The ‘general escape clause’ within the Stability and Growth Pact: Fiscal flexibility for severe economic shocks

Briefing 27-03-2020

An important element of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic will come from European Union (EU) Member States in the form of fiscal intervention. At the same time, Member States are constrained by the fiscal rules in place at both EU and national level. The Stability and Growth Pact contains two clauses allowing Member States to undertake appropriate budgetary measures, within the Pact, in the face of exceptional circumstances. The first is known as the 'unusual events clause', while the second is termed the 'general escape clause'. In essence, the clauses allow deviation from parts of the Stability and Growth Pact's preventive or corrective arms, either because an unusual event outside the control of one or more Member States has a major impact on the financial position of the general government, or because the euro area or the Union as a whole faces a severe economic downturn. As the current crisis is outside governments' control, with a major impact on public finances, the European Commission noted that it could apply the unusual events clause. However, it also noted that the magnitude of the fiscal effort necessary to protect European citizens and businesses from the effects of the pandemic, and to support the economy in the aftermath, requires the use of more far-reaching flexibility under the Pact. For this reason, the Commission has proposed to activate the general escape clause. With the Council having endorsed the Commission communication, a deviation from the medium-term budgetary objective or from the appropriate adjustment path towards it may be allowed for Member States, during both the assessment and the implementation of Stability or Convergence Programmes. In the corrective arm of the Pact, the clause will allow an extension of the deadline for the Member States to correct their excessive deficits under the excessive deficit procedure, provided those Member States take effective action as recommended by the Council.