The EU Commission’s View of Ireland

Despite the constant references to the IMF in the media, on placards and on posters, the truth is that the Irish bailout deal is largely funded by the European Union and most of the reliable reports about the negotiations have suggested that the terms and conditions of the deal largely represent the preferences of the European Union.

Given that, I’ve been surprised at how little attention has been paid to the European Commission’s Autumn forecasts, released on November 29, the day after the EU-IMF deal was agreed. This post examines these forecasts and what they suggest the Europeans think will happen in Ireland.


The growth assumptions (see page 9 of this document) underlying this year’s budget come from the government’s four-year plan, published on November 24. They assume real GDP growth of 1.7% in 2011 and 3.2% in 2012 and, more importantly for budgetary projections, nominal GDP growth of 2.5% in 2011 and 4.3% in 2012.

The EU Commission forecast published five days later projects real GDP growth of 0.9% in 2011 and 1.9% in 2012. They project growth in the GDP deflator of 0.4% in 2011 and 0.8% in 2012, so their forecasts for nominal GDP growth are 1.3% in 2011 and 2.7% in 2012, putting them 1.2 percentage points behind the government in 2011 and 1.6 points behind them in 2012.

Budget Deficit

Even if the government’s projected budget deficits came about, the lower level of nominal GDP projected by the Commission would produce a higher deficit as a fraction of GDP but this effect is small. Here’s a spreadsheet I’ve put together with various calculations. It’s not too easy to read but it reports that, on its own (i.e. keeping the government’s deficit forecasts), the lower projected level of nominal GDP in the Commission’s forecast would raise the deficit ratio from the government’s projected 9.4% of GDP for 2011 to 9.5% and from 7.3% in 2012 to 7.5%.

The Commission’s actual forecasts for the deficit ratios for the next two years, however, are 10.3% in 2011 and 9.1% in 2012. Based on my calculations of the Commission’s forecasts for nominal GDP, this implies deficit levels of €16.2 billion in 2011 and €14.9 billion in 2012. These figures are €1.3 billion higher than the government’s assumption in 2011 and €2.6 billion higher in 2012.

The discussion of the Irish forecast on pages 85 to 86 makes it clear that the Commission fully expects the implementation of the adjustment packages of €6 billion in 2011 (though €700 million of this is once-off measures) and €3.6 billion in 2012. This means that the Commission’s higher deficit forecasts are due to their estimates that the weaker economy will mean lower tax revenues and higher welfare spending.

The government projects revenue shares of 35.4% in 2010 and 2011 and 35.8% in 2012. The Commission project revenues shares of 35.1% in 2010, falling to 34.9% in 2011 and 34.7% in 2012.

The government projects an expenditure share of 67.3% this year, with 20.3% of this due to banking costs. The government then project expenditure share of 44.8% in 2011 and 43.1% in 2012. The Commission project expenditure shares of 67.5% in 2010, 45.2% in 2011 and 43.8% in 2012.

It seems clear from these calculations that the Commission do not view the 3% deficit target in 2014 as attainable. If a cumulative adjustment of €8.9 billion over 2011-2012 only succeeds in reducing the underlying deficit from 12.0% to 9.1%, it’s hard to credit how a further €6.2 billion in adjustments will succeed in reducing the deficit to below 3% in the following two years, even if economic growth did turn out to be strong. Indeed, a six percentage point reduction in the deficit over the three years after 2012, thus reaching the 3% deficit in 2015, seems ambitious.

Debt and the Cost of the Banks

One would expect the Commission’s projections for Irish public debt levels to be higher than those of the government over the next two years because of their higher deficit forecasts. However, the higher debt levels in the Commission’s forecasts also appear to reflect the EU’s view on the likely costs related to the banking system.

The Commission are forecasting Debt/GDP ratios of 107% in 2011 and 114.3% in 2012. Based on their nominal GDP forecasts, I calculate that this means debt levels that are higher than those projected in the budget documents by €11.6 billion in 2011 and by €15.5 billion in 2012.

The higher deficit projections will have implied an additional €1.3 billion of debt in 2011 and an additional €3.9 billion in 2012. The remaining €10.3 billion in 2011 and €11.6 billion in 2012, likely reflect the cost of the banking bailout.

The EU-IMF program involved the Irish government committing €17.5 billion in resources from the Pension Reserve Fund and cash balances towards the bank plan. These commitments do not add to the gross government debt. If the Commission are adding an additional €10.3 billion to their forecast for gross government debt in 2011, then this suggests that their estimate of the total cost of the banking package is €27.8 billion. This is already pretty close to the total of €35 billion that has been provided for these purposes. And this is prior to any unveiling of new information on loan losses from the upcoming PCAR stress tests.

Ruling out further costs of bank recapitalisations after 2012, if indeed the deficit is still 9.1% in 2012 and the debt ratio ends that year at 114.3%, it will take a very strong combination of GDP growth and fiscal adjustment to see the debt ratio stabilise at less than 120% in the following years.

Budget Documents

The budget documents are now online. The server is clearly busy but I just downloaded all the documents.

Budget Thread

Off we go.

Labour Party Pre-Budget Presentations

Before the snow hit, I gave a pre-budget presentation (pretty similar to my UCD presentation from today, though with some additional material on the banks) at a Labour Party pre-budget event. That presentation and three others are available here. Marie Sherlock from SIPTU and John Martin from OECD gave interesting presentations on labour market and training issues and Michael Collins from TCD gave a presentation on tax breaks.

Arguments for Front-Loading in EU-IMF Plan?

I did a short pre-budget presentation today at UCD. Here are the slides. One point I emphasised is whether the level of front-loading of adjustment in the four-year plan agreed with the EU and IMF makes sense.

Up until the past few weeks, it was reasonable to argue that a significant front-loading was necessary (if not sufficient) to regain access to the sovereign bond market. However, now that our banking problems and the ECB have caught up with us and access to the sovereign bond market is not an issue for the next few years, I’m struggling to understand the logic for the extent of front-loading in the current plan (€6 bilion in adjustments in 2011, €3.6 billion in 2012, €3.1 billion in 2013 and 2014).

The economy is still in poor shape, so I’m not sure what the current argument is for further undermining it with such a front-loaded adjustment. As I speculated in the talk, perhaps the EU wanted to lock in as much adjustment as possible with the current government because comittments beyond the 2011 budget were most likely going to be open to negotiations with the next government.