EU convergence criteria

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The Member States of the European Union have to be on 7 February 1992 Maastricht Treaty each other for the first time to the euro convergence criteria (mostly Maastricht criteria called) committed. These criteria consist of fiscal and monetary default values.

The primary goal of the criteria is to promote a harmonization of the capacities of the individual national economic areas in the EU, and in particular in the emerging euro zone , and thus also to achieve fundamental economic stability and solidity for the EU. Today the majority of the convergence criteria are found in Art. 126 and Art. 140 TFEU . As part of the Stability and Growth Pact , some of the criteria will continue to apply even after accession to monetary union. The regulations for this are set out in Art. 126 TFEU.

These are the following criteria:

  • Price level stability : The inflation rate must not be more than 1.5 percentage points above that of the three Member States with the most stable prices.
  • Public sector financial position ( Art. 126 TFEU):
  • Exchange rate stability: The state must have participated in Exchange Rate Mechanism II for at least two years without devaluing . The country's currency may only deviate from the euro rate within a certain exchange rate range (usually 15%); in the event of major deviations, the country's central bank must intervene.
  • Long-term interest rates: The interest rate on long-term government bonds must not be more than 2 percentage points above the average of the three most stable Member States.

It is highly controversial among economists to what extent the convergence criteria are actually suitable for ensuring the economic cohesion of the euro countries. The theory of optimal currency areas also takes into account other criteria, such as the intensity of trade between the various countries. It is also criticized that the convergence criteria aim exclusively at stability and do not provide for any common economic policy . In many cases, they appear to be an impossibility, an example of this is Greece or Italy: the latter has a gross debt of 2.17 trillion.

Before the European Monetary Union came into force at the beginning of 1999, it was a matter of dispute how narrowly the convergence criteria should be interpreted, since not all member states met the criteria when the text of the treaty was defined. The participation of Greece and Italy in particular was initially uncertain. Ultimately, however, the criteria appeared to have been met by all Member States that wanted to. As it turned out later, however, Greece had submitted incorrect figures. Great Britain and Denmark do not participate in the monetary union due to an exemption; After a negative referendum on the introduction of the euro, Sweden decided to deliberately violate one of the convergence criteria, namely exchange rate stability, in order not to have to fulfill its contractual obligation to introduce the euro. Of the countries that have acceded to the EU since enlargement in 2004 , only Malta , Cyprus , Slovenia , Slovakia and Estonia have so far met the convergence criteria , all of which have also introduced the euro since then. The other states are striving to approximate the convergence criteria.

The criteria before joining

The convergence criteria are formulated in general terms in Article 140 (1) of the TFEU and are defined in more detail in the associated Protocol No. 13. In detail, they include the stability of the price level , public budgets , exchange rates with the other EU countries and the long-term nominal interest rate . This is measured either relative to the most stable Member States or according to certain fixed criteria. The criterion of budgetary stability is divided into two sub-criteria, namely annual new debt on the one hand and total public debt on the other . The more detailed explanations can be found in Protocol No. 12 to the AEU Treaty.

Price level stability

Figure 1: Inflation rates of the euro countries compared to the previous year in%
Figure 2: Inflation rates in non-euro countries compared to the previous year in%

"Achievement of a high degree of price stability, as evidenced by an inflation rate which comes close to the inflation rate of those - at most three - Member States which have achieved the best result in the area of ​​price stability"

- Art. 140 TFEU

The first convergence criterion used is the inflation rate, which may be a maximum of 1.5 percentage points higher than that of the three most stable member states of the previous year. The inflation rate is measured according to the consumer price index , taking into account that the indices of different Member States are partly based on different shopping carts .

In 2010 the reference value was 1%. The unweighted arithmetic mean of the inflation rates of the EU countries Portugal (-0.8%), Spain (-0.7%) and Belgium (-0.1%), for which an average value of -0.5 was used % yielded. Adding 1.5 percentage points gives a reference value of 1.0%. Ireland's price trend was seen as an exception. There the average inflation rate in the observation period (April 2009-March 2010) was −2.3%. Country-specific factors such as B. called the unusually strong economic slump with the associated sharp decline in wages. This inflation rate would therefore have distorted the calculation of the reference value. Such exceptions have also been used in the past. According to the ECB, an exception applies when the average is significantly below comparable rates in other member states and the price development has been influenced by extraordinary factors.

Graphs 1 and 2 clearly show that inflation was particularly high in the non-euro countries, especially in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia up to 2008. In the course of the financial crisis, the rates then fell. The negative inflation in the euro countries Spain, Portugal and Ireland can also be seen. These three countries have been particularly hard hit by the financial crisis.

Budget stability

Figure 3: Deficit ratios of the euro countries compared to GDP in%
Figure 4: Deficit ratios of non-euro countries compared to GDP in%
Figure 5: Debt ratios of euro countries compared to GDP in%
Figure 6: Debt ratios of non-euro countries compared to GDP in%

"A sustainable financial position of the public sector, evident from a public budget position without excessive deficit"

- Art. 140 TFEU

The second criterion, budget stability, is based on two sub-criteria, both of which are calculated as a percentage of the national gross domestic product : on the one hand, the annual public deficit ( net new debt ) must not exceed 3% of the gross domestic product; on the other hand, the public debt level as a whole must no longer be than 60% of the gross domestic product - unless there is a clear downward trend. The limit values ​​result from certain model considerations about the relationships between economic growth, deficit ratio, interest rates and debt level, which were theoretically presented in general in 1944 by Evsey D. Domar . In addition, the 3% was roughly the same as the average of the then 12 Member States in 1990.

The budgetary stability criterion will continue to apply within the framework of the Stability and Growth Pact even after the introduction of the euro. It is formally compulsory not only for the participants in the monetary union but for all EU member states. Compliance with the budget or deficit criterion within the framework of the Stability and Growth Pact is regulated in Art. 126 TFEU . Accordingly, the European Commission checks annually whether the member states meet the two sub-criteria (deficit of a maximum of 3%, debt level of a maximum of 60% of GDP ). For this purpose, the states transmit their budget data to the European Commission in the form of national accounts . A clear weak point here, however, is the leeway that arises from the narrow delimitation of the state sector in the EU system. Public companies that produce for the market are assigned to the corporate sector. As a result, it is possible that loans secured by state guarantees are recorded in public companies. At a later point in time, however, these loans will have to be serviced by the state without first being reflected in the deficit ratio. By refining the statistical rules of the game, however, this scope has already been restricted.

The Commission will now draw up a report based on the data submitted. If there is a risk of an excessive deficit, the European Commission will issue an opinion and recommendation and the Economic and Financial Committee will issue the opinion that the necessary budget adjustment measures should be taken (early warning). On the basis of a new report and the recommendation of the Commission as well as the comment of the Member State concerned, the Council of the European Union finally decides with a qualified majority how to proceed.

If there is a deficit, the Council makes a further recommendation with two deadlines. First, the Member State should take effective action to correct the deficit within four months. A further deadline is set for the elimination of the deficit. If there are no special circumstances, this period is usually one year. The further course of the procedure now depends on the behavior of the state. If government decisions to improve the deficit are not adopted, the Council will make its recommendations public. If the state continues to do nothing, it will be given a month's notice. If the state still does not initiate consolidation measures, the Council will impose sanctions within two months. If the Council considers that the planned deficit is excessive, the process will be accelerated. If the Member State initiates measures, the procedure is initially suspended. The Council and the European Commission will then monitor the measures until the excessive deficit is corrected.

The sanctions usually consist of a non-interest-bearing deposit that is converted into a fine after the deficit has existed for over two years. Each individual sanction must not exceed a maximum GDP of 0.5%. Critics complain that the Council has a high degree of discretion regarding the existence of a deficit and the length and course of the procedure, as well as the fact that the exceptions to the sanctions are not specified in more detail. According to Art. 139 TFEU , however, these means of coercion can only be applied to member states of the monetary union. In the case of countries that have not adopted the euro, the Council can only make recommendations.

Graphs 3 and 4 show that many countries did not meet the convergence criteria on budgetary stability. Ireland, Greece, Spain in particular, but also the non-euro countries Latvia and Great Britain, have significantly higher deficits than the required 3%. The debt ratio (charts 5 and 6) has also been significantly exceeded in many countries. In the euro zone, Greece and Italy have values ​​of over 100%.

Exchange rate stability

"Compliance with the normal ranges of the exchange rate mechanism of the European exchange rate system for at least two years without devaluation against the euro"

- Art. 140 TFEU

Before a country can introduce the euro as a currency, it must have been a member of the so-called Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II). ERM II is an exchange rate agreement that provides a certain range for exchange rate fluctuations between a country's currency and the euro. For this purpose, a certain central rate is set, from which the exchange rate may only deviate by a certain percentage (normally 15%); otherwise the central bank of the country concerned must intervene. If the central bank is unable to do so, a new (higher or lower) central rate can be defined.

To meet the third convergence criterion, a country must have met the ERM II criteria for at least two years. In addition, it must not have devalued its own currency's central rate against the euro at the same time. According to Art. 140 TFEU, a convergence test of the currency may only be carried out after two years of participation in the WKMII.

ERM II was introduced in 1999 with the introduction of the euro. It replaced the European Monetary System (EMS), which was previously used to calculate exchange rate stability. Similar rules applied in the EMS as within ERM II, whereby the key currency was not the euro (which at that time did not exist), but the artificial currency ECU . However, the two-year obligation to participate in the EMS as a convergence criterion for the founding members of the monetary union was interpreted less strictly than for the countries that joined later.

Stability of long-term interest rates

Chart 7: long-term interest rates in euro countries
Chart 8: long-term interest rates in non-euro countries

"The durability of the convergence achieved by the Member State [...] and its participation in the exchange rate mechanism, which is reflected in the level of long-term interest rates"

- Art. 140 TFEU

The fourth criterion is the average long-term nominal interest rate , which may be a maximum of 2 percentage points above that of the three most stable countries in the previous year. For this purpose, the interest rates of long-term government bonds or comparable securities are used, whereby national differences in the definition of government bonds are taken into account.

The long-term interest rate criterion is used indirectly to measure the creditworthiness of the countries concerned. This is to prevent the other criteria, such as exchange rate stability, from being met by a dubious economic policy with unsustainable measures. It is expected that in this case, due to the higher credit risk, the long-term interest rates for the country concerned would rise, which would no longer meet the fourth criterion.

In 2010, the same countries were used for calculating the reference value as for calculating the reference value for price level stability. As no data on long-term interest rates are available for Estonia, Estonia has been omitted from the calculation. The results of the best countries in terms of price level stability were 3.8% in Belgium and 4.2% in Portugal. This gives an average result of 4.0% and thus adding the 2 percentage points to a reference value of 6%. In the euro area the average was 3.8%.

Criteria after joining

The convergence criteria, as described above, only have to be met when entering the third phase of European monetary union , i.e. when the euro is introduced . However, in order to ensure budgetary stability later also within the monetary union, the criterion of budgetary stability was laid down in the Stability and Growth Pact even after accession, primarily on German initiative .

The other criteria, however, are no longer applicable after a country joins the euro: The European Central Bank is not responsible for the stability of the price level within the monetary union , and with the abolition of the national currency, of course, it cannot maintain a stable exchange rate have to the euro. Changes in the level of long-term interest rates no longer play a role after joining the euro. From 2009, during the Greek sovereign debt crisis and the subsequent euro crisis , discussions were held about whether states that can no longer refinance themselves on the capital market should be excluded from the monetary union. Ultimately, however, this proposal was rejected and the European Stability Mechanism was introduced instead , which in this case provides for financial aid for the state concerned.

Interpretation of the criteria

The question of how strictly compliance with the convergence criteria should be handled has been a contentious issue since it was introduced in the Maastricht Treaty . While some countries insisted on tough budgetary and monetary policy, others emphasized the political benefits of monetary union, which should not be jeopardized by excessively strict membership rules. After the EU enlargement in 2004, a quick symbolic equality of the new and old member states was desired and the question was raised whether the monetary union would actually be a burden if some of the small Central and Eastern European EU countries introduced the euro without to meet all criteria exactly. Nevertheless, in 2006 the European Commission recommended postponing the admission of Lithuania due to an inflation rate that was 0.06 percentage points too high.

When the monetary union was founded, however, the convergence criteria were sometimes interpreted less strictly. After individual countries had difficulties meeting the criteria until 1997, most member states formally complied with them at the time of the introduction of the euro. Total debt in Italy , Greece and Belgium when the euro was introduced was above 60% of GDP.

However, a Eurostat report published in November 2004 showed that the deficit figures communicated by Greece to the Commission in the years prior to 2004 had not been calculated according to European rules. After the recalculation, the Greek deficit figures for the years 1997 to 2000 were above the convergence criterion of 3% of GDP, so that Greece could not actually have joined the monetary union. However, one case by the Commission against Greece was closed in 2007 after Greece put in place the correct calculation procedures. In 2010, however, it became known that Greece had hushed up violations of the Stability and Growth Pact through statistical glossing over.

In addition to these measures, which are openly denounced as forgeries in the media, shortly before the introduction of the euro, some countries also used other little-noticed fraudulent measures in order to reduce their deficit in the short term without having a sustainable effect in mind. Italy , for example, under the then Prime Minister Romano Prodi, levied a largely repayable euro tax in 1997, which in the convergence-relevant year reduced the budget deficit from 3.6% to exactly 3.0%. France took over the pension obligations from the privatized France Télécom and received 37.5 billion francs (5.72 billion euros) in return, which reduced the government deficit by around 0.6 percentage points. Even Germany is accused manipulative methods because the then Finance Minister Theo Waigel of the Deutsche Bundesbank re-assess their gold reserves demanded. According to the Minister's wishes, the profit should be distributed to the federal government as book profit and thus lead to a reduction in net new debt. There were also other budgetary constructions: The German government sold shares in Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Post to the state-owned bank KfW in order to reduce its debt level. In fact, the risk of falling prices as well as dividend income remained with the federal government. It was a pure transfer , which mathematically led to high payments to the state budget.

Even after the introduction of the euro, the criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact were not always complied with in some countries (including Germany). However, the Council of the European Union refrained from imposing sanctions. Due to the financial crisis from 2007 onwards, only Estonia and Sweden met the criteria in mid-2010 ; However, the European Commission had also announced that it would proceed generously when assessing deficits during this exceptional situation.

Convergence level of the EU member states excluding the euro

The following is a list of the current state of economic convergence in the EU member states that are not yet participating in the 3rd stage of European Monetary Union, i.e. have not yet introduced the euro as a means of payment. The data refer to the current ECB convergence report from April 2010 with the reference period April 2009 to March 2010.


The inflation rate measured by the HICP was 1.7% in the reference period, above the required reference value of 1%. In the long-term mean from 2000 to 2009 the rate was even an average of 6.7% and in 2008 it was 12%. Bulgaria’s catching-up process should have an upward impact on inflation in the next few years, as per capita GDP and price levels are significantly lower than in the euro area. Although there is currently no decision by the Council on an excessive deficit, the EU Commission is currently introducing one, as the deficit in relation to GDP exceeds the permitted maximum of 3% with a value of 3.7% by 0.7 percentage points . At 14.8%, the public debt ratio is well below the maximum of 60%. The Bulgarian lev does not participate in ERM II, but is linked to the euro through a currency board . There was no change in course in the reference period. At 6.9%, long-term interest rates were above the reference value, but recovered to a reference-compatible 5.8% by March 2010. In order to create a convergent environment in Bulgaria, an economic policy geared towards price stability is required. The state should consistently avoid exceeding the spending targets.

Czech Republic

The twelve-month average of the HICP inflation rate was 0.3%. The Czech Republic was thus below the required reference value of 1%. Viewed over a longer period of time, the country shows a clear downward trend with inflation rates of 1 to 3%. The negative inflation rate in the second half of 2009 is due to the fall in energy prices and is reversed towards the end of the year due to rising crude oil prices. It remains to be seen whether these low inflation rates will be sustainable over the next few years due to the catching-up process. There has been a Council decision on an excessive deficit. The deficit ratio in 2009 was 5.9% and thus well above the required 3%. The debt ratio was a moderate 35.4%. The Czech crown did not participate in ERM II and was traded at flexible rates. From mid-2008 to early 2009, it experienced a sharp devaluation against the euro, but then recovered. Long-term interest rates were 4.7% and since 2004 the value has moved closer to that of the euro area. If the Czech Republic wants to achieve the medium-term budgetary target required by the Stability Pact, extensive consolidation measures should be introduced.


The inflation rate in Hungary during the reference period was 4.8%. The inflation trend since the end of 2006 has to be seen against the background of a strong downturn. Real GDP in 2006 was 4%, in 2008 it was only 0.8%. The rise in inflation, which occurred despite the economic downturn, is due to the short-term effects of the changes in indirect taxes , consumer taxes and price increases in the energy sector. The Council has passed a decision, since both the deficit of 4% and the debt ratio of 78.3% are well above the convergence criteria. The EU Commission even anticipates a further increase in 2010. The deficit ratio in Hungary is higher than public investment as a percentage of GDP, and it should stay that way in 2010. The Hungarian Forint does not participate in ERM II and was traded at flexible rates. From mid-2008 to early 2009, however, it depreciated sharply against the euro. A financing package from the EU and the IMF eased the devaluation pressure. Long-term interest rates were 8.4%. The reason for the excessively high value is the lower risk appetite of investors in the wake of the financial crisis, but also the higher risk premium , the lower market liquidity, as well as the domestic inflation and budget problems. For the forint and Hungary to converge, there is an urgent need to consolidate public finances.


The inflation rate in Poland is a high 3.9%. A downward trend was evident from 2000 to 2003, but price pressure has been increasing since 2006. The overall economic performance of Poland over the past 10 years is reflected in the inflation rates. The deficit is 7.1% and the debt ratio is 51%, so the Council has decided. Poland does not participate in ERM II, but has flexible exchange rates. In 2009 there was strong devaluation pressure on the Polish zloty , but it then recovered. The reason for this can certainly be seen in the fact that the IMF granted Poland a flexible line of credit and thus the pressure on the exchange rate was reduced. At 6.1%, long-term interest rates were only slightly above the reference value of 6%, but they also rose in Poland due to the economic crisis. Poland must take sustainable consolidation measures in order to adhere to the Stability and Growth Pact and to have a chance to become a member of ERM II.


In Romania , the HICP inflation rate in the reference period was significantly too high 5%. However, this inflation has been accompanied by robust GDP growth. But here too, wage increases exceeded productivity growth, which stimulated the growth in unit labor costs and thus led to an overheating effect with a reduction in competitiveness . In Romania, too, the process of catching up with the euro countries will influence inflation in the future. The deficit was 8.3% and the debt ratio was a moderate 23.7%. According to the sustainability report, the sustainability of public finances is exposed to very high risks, which is why further consolidation steps must be initiated. The Romanian Leu does not participate in ERM II and is subject to flexible mechanisms in the market. The strong devaluation between mid-2008 and the beginning of 2009 led to financial aid from the EU and the IMF, which helped to counteract this trend. Long-term interest rates were 9.4%, well above the required 6%. The reason for this is the risk aversion of investors and the uncertainty of the financial situation of the Romanian state.


Sweden has a special status in this regard, as a referendum from 2003 ensured that the euro was not introduced, although Sweden has committed to it. However, the date of introduction has not been set. The convergence report shows that although Sweden's inflation rate is too high at 2.1%, inflation has remained stable over a longer period of time. This is due to solid economic development, moderate wage developments and a credible monetary policy . There is no excessive deficit (0.5%) and the debt ratio is also within limits at 42.3%. According to the sustainability report, the sustainability of public finances is exposed to low risks. The Swedish krona does not participate in ERM II and is subject to flexible exchange rates. The krona also experienced a strong devaluation against the euro in the course of the financial crisis, but is now stable again. At 3.3%, long-term interest rates are well below the reference criteria.

According to a survey in April 2009, 47% of Swedes were in favor of the introduction, 45% against and 8% were still unsure. In July 2010, however, 61% were again against the introduction of the euro. When Sweden will join ERM II is still uncertain.

Criticism of the convergence criteria

Many economists criticize the criteria because they do not offer an optimal currency area. Weaker European partners with a pronounced inflation mentality are exposed to increased competitive pressure with a common currency. Despite the criterion of inflation convergence, there are country-specific differences between the members of the monetary union, so that price and wage levels develop divergent, which leads to competitive shifts.

Countries with high debt rates are not as badly hit by financial market sanctions. Since the countries can no longer pursue their own monetary policy , the interest surcharge that is required by creditors to compensate for the national risk of inflation and devaluation is no longer applicable. The effects then do not affect the individual country, but the entire euro area.

A high level of price and wage flexibility is necessary if the equalization mechanism of flexible exchange rates is to be abandoned. Shifts in demand between two countries in a currency area are only unproblematic if there is a migration of the regions, especially the labor factor. But if this is not the case, different currencies with flexibility in exchange rates would be more efficient. Ireland , Italy , Spain , Portugal and Greece were able to reduce exchange rate-related risk premiums and thus realize lower interest rates. However, this advantage is overcompensated by the reduction in their price competitiveness, which in a monetary union can no longer be offset by devaluation. However, it should also be said that changes in exchange rates have a very strong impact on the domestic economy. For many tradable goods, for example, a common currency area is definitely an advantage, as there are no more price changes, exchange rate changes are eliminated and transaction costs decrease.

The current drifting apart of the yields for long-term interest rates shows that the EMU members are viewed by investors as heterogeneous and are therefore subject to different risks. The different levels of impact in the individual countries were made worse by the financial crisis; Greece, Spain and Ireland are particularly affected by country-specific property crises. But Austria's risk premium is also rising, as a lot of investments have been made in the ailing Eastern Bloc.

The deficit and indebtedness criteria provided for in the Maastricht criteria show an intrinsic technical connection. According to Art. 126 TFEU, the state debt level must not exceed 60% of the gross domestic product and at the same time the annual budget deficit must not exceed 3% of the gross domestic product. If both upper limits are strictly achieved, the formula results



a long-term nominal growth in gross domestic product of 5%. This is made up of an assumed 3% real economic growth and 2% inflation.

Such a high real growth in gross domestic product is unrealistic for the euro states. Assuming real growth of just 2% with a deficit ratio of 3% and inflation of 2%, the national debt ratio will reach 75% in the long term, which is significantly higher than permitted. As a result, the deficit ratio will have to be reduced from 2% to 2.4% in the long term (3% / (2% + 2%)) in order to meet both Maastricht criteria. If the interest rate on debt is higher than nominal growth, the national budgets even have to generate a primary surplus in order to prevent the national debt ratio from rising; the interest burden cannot then be financed from growth.

Web links

Wiktionary: Maastricht criterion  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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