Council opinion of 10 July 2007 on the updated convergence programme of the Czech Republic, 2006-2009
OJ C 204, 1.9.2007, p. 1–4 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)
BG CS DA DE EL EN ES ET FI FR HU IT LT LV MT NL PL PT RO SK SL SV
|Bilingual display: BG CS DA DE EL EN ES ET FI FR HU IT LT LV MT NL PL PT RO SK SL SV|
of 10 July 2007
on the updated convergence programme of the Czech Republic, 2006-2009
THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION,
Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Community,
Having regard to Council Regulation (EC) No 1466/97 of 7 July 1997 on the strengthening of the surveillance of budgetary positions and the surveillance and coordination of economic policies , and in particular Article 9(3) thereof,
Having regard to the recommendation of the Commission,
After consulting the Economic and Financial Committee,
HAS DELIVERED THIS OPINION:
(1) On 10 July 2007 the Council examined the updated convergence programme of the Czech Republic, which covers the period 2006 to 2009. The submission of the update was delayed to 15 March 2007, compared to the 1 December deadline in the code of conduct due to the political situation in the Czech Republic, where a permanent government was approved by Parliament on 19 January 2007 following general elections in June 2006.
(2) The macroeconomic scenario underlying the programme envisages that real GDP growth will decrease from 6,1 % in 2006 to 4,9 % in 2007 and broadly stabilise thereafter. Assessed against currently available information, this scenario appears to be based on plausible growth assumptions. The programme's projections for inflation also appear realistic.
(3) For 2006, the general government deficit is estimated at 2,9 % of GDP in the Commission services' spring 2007 forecast, against a target of 3,8 % of GDP set in the previous update of the convergence programme. Stronger GDP and employment growth as well as the roll-over of a marked proportion of unspent budgetary allocations contributed to the lower-than-targeted deficit.
(4) The main goal of the programme's medium-term budgetary strategy is to achieve long term sustainability of public finances, notably by making progress towards the medium term objective (MTO) for the budgetary position of a structural deficit (i.e. cyclically-adjusted balance net of one-off and other temporary measures) of 1 % of GDP. According to the programme, the headline deficit should widen to 4,0 % of GDP in 2007 mainly as a result of discretionary increases in social expenditure and then gradually decline, to 3,5 % of GDP in 2008 and 3,2 % of GDP in 2009. The primary deficit is projected to narrow from 2,4 % of GDP in 2006 to 1,6 % of GDP in 2009. The envisaged fiscal consolidation, after 2007, relies on increased revenue by 0,4 percentage point of GDP over the programme period, in particular "other revenues" (without specifying the actual measures, but which presumably concern EU transfers), which will more than compensate for a decline in taxes and social contributions. On substance, however, the consolidation is expenditure driven with a consistent decline in public consumption mainly due to government sector wage restraint, which will more than offset the increase in public investment and interest expenditure. Compared with the previous update, the new programme postpones the planned reduction of the deficit below the 3 % of GDP reference value by at least two years against a more favourable macroeconomic scenario. It has to be noted that the programme also presents an alternative proposed by the new government which presents lower deficit targets of 3,2 % of GDP in 2008 and 2,8 % of GDP in 2009. This relies on a range of policy measures as well as introducing greater flexibility into public finances by reducing the proportion of mandatory expenditures. However, these are based on still to be finalised and approved policy measures and the programme offers a coherent and sufficiently quantified medium term fiscal framework only for the higher deficit targets mentioned above.
% of GDP), achieving it should fulfil the aim of providing a safety margin against the occurrence of an excessive deficit. The MTO adequately reflects the debt ratio and average potential output growth in the long term.
(6) The risks to the budgetary projections in the programme appear broadly balanced. The risks from the macroeconomic scenario are broadly neutral, while tax projections seem on the whole based on prudent assumptions. The envisaged fiscal consolidation in the programme relies heavily on public consumption expenditure restraint, but the programme does not provide sufficient supporting information on how this will be achieved. On the other hand, the Czech Republic has built up a good track-record in recent years, although achieving its budgetary targets has been facilitated by higher-than-expected growth. There is also a political risk associated with the finely balanced parliamentary situation.
(7) In view of this risk assessment, the budgetary stance in the programme is inconsistent with a correction of the excessive deficit by 2008 as recommended by the Council on 5 July 2004. Given that the economy is currently enjoying "good times" and that growth is higher than anticipated at the time of the July 2004 Council recommendation, there is ample opportunity to strengthen the consolidation effort and achieve a steeper reduction than projected in the programme.
(8) Government gross debt is estimated to be at 30,4 % of GDP in 2006, well below the 60 % of GDP Treaty reference value. The programme projects the debt ratio to increase by almost 2 percentage points over the programme period.
(9) The long-term budgetary impact of ageing in the Czech Republic is well above the EU average, influenced notably by a substantial increase in pension expenditure as a share of GDP as well as a significant increase in health care expenditure. Implementation of structural reform measures notably in the field of pensions and health care aimed at containing the significant increase in age-related expenditures would contribute to reducing risks to the sustainability of public finances. The budgetary position expected at the end of the programme period, which has worsened compared with previous exercises, constitutes a risk to sustainable public finances even before the long-term budgetary impact of an ageing population is considered. Consolidating public finances further than currently planned would contribute to reducing risks to the sustainability of public finances. Overall, the Czech Republic appears to be at high risk with regard to the sustainability of public finances.
(10) The convergence programme does not contain a qualitative assessment of the overall impact of the November 2006 implementation report of the National Reform Programme within the medium-term fiscal strategy. In addition, it provides no systematic information on the direct budgetary costs (or savings) associated with the main reforms envisaged in the National Reform Programme with the exception of the increase in research and development expenditure in the 2007 budget, but the budgetary projections in the programme seemingly take into account the public finance implications of the actions envisaged in the National Reform Programme. The measures in the area of public finances envisaged in the convergence programme seem consistent with those foreseen in the National Reform Programme. In particular, the shift in the tax burden from direct to indirect taxation and additional support for research and development.
(11) The budgetary strategy in the programme is not consistent with the broad economic policy guidelines included in the integrated guidelines for the period 2005-2008 given, in particular, the deviation from the adjustment path set by the Council in July 2004 for the correction of the excessive deficit and the lack of progress on pension and health care reform.
(12) As regards the data requirements specified in the code of conduct for stability and convergence programmes, the programme provides all required and most of the optional data .
The overall conclusion is that, in spite of better growth prospects and a lower deficit outcome in 2006 than anticipated, the programme postpones the correction of the excessive deficit until 2010, compared with the 2008 deadline set in the July 2004 Council recommendation under Article 104(7). Given the sustained growth, the postponement, which reflects the higher deficit due primarily to planned increases in social expenditure in 2007, would also result in a pro-cyclical expansionary stance of fiscal policy.
The adoption and implementation of the fiscal consolidation included in the Law on Stabilization of Public Finances currently debated in the Parliament would be a step in the right direction.
In view of the above assessment the Council invites the Czech Republic to:
(i) limit the budgetary deterioration in 2007 and ensure the correction of the excessive deficit in a credible and sustainable manner by 2008 at the latest;
(ii) adjust the composition of expenditure in order to reduce the share of mandatory expenditure;
(iii) in view of the projected increase in age-related expenditures, improve the long-term sustainability of public finances by implementing the necessary pension and health care reforms.
Comparison of key macroeconomic and budgetary projections
Convergence programme (CP); Commission services' spring 2007 economic forecasts (COM); Commission services' calculations.
| 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 |
Real GDP (% change) | CP Mar 2007 | 6,1 | 6,0 | 4,9 | 4,8 | 4,8 |
COM May 2007 | 6,1 | 6,1 | 4,9 | 4,9 | n.a. |
CP Nov 2005 | 4,8 | 4,4 | 4,2 | 4,3 | n.a. |
HICP inflation (%) | CP Mar 2007 | 1,6 | 2,4 | 2,6 | 2,5 | 2,5 |
COM May 2007 | 1,6 | 2,1 | 2,4 | 2,9 | n.a. |
CP Nov 2005 | 1,5 | 2,2 | 2,0 | 2,1 | n.a. |
Output gap (% of potential GDP) | CP Mar 2007  | – 0,7 | 0,9 | 1,1 | 1,0 | 1,0 |
COM May 2007  | – 1,1 | 0,4 | 0,5 | 0,5 | n.a. |
CP Nov 2005  | – 0,8 | – 0,1 | 0,3 | 0,8 | n.a. |
General government balance (% of GDP) | CP Mar 2007  | – 3,6 | – 3,5 | – 4,0 | – 3,5 | – 3,2 |
COM May 2007 | – 3,5 | – 2,9 | – 3,9 | – 3,6 | n.a. |
CP Nov 2005 | – 4,8 | – 3,8 | – 3,3 | – 2,7 | n.a. |
Primary balance (% of GDP) | CP Mar 2007 | – 2,5 | – 2,4 | – 2,6 | – 2,0 | – 1,6 |
COM May 2007 | – 2,4 | – 1,8 | – 2,8 | – 2,6 | n.a. |
CP Nov 2005 | – 4,1 | – 3,0 | – 2,4 | – 1,7 | n.a. |
Cyclically-adjusted balance (% of GDP) | CP Mar 2007  | – 3,4 | – 3,9 | – 4,4 | – 3,9 | – 3,5 |
COM May 2007 | – 3,1 | – 3,1 | – 4,1 | – 3,8 | n.a. |
CP Nov 2005  | – 4,5 | – 3,8 | – 3,4 | – 3,0 | n.a. |
Structural balance  (% of GDP) | CP Mar 2007 | – 3,4 | – 3,9 | – 4,4 | – 3,9 | – 3,5 |
COM May 2007  | – 2,0 | – 2,8 | – 4,1 | – 3,8 | n.a. |
CP Nov 2005  | – 3,4 | – 3,8 | – 3,4 | – 3,0 | n.a. |
Government gross debt (% of GDP) | CP Mar 2007 | 30,4 | 30,6 | 30,5 | 31,3 | 32,2 |
COM May 2007 | 30,4 | 30,4 | 30,6 | 30,9 | n.a. |
CP Nov 2005 | 37,4 | 37,1 | 37,9 | 37,8 | n.a. |
 OJ L 209, 2.8.1997, p. 1. Regulation as amended by Regulation (EC) No 1055/2005 (OJ L 174, 7.7.2005, p. 1). The documents referred to in this text can be found at the following website:http://europa.eu.int/comm/economy_finance/about/activities/sgp/main_en.htm
 In particular, the data on general government expenditure by function for 2009 are not provided.
 Commission services calculations on the basis of the information in the programme.
 Cyclically-adjusted balance (as in the previous rows) excluding one-off and other temporary measures.
 Based on estimated potential growth of 4,2 %, 4,6 %, 4,8 % and 4,9 % respectively in the period 2005-2008.
 One-off and other temporary measures taken from the Commission services' spring 2007 forecast (1,1 % of GDP in 2005 and 0,2 % of GDP in 2006 — both deficit increasing).
 One-off and other temporary measures taken from the CP 2005 programme (1,1 % of GDP in 2005 — deficit increasing).
 Alternative deficit targets based on as yet unapproved measures of the new Czech government: 3,2 % of GDP in 2008, 2,8 % of GDP in 2009.