Brussels, 1 March 2012
Ireland: European Commission gives green light for €5.8 billion payment following successful completion of fifth review of financial assistance programme
Today, the European Commission completed the fifth review of the EU-IMF supported financial assistance programme for Ireland. In this context, the Commission authorises the disbursement of €5.8 billion to the country, bringing total EU funding to Ireland to €32.2 billion since the launch of the programme in late 2010.
The joint review by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund took place in Dublin 10-19 January 2012. It concluded that programme implementation by Ireland remains strong and on track, while some challenges remain.
Ireland's real GDP is estimated to have returned to positive growth in 2011 (0.9%) on account of strong exports, aided by recovering cost competitiveness. Domestic demand remains subdued, as households and firms (as well as the public sector) try to reduce their indebtedness. For this year, the real GDP growth forecast has been revised down (to 0.5%, from the 1% foreseen in the fourth review in Autumn 2011), reflecting the growth slowdown in Ireland's main trading partners, particularly those in the euro area.
The fiscal deficit in 2011 is estimated to have been kept at around 10% of GDP, well below the ceiling set out in the programme (10.6% of GDP). The 2012 budget is in line with the deficit ceiling for this year (8.6% of GDP). Binding ceilings on expenditure for each line ministry offer further credibility to the Irish government's commitment to bring the fiscal deficit down to below 3% of GDP by 2015 in line with the EU's excessive deficit procedure.
Major progress has been made in strengthening and downsizing the banking system. The recapitalisation of banks is largely completed and banks have met their deleveraging targets for 2011, despite an increasingly challenging market environment. The Irish authorities have also been proactive in addressing the major problem of household debt through a reform of the personal insolvency framework, which is designed to enable out-of-court settlements of unsustainable mortgage debts.
Labour market reforms are progressing well, particularly reforms of sectoral wage agreements to make wage-setting in occupations hard hit by the recession more responsive to economic conditions. A privatisation plan has also been drawn up by the government to reduce public debt, increase the economy's overall efficiency, and fund some job-creating investments.
On the back of this strong performance, yields on Irish government bonds have continued to decline. The financial assistance programme is expected to cover financing needs until the second half of 2013, although Ireland intends to re-enter the financial market sooner, including in order to strengthen its cash buffers for the period after the end of the programme, foreseen for the end of 2013. In this respect, the recent debt swap, which effectively postpones some repayments originally due in early 2014 to early 2015, is welcome as it reduces the government's financing needs immediately after the end of the programme.
Despite this significant progress, much remains to be done. Future challenges and risks would depend on any further financial turbulence in the euro area, with potential knock-on effects on bank deleveraging and the availability of credit to the domestic economy. A further drop in the demand for Irish exports could also weigh on budget performance through its spillover effect on Ireland's overall growth. This is why it is essential that the Irish authorities remain steadfast and pursue full implementation of the programme in the interest of boosting competitiveness, growth and much needed jobs.
Commission Services' review report: