Spain: a 2018 budget on target, if the Commission likes it or not

By Christine Rifflart

With a deficit of 3.1% of GDP in 2017, Spain has cut its deficit by 1.4 points from 2016 and has been meeting its commitments to the European Commission. It should cross the 3% threshold in 2018 without difficulty, making it the latest country to leave the excessive deficit procedure (EDP), after France in 2017. The 2018 budget was first presented to the European Commission on April 30 and then approved by Spain’s Congress of Deputies on May 23 amidst a highly tense political situation, which on June 1 led to the dismissal of Spain’s President Mariano Rajoy (supported by the Basque nationalist representatives of the PNV Party who had approved the 2018 budget a few days earlier). It should be passed in the Senate soon by another majority vote. The expansionary orientation of the 2018 budget, backed by the government of the new Socialist President Pedro Sanchez, does not satisfy the Commission, which considers the adjustment of public finances insufficient to meet the target of 2.2% of GDP included in the 2018-2021 Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). According to the hypotheses of the previous government, not only would the deficit fall below 3% but the nominal target would be respected.

Admittedly, while, given the strong growth expected in Spain in 2018, the public deficit will easily be below 3% in 2018 and therefore meet the requirements set in the EDP, the new budget act is not in line with the fiscal orthodoxy expected by Brussels. The lack of a People’s Party majority in Congress led ex-President Mariano Rajoy into strategic alliances with Ciudadanos and the PNV to get the 2018 budget adopted (with the hope, in particular, of avoiding early parliamentary elections), at the price of significant concessions:

– An increase in civil servants’ salaries of 1.75%[1] in 2018 and at least 2.5% in 2019, with a larger increase if GDP grows by more than 2.5% (estimated cost of 2.7 billion euros in 2018 and 3.5 billion in 2019 according to the outgoing government);

– Lower taxes for low-income households (via the increase in the minimum tax threshold from 12,000 to 14,000 euros income per year, tax credits for childcare expenses, assistance for disabled people and large families, and a reduction in tax on gross wages between 14,000 and 18,000 euros) (cost 835 million in 2018 and 1.4 billion in 2019);

– The revaluation of pensions by 1.6% in 2018 and by 1.5% in 2019 (cost of 1.5 and 2.2 billion), in addition to a rise of up to 3% in the old age and non-taxpayer minimum, and between 1% and 1.5% for the lowest pensions (cost 1.1 billion in 2018).

According to the former government, these measures will cost a little more than 6 billion euros in 2018 (0.5% of GDP) and nearly 7 billion in 2019 (0.6% of GDP). The revaluation of pensions should be partly covered by the introduction of a tax on digital activities (Google tax) in 2018 and 2019, with revenues of 2.1 billion euros expected. In the end, spending, which was expected to fall by 0.9 GDP point in 2018 based on the undertakings made in the previous 2017-2020 SGP, would fall by only 0.5 GDP point in the 2018-2021 SGP (to 40.5% of GDP) (Table). But above all, despite the tax cuts just introduced, the extra revenue expected from the additional growth should represent 0.1 GDP point (to 38.3% of GDP). In fact, the budget’s redistributive character, combined with the downward revision of the impact of the Catalan crisis on the economy (0.1% of GDP according to the AIReF [2]) led all the institutes (Bank of Spain, the Government, the European Commission) to raise their 2018 growth forecasts from last winter by 0.2 or 0.3 GDP point to bring it slightly below 3% (2.6% for the OFCE according to our April forecasts [3]).

Table_post13-06_ENGNevertheless, beyond the shared optimism about Spanish growth, the calculations of the cost of the new measures differ between the Spanish authorities and the Commission. According to the government, the increase in growth should, as we have said, boost tax revenues and neutralize the expected cost of new spending. In 2018, the 0.9 percentage point reduction in the deficit (from 3.1% to 2.2%) would therefore be achieved by the 0.8 GDP point growth in the cyclical balance, combined with the 0.2 point fall in debt charges, with the structural balance remaining stable (fiscal policy would become neutral rather than restrictive as set out in the earlier version of the Pact). But this scenario is not shared by Brussels[4], for whom the cost of the measures, and in particular of the increase in civil servants’ salaries, is underestimated. Expenditures are expected to be 0.2 GDP point higher and revenue 0.2 GDP point higher than the government has announced. According to the Commission, the cyclical balance is expected to improve by 0.9 GDP point, but the fiscal impulse would worsen the structural balance by 0.6 GDP point. In these conditions, the deficit would bypass the 3% mark, but fiscal policy would clearly become expansionary and the 2.2% target would not be hit. The public deficit stood at 2.6% in 2018 (Figure 1).

IMG1_post13-06_ENGThis more expansionary orientation of the 2018 budget results above all from the political considerations of the former Rajoy government and its effort to deal with the impossibility of governing (facts have demonstrated the fragility of this position). Nevertheless, the timing is ideal – because the only budget commitment required in 2018 is to cross the 3% deficit threshold in order to get out of the corrective arm of the SGP. The year 2018 therefore makes it possible to implement a generous fiscal policy, while crossing the 3% mark, without exposing the country to sanctions. The situation will be more delicate in 2019, when EU rules aimed at reducing a debt that is still well above 60% of GDP will be applied, notably by adjusting the structural balance (Figure 2).




[3] See the Spain part of the dossier: , pp 137-141.

[4] Nor by the AIReF.


Investment behaviour during the crisis: a comparative analysis of the main advanced economies

By Bruno DucoudréMathieu Plane and Sébastien Villemot

This text draws on the special study, Équations d’investissement : une comparaison internationale dans la crise [Investment equations : an international comparison during the crisis], which accompanies the 2015-2016 Forecast for the euro zone and the rest of the world.

The collapse in growth following the subprime crisis in late 2008 resulted in a decline in corporate investment, the largest since World War II in the advanced economies. The stimulus packages and accommodative monetary policies implemented in 2009-2010 nevertheless managed to halt the collapse in demand, and corporate investment rebounded significantly in every country up to the end of 2011. But since 2011 investment has followed varied trajectories in the different countries, as can be seen in the differences between, on the one hand, the United States and the United Kingdom, and on the other the euro zone countries, Italy and Spain in particular. At end 2014, business investment was still 27% below its pre-crisis peak in Italy, 23% down in Spain, 7% in France and 3% in Germany. In the US and the UK, business investment was 7% and 5% higher than the pre-crisis peaks (Figure).

Our study estimates investment equations for six major countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK and USA) in an effort to explain trends in investment over the long term, while paying particular attention to the crisis. The results show that using the traditional determinants of corporate investment – the cost of capital, the rate of profit, the rate of utilization of production capacity and business expectations – it is possible to capture the main developments in investment for each country in recent decades, including since 2008.

Thus, since the onset of the crisis, differences in decisions on taxation and on how tight to make fiscal policy and how expansive to make monetary policy have led to differences between countries in terms of the dynamics of the economy and real capital costs and profit rates, which account for the current disparities in corporate investment.


Spain: a lose-lose strategy

by Danielle Schweisguth

At a time when the IMF has publicly recognized that it underestimated the negative impact of fiscal adjustment on Europe’s economic growth, Spain is preparing to publish its public deficit figure for 2012. The initial estimate should be around 8% of GDP, but this could be revised upwards, as was the case in 2011 – while the target negotiated with the European Commission is 6.3%. With social distress at a peak, only a sustainable return to growth would allow Spain to solve its budget problems through higher tax revenue. But the austerity being imposed by Europe is delaying the return of economic growth. And the level of Spain’s fiscal multiplier, which by our estimates is between 1.3 and 1.8, is rendering the policy of fiscal restraint ineffective, since it is not significantly reducing the deficit and is keeping the country in recession.

At a time when the IMF has publicly recognized that it underestimated the negative impact of fiscal adjustment on Europe’s economic growth – the famous fiscal multiplier – Spain is preparing to publish its public deficit for 2012. The initial estimate should be around 8% of GDP, but this could be revised upwards as was the case in 2011. If we exclude the financial support for the banking sector, which is not taken into account in the excessive deficit procedure, the deficit then falls to 7% of GDP. This figure is still higher than the official target of 6.3% that was the subject of bitter negotiations with the European Commission. Recall that until September 2011, the initial target deficit for 2012 was 4.4% of GDP. It was only after the unpleasant surprise of the publication of the 8.5% deficit for 2011 (which was later revised to 9.4%) – which was well above the official 2011 target of 6% of GDP – that the newly elected government of Mariano Rajoy asked the European Commission for an initial relaxation of conditions. The target deficit was then set by Brussels at 5.3% of GDP for 2012. In July 2012, pressure on Spain’s sovereign rate – which approached 7% – then led the government to negotiate with the Commission to put off the 3% target to 2014 and to set a deficit target of 6.3% of GDP in 2012.



But the strategy of trying to reduce the deficit by 2.6 GDP points while in a cyclical downturn proved to be ineffective and even counter-productive. Furthermore, the result has not been worth the effort involved, even though the European authorities have praised it repeatedly. A succession of three consecutive years of austerity plans of historic proportions (2010, 2011 and 2012) has led to only a very small improvement in the budget balance (Table). The deficit was reduced by 3.2 percentage points in three years, while two years of crisis were enough to expand it by 13.3 points (from 2007 to 2009). The fiscal impulse was ‑2.2 percentage points of GDP in 2010, -0.9 point in 2011 and -3.3 points in 2012, or a total of 6.4 GDP points of fiscal effort (68 billion euros). Yet the crisis has precipitated the collapse of the real estate market and greatly weakened the banking system. Since then, the country has plunged into a deep recession: GDP has fallen by 5.7% since the first quarter of 2008, which puts it 12% below its potential level (assuming potential growth of 1.5% per year), with 26% of the workforce currently unemployed, in particular 56% of the young people.

The deterioration of Spain’s economic situation has hit tax revenue very hard. Between 2007 and 2011, the country’s tax revenues have fallen further than in any other country in the euro zone. Revenue declined from 38% of GDP in 2007 to 32.4% in 2011, despite a hike in VAT (2 points in 2010 and 3 points in 2012) and an increase in income tax rates and property taxes in 2011. The successive tax increases only slightly alleviated the depressive effect of the collapse of the tax base. VAT revenues recorded a sharp drop of 41% in nominal terms between 2007 and 2012, as did the tax on income and wealth (45%). In comparison, the decrease in tax revenue in the euro zone was much more modest: from 41.2% of GDP in 2007 to 40.8% in 2011. Finally, rising unemployment has undermined the accounts of the social security system, which will experience a deficit of 1 percentage point of GDP in 2012 for the first time in its history.

To compensate for the fall in tax revenue, the Spanish government had to take drastic measures to restrict spending to try to meet its commitments, including a 5% reduction in the salaries of civil servants and the elimination of their Christmas bonus; a hiring freeze in the public sector and increasing the work week from 35 to 37.5 hours (without extra pay); raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, along with a pension freeze (2010); a reduction of unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed more than seven months; and lowering severance pay from 45 days per year worked to 33 days (20 if the company is in the red). Even though household income has stagnated or declined, Spanish families have experienced a significant increase in the cost of living: a 5-point increase in VAT, higher electricity rates (28% in two years), higher taxes on tobacco and lower reimbursement rates for medicines (retirees pay 10% of the price and the employed 40% to 60%, depending on their income).

The social situation in Spain is very worrying. Poverty has increased (from 23% of the population in 2007 to 27% in 2011, according to Eurostat); households failing to pay their bills are being evicted from their homes; long-term unemployment has exploded (9% of the labour force); unemployed youth are a lost generation, and the best educated are emigrating. The VAT increase in September has forced households to tighten their budgets: spending on food declined in September and October 2012, respectively, by 2.3% and 1.8% yoy. Moreover, the Spanish health system is suffering from budget cuts (10% in 2012), which led to the closure of night-time emergency services in dozens of municipalities and to longer waiting lists for surgery (from 50,000 people in 2009 to 80,000 in 2012), with an average waiting time of nearly five months.

Social distress is thus at a peak. The movement of the indignados led millions of Spaniards to take to the streets in 2012, in protests that were often violently suppressed by riot police. The region of Catalonia, the richest in Spain but also the most indebted, is threatening to secede, to the consternation of the Spanish government. On 24 January, the Catalan government passed a motion on the region’s sovereignty, the first step in a process of self-determination that could lead to a referendum in 2014.

Only a lasting return to growth would enable Spain to solve its budget problems through higher tax revenue. But the tightening of financing conditions on Spain’s sovereign debt since the summer of 2012 has forced the government to strengthen its austerity policy, which is delaying the return to economic growth. Furthermore, the European Commission has agreed to provide financial assistance to Spain only if it renounces its sovereignty in budget matters, at least partially, which the government of Mariano Rajoy is still reluctant to accept. The initiative of the European Commission on the exclusion of capital expenditures from calculations of the public deficit for countries close to a balanced budget, the details of which will be published in the spring, is a step in the right direction (El Pais). But this rule would apply only to the seven countries where the fiscal deficit is below 3% of GDP (Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Bulgaria and Malta), which leaves out the countries facing the most difficult economic situations. Greater awareness of the social dramas that underlie these poor economic performances should lead to greater respect for the fundamental rights of Europe’s citizens. Moreover, in the 2013 iAGS report the OFCE showed that a restrained austerity policy (budget restrictions limited to 0.5 percent of GDP each year) is more effective from the viewpoint of both growth and deficit reduction in countries like Spain where the fiscal multipliers are very high (between 1.3 and 1.8, according to our estimates).