Fiscal Challenges Facing the EU New Member States
Since May 1, 2004 the European Union's new member states (NMS) have been subject to the same fiscal rules established in the Treaty on the European Union and Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) as the old member states (OMS). The NMS entered the EU running structural fiscal deficits. More than half of them (including the biggest ones) breach the Treaty's actual deficit limits and are already the subject of the excessive deficit procedure. A high rate of economic growth makes the fiscal situation of most NMS reasonably manageable in the short- to medium-term, but the long term fiscal outlook, mostly connected with the consequences of an aging population, is dramatic. The NMS should therefore prepare themselves now to be able to meet this challenge over the next decades (the same goes for the OMS). In addition, the perspective of EMU entry should provide the NMS with a strong incentive to reduce their deficits now because waiting (and postponing both fiscal adjustment and the adoption of the Euro) will only result in higher cumulative fiscal costs. The additional financial burden connected with EU accession cannot serve as excuse in delaying fiscal consolidation.
In spite of the growing debate on the relevance of the EU's fiscal surveillance rules and not excluding the possibility of their limited modification, they should not be relaxed. Frequent breaching of these rules cannot serve as an argument that they are irrelevant from the point of view of safeguarding fiscal prudence and avoiding fiscal 'free riding' under the umbrella of monetary union. Any version of fiscal surveillance rules (either current or modified) must be solidly anchored in an effective enforcement mechanism (including automatic sanctions) at the EU and national levels.