Commission presents updated approach to fiscal policy response to coronavirus pandemic
The European Commission yesterday adopted a Communication providing Member States with broad guidance on the conduct of fiscal policy in the period ahead. It provides guiding principles for the proper design and quality of fiscal measures. It sets out the Commission's considerations regarding the deactivation or continued activation of the general escape clause. It also provides general indications on the overall fiscal policy for the period ahead, including the implications of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) for fiscal policy.
The Commission is committed to ensuring a coordinated and consistent policy response to the current crisis. This requires credible fiscal policies that address the short-term consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and support the recovery, while not endangering fiscal sustainability in the medium-term. This Communication aims to support those objectives.
Guidance for coordinated fiscal policies
The coordination of national fiscal policies is essential to support the economic recovery. The Communication specifies that fiscal policy should remain agile and adjust to the evolving situation. It warns against a premature withdrawal of fiscal support, which should be maintained this year and next. It provides that once health risks diminish, fiscal measures should gradually pivot to more targeted and forward-looking measures that promote a resilient and sustainable recovery and that fiscal policies should take into account the impact of the RRF. Finally, fiscal policies should take into account the strength of the recovery and fiscal sustainability considerations.
This guidance will facilitate Member States in the preparation of their stability and convergence programmes, which should be presented to the Commission in April 2021. The guidance will be further detailed in the Commission's European Semester spring package.
Considerations for the deactivation or continued activation of the general escape clause
The Commission proposed the activation of the general escape clause in March 2020 as part of its strategy to respond quickly, forcefully and in a coordinated manner to the coronavirus pandemic. It allowed Member States to undertake measures to deal adequately with the crisis, while departing from the budgetary requirements that would normally apply under the European fiscal framework.
The Communication sets out the Commission's considerations for how a future decision on the deactivation of the clause or its continued activation for 2022 should be taken. In the view of the Commission, the decision should be taken following an overall assessment of the state of the economy based on quantitative criteria. The level of economic activity in the EU or euro area compared to pre-crisis levels (end-2019) would be the key quantitative criterion for the Commission in making its overall assessment of the deactivation or continued application of the general escape clause. Therefore, current preliminary indications would suggest to continue applying the general escape clause in 2022 and to deactivate it as of 2023.
Following a dialogue between the Council and the Commission, the Commission will assess the deactivation or continued activation of the general escape clause on the basis of the 2021 Spring Forecast, which will be published in the first half of May.
Country-specific situations will continue to be taken into account after the deactivation of the general escape clause. In case a Member State has not recovered to the pre-crisis level of economic activity, all the flexibilities within the Stability and Growth Pact will be fully used, in particular when proposing fiscal policy guidance.
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