CYPRUS, Denmark and Finland have joined the ranks of member countries with government deficits deemed high enough to pose a threat to the wider European economy. The commission is now recommending they be placed on its list of countries warranting further scrutiny of public finances.
With the addition of the three, the watchlist would include all but one of the EU’s 27 countries. Only Luxembourg is not running a deficit well over 3% of gross domestic product – the EU limit. Luxembourg finished 2009 with a shortfall of around 2%.
So far, 12 member countries have taken what the commission considers to be effective action to close their gaps, cutting government spending and introducing revenue-boosting measures as promised. Among them are Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – 4 countries at the centre of concern about high national debt looming over the eurozone.
Germany, meanwhile, has moved to boost consumer spending – in response to worries that the country’s fat trade surplus is hurting other EU economies. But the country has also outlined deficit-reduction measures for 2011 and beyond.
The other countries reviewed in the latest commission report are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Slovenia.
As it does with all countries under scrutiny, the commission has proposed deadlines for Cyprus, Denmark and Finland to correct their deficits. Finland would have until 2011, while Cyprus and Denmark would have until 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Cyprus recorded a shortfall of 6.1% of GDP last year. Deficits are expected to reach 5.4% this year in Denmark and 4.1% in Finland.
Until recently, these countries seemed to be doing well. EU monetary commissioner Olli Rehn said the sudden turnabout shows the severity of the economic crisis, which has wreaked havoc with public spending.
The 3% limit on deficits – part of the EU’s stability and growth pact – is meant to prevent imbalances that could undermine confidence in the eurozone, as happened last month during the Greek debt crisis.