Estonia’s fiscal deficit under European Union terms more than doubled in the first quarter from a year earlier, indicating the Baltic country may not be able to adopt the euro in January 2011. The deficit, including social security and state and municipal spending, rose to 5.57 billion krooni ($502 million) from 2.06 billion krooni a year earlier, according to data published on the statistics office’s Web site today. The gap corresponds to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, according to Bloomberg calculations based on the Finance Ministry’s forecast for Estonian GDP for 2009.
The first-quarter figure means the government will have to keep the deficit at 0.5 percent of GDP for the rest of the year to meet euro-entry criteria. Finance Minister Jurgen Ligi has said he sees no improvement in the economy before the third quarter. The minority Cabinet of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip has cut the 2009 budget deficit by 16 billion krooni, or 7.3 percent of GDP, in recent months to avoid depleting state reserves and keep the fiscal deficit at last year’s level of 3 percent of GDP, the same as the EU’s budget-deficit threshold. This would allow Estonia to adopt the euro in January 2011, the government’s main economic goal.
So why a "Latvian-style" noose? Because these countries have built for themselves a sort of "paradox of fiscal thrift" connundrum, whereby the more you cut, the more GDP falls, the more revenue rises, the more spending grows, the more the fiscal deficit goes up, the more you have to cut, and so on. In the end, as Kenneth Rogoff said yesterday, it simply becomes too painful. There seems no way Estonia can achieve a 3 percent deficit this year at this point. And remember what IMF First Deputy Managing Director John Lipsky said last week.
“If there is a solution it begins with macro policies,” Lipsky said. “No single exchange rates solution, or exchange regime represents a solution to these kinds of problems. What is important is that the currency regime is credible and coherent”.
Estonia now has no exit strategy, at least not to join the euro in 2011 it doesn't And then we have Lithuania and Bulgaria to think about. Basically, the ECB and the European Commission should never have drawn a line in the sand across the original Maastricht criteria. But it's too late for that now.