Infotech Where does the European rule of 3% budget deficit come from that Macron wants to enforce again by 2027?

Where does the European rule of 3% budget deficit come from that Macron wants to enforce again by 2027?

Chaos », « the anarchy », « hyperinflation “: in this campaign between the two rounds, the presidential camp, anxious at the idea of ​​losing the absolute majority in the National Assembly, is not stingy with superlatives and to designate the program of the union from the left. Beyond the political rhetoric, there is the idea that another world is not possible outside the budgetary orthodoxy that the presidential camp advocates. An economic doctrine whose totem could be the famous European rule of 3% budget deficit not to be exceeded, suspended during the Covid epidemic, which Emmanuel Macron has undertaken to enforce again by 2027.

It is this economic doctrine that investigative journalists Benoît Collombat and Damien Cuvillier call into question in their investigation “The Choice of Unemployment » (ed. Futuropolis). The authors question the legitimacy of this ecosystem of thought, which suggests that apart from budgetary orthodoxy, there is no possible economic salvation. For “l’Obs”, Benoît Collombat returns to the origin of this 3% deficit rule and its scientific legitimacy.

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In what political context was born this rule limiting the budget deficit?

It must be understood that this little story of the 3% budget deficit sheds light on the great story of neoliberalism, because it tells of the establishment of false scientific evidence, intended to impose an ideology and prevent the advent of alternative choices. Its establishment dates back to the summer of 1981, the day after the election of François Mitterand as President of the Republic. The latter was elected with a program that demonstrated strong economic determination and proposed fiscal stimulus.

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The turning point of rigor in 1983 was prepared for in the summer of 1981. Behind the scenes, François Mitterand ordered scientific “tools” from advisers. This is what senior civil servant Guy Abeille, who was in charge of the budget at the time, told us.

Why are the socialists going against their own presidential program?

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The challenge for the Socialists is to win an image battle. They are accused of incompetence and must show what they consider to be a serious budget, as if the only way to manage a State well was rigour. Contrary to popular belief, socialists do not submit to neoliberalism but embrace it. Some of them play a very important role in this transition, including Jacques Delors and François Hollande, who were liberal from the start.

How do they do it?

Economists are commissioned to invent economic “tools”, and imagine this rule of 3% of GDP as a limit on the public deficit, which at the time corresponded to the symbolic bar of 100 billion francs. It has no scientific value. It is then validated by politicians and used to justify a change of economic footing.

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What is interesting about this tool is that it is seemingly indisputable in extinguishing the debate on fiscal stimulus, even if it has no scientific value, which many former politicians, like the former chief of staff of Laurent Fabius, later acknowledged. It is a communication tool.

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You explain that France then imposed this rule on the whole of Europe, before it spread throughout the world.

The rule was set in stone at the Treaty of Maastricht. The former director of the Treasury, Jean-Claude Trichet, says that at the time of the drafting of the treaty, the person who represented the interests of France clearly said that this 3% criterion was proven to stop budgetary expenditure . This rule is proposed to our European partners, who take it up to build the European Union, itself very much inspired by German ordoliberalism.

How did this choice of neoliberalism come about?

It emerged after a long battle of ideas. For example, the Nobel Prize in Economics was created after all the other prizes, which rewarded only research in hard sciences, whereas economics is a soft science, that is to say not exact. There is a political stake in the fact of awarding prizes to economists rather than to others, it comes down to legitimizing certain policies rather than others, and showing that ” there is no alternative » [« il n’y a pas d’alternative », citation de Margaret Thatcher pour justifier sa politique néolibérale en Angleterre, NDLR].

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These political choices are also part of the context after the return of the welfare state. When we go back to the archives of the Socialist Party, the change in doctrine is striking: in January 1986, the party’s advertisements were aimed at savers, promising them that ” savings pay off more on the left than on the right “, and ” unemployment increases less quickly on the left than on the right “.

This legislative campaign, in which the presidential camp promises “chaos” in the event of a victory for the left, is it a continuation of this idea that there is no alternative to neoliberalism?

We continue to cast opprobrium and immediate discredit as soon as neoliberalism is questioned and we go beyond the nails of what is considered orthodoxy and seriousness. However, we have seen during the Covid crisis that neoliberal policies have been forced to adapt. The European institutions have announced that they are suspending some of these budgetary discipline rules, there has been talk of the possibility of nationalizing companies. Neoliberal ideology has been taken from behind by reality.

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Basically, nothing has changed since Emmanuel Macron plans to submit again to this 3% budget deficit rule by 2027. In 2019, the same Emmanuel Macron affirmed in an interview with “The Economist” magazine that the controversy around the 3% deficit was the debate of another century. This means that this rule, which is not rational in itself, remains a totem and is part of the tools of a policy which attempts to impose an economic framework and a certain vision of the world.

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Interview by Emma Poesy

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