Yesterday’s Dail debate shows that Fine Gael’s approach to the upcoming budget and four-year plan debates appears to be to emphasise the idea that economic growth may be higher in future years so that €15 billion in cuts will not be needed. The ESRI’s high growth scenario gets a lot of play in these discussions.
From Enda Kenny’s speech in the Dail:
There are better possible outcomes. For instance, if the ESRI’s updated high-growth scenario of an average growth of 4.5% were to materialise, a smaller package of fiscal measures would be needed to hit the 3% target by 2014.
That is why Fine Gael believes it is necessary, over the coming weeks, to put a relentless focus on the ways to support growth and jobs as the country attempts to repair its public finances. That is why Fine Gael believes that any fiscal plan has to operate in parallel with a credible growth and jobs plan to turn the present downward vicious cycle into an upward virtuous cycle. We have a different approach from the Government. Fine Gael offers real hope that we can rebuild our economy and restore trust in politics and in Government.
This was backed up by Michael Noonan, who was pretty clear about the political costs to the opposition of agreeing to the €15 billion figure:
When the €15 billion is a forecast and when minor adjustments in the growth rate can make such vast variations, would we not be desperate clowns to tie ourselves in to the Minister’s figure, especially when the Taoiseach could not answer Deputy Gilmore this morning when he asked what was factored into the estimate of growth? …. The key element is the forecast for growth and there is a vast variation between Davy’s forecast, which would take us over €20 billion, and the ESRI high growth forecast, which would bring us down to €9 billion. The Minister is on the mid point so maybe he is right, but we are not buying in. We need more information.
I’m pretty sure that Fine Gael are aware that the previous budget’s growth projections are now considered to be highly aspirational by the European Commission and that any plan that is agreed will have to be on the basis of lower growth figures than contained in the ESRI’s high growth scenario.
You can call this unfair if you want (and some will—no doubt we’ll have comments here about the need to wear shades due to the brightness of our economic future.) However, that’s the way things are going to work and with the EFSF waiting in the wings to bail us out, the government probably doesn’t have a lot of bargaining power to make the case for a more optimistic scenario.
Indeed, I’m sure even the ESRI don’t believe that their high-growth scenario is the appropriate basis for fiscal planning over the next few years. Recall that the Recovery Scenarios document gingerly raised the question as to “whether a more rapid fiscal adjustment than currently planned would have a more beneficial outcome for the economy.” Note also that, on its own, the news about €1.5 billion per year in promissory note interest would take us to €9 billion even on the basis of the government’s December 2009 calculations.
What this emphasises, I’m afraid, is that the current political situation makes a cross-party consensus on multi-year budgeting essentially impossible. Opposition parties do not want to campaign at the next election on the basis of €15 billion in adjustments and who can blame them? However, this will gravely undermine the credibility of any four-year plan introduced by the government and will also worry financial markets.