France scraps deficit target, as eurozone recovery halts
By Benjamin Fox
France has all but abandoned a target to shrink its deficit, as the eurozone endured a turbulent day that raised the prospect of a triple-dip recession.
Figures published by Eurostat on Thursday (14 August) indicated that the eurozone economy flatlined between April and June, while the EU-28 saw 0.2 percent growth.
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Latvia was the currency bloc’s strongest performer with 1 percent growth, and there was positive data from former crisis countries Spain and Portugal, which both expanded by 0.6 percent.
But if there was positive news from the eurozone’s southern and eastern members, there was little to cheer from its three largest economies - Germany, France, and Italy - which account for around two thirds of the eurozone’s output.
Germany's output fell by 0.2 percent, the same as Italy, which announced its second quarter figures last week. France recorded zero growth for the second successive quarter, while finance minister Michel Sapin suggested that the country’s deficit would exceed 4 percent this year, missing its European Commission-sanctioned 3.8 percent target.
In an article in Le Monde on Thursday (14 August), Sapin abandoned the target, commenting that “It is better to admit what is than to hope for what won't be."
France would cut its deficit "at an appropriate pace," he added in a radio interview with Europe 1.
Pointing to the contraction of the German economy, Sapin remarked that "the EU's big engine, Germany, is today negative. There is therefore a French problem and a European problem".
Sapin’s admission is another setback for beleaguered President Francois Hollande, who made hitting the 3 percent deficit target spelt out in the EU’s stability and growth pact by 2013 one of his key election pledges in 2012.
Paris has now revised down its growth forecast from 1 percent to 0.5 percent over the whole of 2014, and cut its projection for 2015 to 1 percent from 1.7 percent.
France has already been given a two year extension to bring its deficit down to within the 3 percent limit by 2015, a target which now appears almost impossible to attain.
Sapin’s remarks are almost certain to inflame his opposite number in Berlin, Wolfgang Schaueble, as well as EU officials who complain that Hollande’s government has failed to put in place structural reforms to make the French labour market more flexible and to cut welfare spending.
Meanwhile, Thursday’s figures only cover economic activity before the tit-for-tat sanctions battle between Europe and Russia began in earnest, raising fears the bloc could be headed towards a triple-dip recession.
German investor sentiment has fallen to its lowest level in 20 months, with analysts suggesting that EU-Russia sanctions, which now include import bans on food by Brussels and Moscow, will hurt its export-based economy.
Outside the eurozone, the EU-28 recorded modest overall growth of 0.2 percent. The UK and Hungary were the strongest performers outside the eurozone, both growing by 0.8 percent.
In a statement, the EU commission said that the figures presented "a mixed picture" claiming that the countries which had pursued bold economic reforms had enjoyed the strongest growth.