shock to the labour market is being experienced differently across sectors and categories of workers. The employment fall has affected workers in non-standard forms of employment to a greater extent. Youth unemployment has increased more markedly than unemployment for other age groups. The share of young people not in employment, education or training has risen sharply. Non-EU born workers have also been severely affected. The Commission will continue to closely monitor all labour market and social developments, regularly updating the Employment Performance Monitor and Social Protection Performance Monitor. In the exceptional 2021 European Semester the Joint Employment Report will additionally help Member States identify priority areas for reforms and investment to be included in their recovery and resilience plans, against the background of the Employment Guidelines.
The Commission is committed to pursuing a sustainable growth strategy which will help the EU and its Member States achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The staff-working document on delivering on the SDGs explains how the Commission is taking forward its commitment to sustainable development, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs in its policymaking.
Enhanced surveillance report and post-programme surveillance reports
The eighth enhanced surveillance report for Greece finds that, in spite of the adverse circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greek authorities have taken the necessary actions to achieve the agreed commitments, delivering on a number of fundamental reforms. The report could serve as a basis for the Eurogroup to decide on the release of the next set of policy-contingent debt measures.
The post-programme surveillance reports for Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain find that the repayment capacities of each remain sound.
Members of the College said:
Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for An Economy that Works for People said: “With Europe now engulfed in a second wave of the pandemic, we need to build on our efforts to support one another in weathering this storm. This Autumn Package aims to steer EU economies into calmer waters and provide policy guidance for our collective recovery. For Europe to bounce back as a competitive force on the world stage, we need targeted and temporary fiscal support measures, as well as well-chosen reforms and investments that will drive a fair, inclusive and sustainable recovery. We now need a quick political agreement on the Recovery and Resilience Facility so that it can provide a financial anchor through this storm. I encourage all Member States to set out ambitious policy agendas in their recovery and resilience plans, to the benefit of all.”
Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for Economy, said: “Against the backdrop of an interrupted rebound and very high uncertainty, governments must continue to address the crisis and support the recovery. Most measures included in euro area countries’ 2021 budgets rightly support economic activity. But a strong and balanced recovery depends on a swift entry into force of Next Generation EU: to rebuild confidence, relaunch investment, and push ahead with transformative reforms to preserve our planet, build fairer societies and make a success of digitalisation. So I call on EU governments to show a strong sense of responsibility to their own citizens and to all Europeans at this crucial moment. Let’s get this recovery plan over the line.”
Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, said: “The COVID-19 crisis has broken a 6-year long positive trend on the labour market, which has affected all Europeans, particularly the young, and those on temporary or atypical contracts. The EU will continue to mobilise all resources at its disposal and support Member States in their efforts to mitigate the socioeconomic consequences of the crisis, to protect workers, preserve jobs and ease job transitions towards the green and digital economy. We must focus our efforts on skills and training to adapt to the post-COVID-19 labour market. It is crucial that in a crisis, we reach out to the most vulnerable in society, and place extra emphasis on fighting poverty, exclusion and inequalities.”
The Commission invites the Eurogroup and Council to discuss the package and endorse the guidance offered. It looks forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with the European Parliament on the contents of this package and each subsequent step in the European Semester cycle.
*Source: European Commission