New survey: Majority of Europeans back flexibility on fiscal rules post-pandemic

Opinion poll published today shows Europeans in five countries support a change of EU’s spending rules to enable states to borrow to rebuild after COVID-19 pandemic.

  • With EU leaders recently adopting the Versailles Declaration, President Emanuel Macron signalled there is still a debate to be had on how to pay for bolstering defence capabilities, reducing energy dependencies and building a more robust economic base
  • With an ECOFIN meeting set to discuss budget guidelines, new survey shows that nearly three in five (59%) people polled across five states agree EU fiscal rules should be changed to allow governments to increase spending on better education, health and social care, and jobs
  • 58% agree the rules should continue to be flexible to enable states to borrow to rebuild after COVID-19 pandemic
  • More than half (53%) want reform of rules to pay for green transition and tackle climate change
  • Widespread fears for return to austerity if EU attempts to rein in pandemic spending, with respondents in countries hardest hit by 2008 global financial crisis particularly concerned
  • Survey coincides with the publication of the Manifesto for a Green, Just and Democratic European Economy, signed by prominent academics, think tanks and civil society organisations from across the EU

BRUSSELS, 15 March 2022 – The EU’s recent Versailles declaration, 10 and 11 of March 2022, aims to bolster defence capabilities, reduce energy dependencies and build a more robust economic base. While the invasion of Ukraine may have established a sense of unity in Europe not seen since the fall of the Berlin wall, French President Emanuel Macron signalled that there is still an important debate to be had on how to pay for the ambitions laid out in the Versailles declaration.

Today (15th March), finance ministers from across Europe will gather with relevant EU Commissioners at an Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) meeting to discuss national budget guidelines for 2023 and the outcome of the economic governance review. This meeting comes ahead of the release of the Commission’s proposal on fiscal rules reform which is expected to be announced in June.

A timely survey on EU fiscal rules of citizens across Germany, France, Italy, Ireland and Denmark shows that a majority (58%) of respondents from EU countries agree that member states should be allowed continued flexibility in borrowing in order to rebuild as Europe emerges from the global COVID-19 pandemic. Over half (53%) agree that rules should be adjusted to allow governments to increase spending on green infrastructure and innovation to fight climate change and achieve the union’s stated aim of reaching “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.

The current spending rules, which were created 30 years ago as part of the Maastricht Treaty, limit EU nations budget deficits to less than 3% of GDP, while national debt is limited to 60% of GDP. The rules were put on ice as EU states scrambled to support their economies during the pandemic.

Over half of those surveyed (54%) agreed the rules are outdated as they were drawn up when interest rates were higher, and should be adjusted to reflect the fact that government borrowing is now much cheaper. Nearly three in five (57%) agreed that the EU economic rules should be changed to enable higher levels of government spending where it is needed, for example on health and education.

Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the EU citizens surveyed are concerned about the potential impact of austerity should the EU try to force governments to cut borrowing to reduce their debts over the next five years. This rises to 74% in Ireland and 78% in Italy, two of the countries hit hardest by austerity measures in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash.

In France, where president Emmanuel Macron has been advocating for a change in the rules, nearly two-thirds of people (61%) agree the rules should continue to be flexible in order to facilitate recovery from the pandemic.

In Germany, which under Angela Merkel had been the most stern advocate for stringent fiscal rules, less than one in five (19%) of those polled disagreed that the  EU economic rules should be changed to allow governments to increase spending on green infrastructure and innovation to enable them to tackle climate change. This is a potentially significant number for Olaf Scholz’s centre left government as it attempts to radically alter its energy policy.

In Denmark, traditionally one of the EU’s “Frugal Four”, fewer than one in six (16%) disagree that the EU rules limiting government borrowing should be adjusted to enable countries to meet the necessary levels of spending to tackle climate change.

Overall, when asked if they believed the European Union should have powers to limit member states’ borrowing and therefore limit spending on healthcare, education, environmental protection, respondents were split, with 36% agreeing it should, 33% disagreeing, and 24% neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

Frank Van Lerven, Senior Economist and Programme Lead for Macroeconomics of the New Economics Foundation, who commissioned the report said: “The events of the past two years have seen a paradigm shift in European politics and society. As this survey has shown, even the most fiscally conservative Europeans know there is no point in trying to put the clock back to 1992. Instead it’s time to prepare for the future with a new model of spending for sustainable growth.”

Benoît Lallemand, Secretary General of Finance Watch – the pan-European NGO dedicated to making finance serve society – said: “It’s been clear to many for a while now that the fiscal rules set out in the Stability and Growth Pact in the nineties do not serve the needs of the majority of Europeans. With historically low interest rates to facilitate borrowing, and an urgent need to rebuild our economies and ensure a just and green transition, now is the time to change how Europe thinks about public spending and debt.”

The survey coincides with the publication of the Manifesto for a Green, Just and Democratic European Economy. Signed by prominent academics, think tanks and civil society organisations from across Europe, the manifesto calls for economic policies that “serve the reduction of socio-economic, intergenerational and gender inequalities, the realisation of social rights and the protection of climate and environment.”

In February, Finance Watch launched Breaking The Stalemate, a policy brief outlining the key requirements for Europe to move on from the rules set out in the Stability and Growth Pact: these include an end to the arbitrary debt limit of 60%, country-specific debt pathways built on country-specific debt sustainability analyses, leeway for high quality future-oriented public spending, and better understanding and monitoring of climate-related fiscal risk.

Ends

Notes to Editors

For more information, contact Pablo Grandjean, Finance Watch, on +32 4 74 47 07 47 or at pablo.grandjean@finance-watch.org.

The New Economics Foundation poll was carried out by Censuswide polling 5,000 consumers aged 18+ with 1000 consumers per market in Germany, France, Italy, Denmark and Ireland from 18th to 23rd February 2022. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

The Manifesto for a green, just and democratic European economy is supported by over 270 leading European civil society organisations, employers, trade unions, think tanks and academics from all 27 European member states.

Among the signatories are Olivier Blanchard, Robert Solow Professor of Economics Emeritus at MIT and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund; Herman Wijfels, Utrecht University and Former Executive Director of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund; Rick van der Ploeg, professor of economics at the University of Oxford and the VU University Amsterdam; Kate Raworth, Senior Associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute; Mark Blyth, Director of the William R. Rhodes Center for International Economics and Finance at Brown University; Eckhard Hein, Professor of Economics at the Berlin School of Economics and Law; Gustav A. Horn, Professor of Economics at the Universität Duisburg-Essen and advisor to the German Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD); Philipp Heimberger, Economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies; Jorge Uxó, Professor of Economics at the University of Castilla la Mancha; and Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development and Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity at the University of Surrey.

Benoît Lallemand, Secretary General of Finance Watch is available for interview.

About Finance Watch

Finance Watch is an independently funded public interest association dedicated to making finance work for the good of society. Its mission is to strengthen the voice of society in the reform of financial regulation by conducting advocacy and presenting public interest arguments to lawmakers and the public. Finance Watch’s members include consumer groups, housing associations, trade unions, NGOs, financial experts, academics and other civil society groups that collectively represent a large number of European citizens. Finance Watch’s founding principles state that finance is essential for society in bringing capital to productive use in a transparent and sustainable manner, but that the legitimate pursuit of private interests by the financial industry should not be conducted to the detriment of society.

About Benoît Lallemand, Secretary General of Finance Watch

Before joining leading pan-European NGO Finance Watch upon its creation in 2011, Benoît Lallemand spent more than ten years in the financial sector, holding senior positions including in asset-servicing departments, focusing on fixed income and structured products primary markets and regulatory reporting.

At Finance Watch, he has served as a senior policy analyst, senior advisor to Better Markets on EU affairs and head of strategic development and operations before becoming Secretary General. Benoît has contributed to the Financial Times and Open Democracy, and is a regular commentator on European fiscal reform.

About the New Economics Foundation (NEF)

For more than three decades, the New Economics Foundation’s mission has been to transform the economy so it works for people and the planet. NEF works with people igniting change from below and combine this with rigorous research to fight for change at the top. NEF aims to create a new economy that by 2040 works for people and within environmental limits.

NEF has pioneered ideas and practices including co-production, local money flow analysis, social return on investment, ethical investment and social auditing. It has given birth to a range of organisations to carry on their work, including the Jubilee 2000 Debt Campaign, the Ethical Trading Initiative, AccountAbility, Time Banking UK, the London Rebuilding Society, the Community Development Finance Association and the New Economy Organisers Network.

About Frank van Lerven

Frank van Lerven is a Senior Economist and the Programme Lead in Macroeconomics at the New Economics Foundation. Frank specialises in fiscal policy, central banking and green finance. His work has been published in the Journal of Ecological Economics, Socio-Economic Review, Cambridge Journal of Economics, and the Review of European Economic Policy. Before joining NEF, Frank worked at the UNDP and then went on to help start-up two prominent European think tanks aimed at reforming monetary and fiscal policy.

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