Independent fiscal institutions (independent parliamentary budget offices and fiscal councils or IFIs) have been established across the OECD to provide independent analysis of fiscal policy and performance, thus promoting fiscal transparency, sound fiscal policy and sustainable public finances.

For many OECD countries, the scale of the economic slowdown and emergency support for households and businesses1 is the largest in peacetime history, exceeding the short-term economic shock and fiscal policy response during the global financial crisis, which gave birth to many of today’s IFIs. For those IFIs established within the last decade, the COVID-19 pandemic is the first crisis they are facing.

IFIs have reacted quickly from the onset of the crisis, providing vital analysis to their stakeholders. IFIs that have published statements on the crisis have been unanimous in their assessments that significant fiscal responses to the crisis by government are appropriate. For example, analysis from the UK Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) assessed that measures taken now, although expensive from a borrowing perspective, will cost less in the long run than the impact of government taking no action to support the economy. At the same time, IFIs have warned that once the crisis is over, countries will need to ensure that public finances return to a sustainable path.

As IFIs work to assess the economic and fiscal layout, legislatures are dealing with operational disruptions arising from physical distancing and illness. Further, a sense of urgency has compelled many jurisdictions to modify legislative oversight procedures in favour of speed. IFIs have been playing, and will continue to play, a crucial role in supporting legislatures during these challenging times.

This report reviews the actions that IFIs in the OECD Network of Parliamentary Budget Officials and Independent Fiscal Institutions (PBO Network) are taking during the rescue phase of the pandemic. It also highlights how IFI operations have been affected.

The OECD’s review identified four main actions that IFIs are taking during the rescue phase of the crisis:

  1. 1. Providing rapid analysis of the economic and/or budgetary impact of the pandemic, including (1.1) self-initiated briefing notes, (1.2) responses to requests from committees and individual legislators, (1.3) economic and fiscal forecasts in real time, (1.4) economic and fiscal scenario analysis, and (1.5) assessments of government planning assumptions.

  2. 2. Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses as governments move to suspend fiscal rules to respond to the pandemic.2

  3. 3. Costing emergency legislation either in an official capacity, upon request of legislators, or as self-initiated scrutiny of official figures.

  4. 4. Promoting transparency and accountability for the emergency procedures that governments and legislatures may have introduced to expedite responses to the crisis.

These actions are consistent with the mandates of OECD IFIs, but their precise form may be specific to this time of crisis. Table 1 maps each action to a core IFI function.

Figure 1 shows the frequency of the first three actions to date by OECD IFIs. Nearly all have supported their stakeholders with rapid analysis to inform decision-makers and the public of the effects of the pandemic on the economy and public finances.

Among IFIs mandated to monitor adherence to national fiscal rules, particularly those within the EU’s fiscal framework, many are tasked with providing an opinion on whether it is appropriate for government to trigger escape clauses. The majority have deemed the current circumstances to qualify. The remainder have indicated that they are likely to follow; however, some must wait for their governments to first activate the escape clause.

Those with the mandate to cost legislation in normal times have continued to do so, whether in an official capacity in the policymaking process, or of their own initiative to confirm the government’s arithmetic on behalf of the legislature.

Finally, all legislatures are being strained by operational disruptions from the pandemic. At the same time, some governments have introduced emergency proceedings to expedite response measures. IFIs have served as a backstop in helping legislatures maintain oversight under these challenging conditions. While all IFIs have as their overarching goal the promotion of transparency and accountability, a handful have taken specific actions to respond to a change in appropriations or publishing procedures by publishing or compiling information not readily available from the government, using their independent voice to draw attention to the issue.

The remainder of this section describes these roles and IFI activities in greater detail, citing examples from across the OECD.

OECD IFIs have been providing timely analysis of the economic and fiscal impact of COVID-19 to their stakeholders in rapidly evolving circumstances. Their analysis has quickly penetrated the public debate, receiving strong media coverage. The UK OBR’s scenario analysis generated their best performing social media statistics to date.

IFIs have made their assessments in light of the fiscal room and financing options available to their governments and the implications for longer-term fiscal sustainability. In jurisdictions with fiscal room for large temporary measures, IFIs have supported emergency responses by providing analysis and reassurance of fiscal capacity and sustainability. For example, the Canadian Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) issued a blog post encouraging “immediate and robust policy actions to face these unforeseen and exceptional circumstances”, citing World War II deficits of 21 per cent of GDP as a potentially appropriate scale and stating that temporary measures for one year can be safely ignored from the viewpoint of fiscal sustainability.3 The Czech Fiscal Council noted that the Czech Republic is “entering the coming economic crisis with a relatively low level of public debt and hence has relatively a great deal of room for fiscal stimulus”, while at the same time cautioning that given that “government will not have unlimited funds, all measures must be targeted into areas where they will either prevent significant social problems…or where they will bring a significant positive stimulus” for the economy.4

Figure 2 shows the distribution of publications along several categories. A majority have posted self-initiated briefing notes on the pandemic to their public website. Briefing notes provide qualitative and quantitative overviews of issues related to the pandemic.

IFIs have also provided responses to requests from committees and legislators for analysis. These may be from opposition members or backbenchers and responses put the legislature on more level playing field with the executive branch of government, which has access to the resources of the public service. For some IFIs, such as the Canadian PBO, all responses to requests from parliament are also published. Others, such as the Australian PBO, provide an optional confidential service for parliamentarians.

Most IFIs have flexibility and independence in their research agendas and are therefore able to offer economic and fiscal forecasts in real time where resources permit. Governments, on the other hand, often publish planning forecasts only once or twice a year in conjunction with their appropriations cycle. Had a government published its budget documents and medium-term fiscal framework in February, it may not be required to update the public on its outlook for the economy and public finances again until a year later in February 2021.

Moreover, several governments and central banks have chosen not to provide forecasts given the considerable uncertainty surrounding the duration and severity of public health restrictions and the impact of those restrictions (and any fiscal and monetary policy response) on the economy and public finances. Other governments have shortened their outlooks to one or two years. Governments may be reluctant to commit to a medium-term outlook in part out of concerns over the political fallout resulting from forecast errors.

In many countries the IFI has been the only public institution to publish forecasts during the crisis. To overcome uncertainty some IFIs, (such as the Austrian Fiscal Advisory Council (FISK) and Canadian PBO) are releasing frequent updates and even updates-to-their-updates as data develops—even before governments have published their first official forecast.

Economic and fiscal scenario analysis provides a range of possible outcomes for the economy and public finances under different scenarios. This is a related but distinct exercise from forecasting that shows conditional outcomes based on different assumptions for public behaviour and the government’s policy interventions. Scenario analysis is done both by offices that do and do not produce forecasts. It is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as public behaviour produces a wide range of outcomes depending on the degree of physical distancing and timing of lifting of lockdowns. Economic and fiscal scenario analysis based on these outcomes can show governments the economic and fiscal costs—or cost-savings—of various enforcement programmes to slow the spread of the pandemic. The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) has produced a particularly useful example of scenario analysis for four possible outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and public finances to illustrate some of the main uncertainties and outline the possible economic impact of the coronavirus in 2020 and 2021.5 Spain’s Independent Authority for Fiscal Responsibility (AIReF) has shifted their analysis away from probability distributions (fan charts) to showing two scenarios corresponding to different pandemic curves and lockdown responses.

Some IFIs have the role of assessing and/or endorsing government planning assumptions. In crisis mode, this has included scrutinising the assumptions underlying the massive support programmes for households and firms. Opinions on the government’s plans are typically accompanied by a discussion of risks to the upside and downside. Opinions during the COVID-19 crisis have been unanimous that risks to official plans are to the downside. This may reflect either optimism from governments or the inherent probability distribution of outcomes of the pandemic. For example, the French High Council of Public Finance (HCFP) assessed that the government’s first proposed supplementary budget bill was based on optimistic assumptions. A revised supplementary budget bill was subsequently presented based on a macroeconomic scenario that had been revised downward considerably, however the HCFP again assessed that the assumption of a rapid return to normal activity beyond 11 May was optimistic, noting that the fall in activity could be greater if the assumption were not met.

Countries across the OECD have triggered national escape clauses to suspend fiscal rules. The European Commission has activated the general escape clause in the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) and suspended state aid rules. In some countries the general escape clause at EU level and the national escape clauses are directly linked.

Among IFIs mandated to monitor adherence to national fiscal rules, particularly those within the EU’s fiscal framework, many are tasked with providing an opinion on whether it is appropriate to trigger escape clauses. The majority have deemed the current circumstances to qualify. The European Fiscal Board, the independent advisory body established at the EU level, also issued a statement supporting the full use of the additional flexibility foreseen by the general escape clause of Europe’s SGP.

For example, Italy’s Parliamentary Budget Office agreed that the government’s proposed deviation from the corrective path to the medium-term objective of the structural budget is justified on three accounts: (1) the pandemic meets the criteria of an exceptional event for national and EU fiscal rules, (2) the planned measures would be a one-off intervention and excluded from the structural budget balance anyway, and (3) the structural deficit targets would also be adjusted to account for the decline in GDP.

Germany has constitutional limits for federal and state government deficits. Under normal circumstances the constitution forbids the federal government to run a structural deficit exceeding 0.35% of GDP and requires state governments to implement so called ‘debt brakes’. In addition, the federal government has followed a ‘schwarze Null’ or ‘black zero’ policy, with a formally balanced budget since 2015. In response to the crisis, the federal government provided a supplementary budget which raised the federal deficit about 100 billion above the limit set by the debt brake and parliament passed this budget based on “exceptional circumstances”. The Independent Advisory Board to the Stability Council will provide a statement to the Stability Council on compliance with the upper limit of the structural general government budget deficit.

Of those IFIs that have not yet made an assessment, some have indicated that they are waiting for the resolution of uncertainty before providing their opinion, or are still waiting for their government to invoke an escape clause (being mandated to provide an ex-post opinion).

Around 40% of IFIs in the PBO Network have the responsibility of estimating the cost of legislation, including emergency responses being put before parliaments to fight the pandemic and provide income support to households and firms. Seventeen have done so and published their results, as of 22 May 2020.

The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO), has a formal role in the legislative process—it is required by law to estimate the costs of bills and resolutions approved by Congressional committees. The CBO has produced cost estimates for a series of bills addressing the pandemic and its effects: the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (4 March), the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (2 April), the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (16 April), and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (22 April). In early April, CBO also released a preliminary update of its economic baseline for cost estimates, updated its economic projections through 2021, and produced preliminary estimates of federal deficits and debt for 2020 and 2021, reflecting the effects of the pandemic and the legislation that had been enacted in response.

Other IFIs cost legislation as an independent confirmation of the government’s estimates—perhaps as an intermediate step in their forecast and scenario analysis—or as a service to legislators. For example, Spain’s AIReF assessed government estimates for emergency responses by producing its own independent estimates as benchmarks and in doing so was able to publish more disaggregated details. The Canadian PBO costed several proposals from opposition parties to expand VAT credits and rebates as an alternative relief programme for households and firms.

The overarching goal of IFIs is to promote fiscal transparency and accountability. The unprecedented fiscal measures being taken by national governments may be justified under these exceptional circumstances, but they should nonetheless be budgeted for properly—that is, in a transparent manner under the full constitutional light of parliamentary scrutiny.

Legislatures have been strained by operational disruptions resulting from the pandemic. Many are struggling to quickly amend their working rules and find ways to work remotely. Some parliaments have reduced the number of parliamentarians who attend plenary sessions and committees to accommodate physical distancing. With fewer parliamentarians in attendance, there may be fewer representatives with relevant experience or background in their oversight roles. Other parliaments went a step further and adjourned their sessions entirely for weeks or months out of public health concerns.

The pandemic has also disrupted the annual appropriations cycle with some governments delaying or cancelling budget documents. Some governments have introduced emergency proceedings that may limit opportunities for oversight (Box 1). Even where measures are going through normal parliamentary procedures, these procedures may have been expedited to such an extent that little oversight is feasible in practice. Other governments have found a way to work with their parliaments, using creative solutions to respond quickly to emergencies while maintaining constitutional oversight.

Governments may also be pursuing less conventional means of financing which do not require parliamentary approval, or only require approval after the fact, such as the use of contingency funds.

IFIs are working to support legislators through these challenging times by stepping up analysis and briefings, and leveraging their independence to take additional action such as publishing research directly to their website, providing background to media, and lending their voice in urging the legislature to find digital solutions and maintain committee meetings.

For example, the Austrian PBO highlighted a lack of transparency on COVID-19 measures, inadequate information for parliamentarians, and the need for comprehensive reporting to parliament. The PBO’s criticisms were picked up in the public debate and helped lead to a parliamentary motion to establish a special subcommittee of the Budget Committee responsible for parliamentary oversight and control of COVID-19 measures, as well as a parliamentary resolution to improve the traceability of spending and new reporting requirements.

The Irish PBO has stepped up its analysis at a time when Ireland is under a caretaker Government and the Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament) is sitting with reduced frequency. The PBO has published briefs on the emergency legislation and on the fiscal aspects of the crisis to inform legislators (especially new Members) and help them understand the emerging fiscal situation. The PBO has pointed out that the cost of the emergency measures on social welfare expenditure will soon breach legislated limits under the normal Estimates process, requiring approval by the Dáil.

As a service to improve transparency, the State of Victoria (Australia) PBO published an innovative interactive summary of the state government’s policy announcements, showing the type of summary tables and visualisations that would normally be presented in a budget. The tool contains funding amounts as announced and the PBO used its judgment to ascribe a cost of nil to some measures it assessed would have no financial impact. The tool will be updated weekly to capture new announcements until the state government publishes its official budget.6

Some IFIs are calling attention to reduced information in government fiscal plans, beyond what they view as appropriate under cover of uncertainty. For example, as part of the Fiscal Council of Estonia’s formal assessment of the Ministry of Finance’s planning assumptions, they recommended that the government submit a longer-term outlook for the public finances, including a plan to return the budget to balance, by autumn 2020. Similarly, IFIs in both Spain and Portugal brought attention to the fact that their governments omitted important macro and fiscal scenarios in their stability programme updates.

Finally, some IFIs have expressed concerns that governments are leveraging the crisis for greater fiscal empowerment than warranted. For example, the Czech Fiscal Council argued against long-lasting amendments to national fiscal rules (put in place until 2027) that it deemed overstepped the requirements for responding to the immediate crisis and did not receive adequate stakeholder consultation. The Canadian PBO warned publicly that the government’s draft emergency COVID-19 legislation was “concerning” and that measures were “totally unprecedented”, in some cases allowing the government to “do whatever they want” despite the will of Parliament.7 The PBO’s comments were delivered in statements to several national newspapers and the bill was subsequently amended following a backlash among opposition parties and the public.

IFIs have found their own activities inhibited by public health and workflow disruptions related to COVID‑19. Like their government counterparts, most of their staff are teleworking. Challenges include:

  • Capacity constraints as a result of physical distancing or illness. These often compound pre-existing resource restrictions. Some, such as the PBO in Greece, have reported difficulties related to being locked down and barred from their offices.

  • Delays in countries budgetary processes due to the crisis. European IFIs reported that these might lead to delays in IFIs endorsements of government forecasts.8

  • Restrictions on the timing of publications in their operating models, legislative frameworks or mandates, making it difficult to respond urgently to developments.

  • Difficulties getting data and information during the crisis. This may be because statistics are being distorted by government measures, the publication of regular datasets is being disrupted, or government counterparts are not responding because of increased workloads or the shutdown of nonessential services. IFIs may also need to renegotiate data sharing agreements to permit remote access to sensitive data, as is currently being done by the US CBO.

  • Uncertainty in the economic and fiscal environment. This has wreaked havoc with models, with many forecasts put on hold as solutions are sought (e.g. time series have “gone vertical”, statistics are being distorted, etc.).9

    While some IFIs have postponed or cancelled reports as a result of disruptions, others have implemented creative solutions to allow them to move forward as quickly as possible. Those who have suffered significant delays or cancellations are forming plans to respond in the coming weeks.

Examples of disruptions to activities reported by IFIs include:

  • Spain’s AIReF reported that several reports have been postponed given that current official macro and budgetary targets were adopted before the outbreak of COVID-19. AIReF is closely monitoring the economic and fiscal situation and is participating or offering their expertise to several working groups to help resolve the holdups.

  • In the Netherlands, the Council of State's standard Spring Report is on hold given the uncertainty of the crisis, and its usual technical briefings to both Chambers of Parliament were cancelled due to lockdown restrictions. The Netherlands CPB has published scenarios on the economic and fiscal impact of COVID-19 but is being held up in some of its core functions.

  • In Portugal, the medium-term Economic and Fiscal Outlook of the Portuguese Public Finance Council (CFP) has been postponed.

Countries are entering uncharted territories as they attempt to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The same can be said of their fiscal watchdogs, many of which were born out of the financial crisis, and are still young and relatively modestly resourced institutions. The initiatives taken by IFIs so far show that the vast majority have responded quickly, and that their various mandates have, for the most part, allowed them to respond in a meaningful way. There is also evidence that their voice is being sought out in the public debate. The OECD will continue to monitor the role and responses of IFIs, and to share experiences, particularly as the crisis moves to the recovery phase. Going forward, IFIs will no doubt have a critical role to play in supporting the economic and fiscal policy debate, identifying new vulnerabilities and risks to the public finances, and in assisting governments and parliaments in their efforts to keep the public finances on a sustainable path.

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Fiscal scenario analysis (forthcoming)

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) published the first of its COVID‑19 research in May—a summary and commentary of the government’s monthly financial statements reflecting the impact of the pandemic. The PBO has begun analysis of the medium-term implications of COVID-19 on the budget and will publish this analysis periodically over the coming months. The PBO’s mandate is also to provide costings and budget analysis for parliamentarians on a confidential basis. The PBO’s legislation precludes macroeconomic and fiscal forecasting.

First COVID-19 case: 25 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

The Victorian PBO has created an innovative online tool to track the government’s policy announcements and funding until the official budget is released. The tool is updated weekly and includes visualisations, categorisation by function of government, announcement dates, judgment of whether an announcement is likely to have a financial cost, and links to the government’s official backgrounders. The office has also released a statement reminding members of parliament that it remains open for business, and a statement that the delay in the release of the budget will affect the relevancy of their cost estimates (which are required to use the latest budget update as a baseline).

First COVID-19 case: 25 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real-time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

    • Assessments of planning assumptions

  • Costing emergency legislation

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

The Austrian Fiscal Advisory Council produced a substantial piece of analysis on the budgetary impact of COVID-19 one month after Austria’s first reported case and is updating it regularly as the crisis unfolds. The analysis assessed the fiscal impact of emergency measures implemented by the federal government and the direct and indirect economic consequences of the pandemic according to two scenarios of similar magnitude but with different weights for supply and demand shocks. The Council has also run its own costing exercise for COVID‑19 measures.

First COVID-19 case: 25 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasting

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Parliamentary Budget Office published an overview of the government’s planned emergency measures and their budgetary impact along with a summary of external forecasts of the economic impact of COVID-19 and support measures planned at the EU level as they related to Austria. A section on “Reporting and transparency” recommends reporting practices the government should follow as it implements its emergency plan. The office also provided an update on the government’s targets and performance indicators to account for the new COVID-19 measures. The Office later provided a full analysis of Budget 2020, along with all measures taken to date, macroeconomic scenarios, and quantitative and qualitative discussions of the impact of the crisis. The Budget Analysis 2020 report also assessed the government’s Stability Programme update. The PBO has been highly involved in pushing for greater transparency and accountability to parliament.

First COVID-19 case: 25 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Assessments of planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

The High Council of Finance (HCF) published a detailed discussion on COVID‑19 response measures as part of its annually mandated report on the government’s medium-term budgetary objectives. The HCF recommended a bold, ambitious and coordinated response in line with EU guidance, along with the caveat that the initial budgetary position was not optimal and planners must continue to pay attention to medium- and long-term sustainability.

First COVID-19 case: 04 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis in real time

The Belgium Federal Planning Bureau (FPB) published a heavily caveated regular economic outlook with some initial responses to COVID-19 but flagged that it was not capturing measures announced beyond early March. It discussed downside risks. In April, the FPB published an analysis (unique among the PBO Network) of its "well-being" index based on an aggregate of surveys on material deprivation, unemployment, education, perceived health, and social relations, The FPB projected that well-being would be significantly worse in 2020 than following the global financial crisis. Staff of the FPB are also participating and providing technical inputs to several working groups that have been created to monitor the economic and social consequences of the COVID‑19 crisis, and the Bureau is preparing reports on demographic implications of the pandemic, an updated macroeconomic scenario for 2020-21, and a revised medium-term outlook for the public finances.

First COVID-19 case: 04 February 2020

OECD key partner country.

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis in real time

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Brazilian Independent Fiscal Institution (IFI) has published several reports on the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, including its biannual update of medium-term macro-fiscal projections that was scheduled for May, but brought forward to April as it was of urgent interest to stakeholders. The IFI also published four briefing notes and two cost estimates of government policy announcements and hosted several webinars on the economic and fiscal impact of COVID‑19. The IFI is preparing additional cost estimates, a public database of the impact of all COVID‑19 measures on the government’s primary balance, as well as an updated fiscal report with revised projections for fiscal aggregates adopting new measures.

First COVID-19 case: 28 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis in real time

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Canadian PBO began its response two months following Canada’s first reported case with a blog post explaining the considerable fiscal room (essentially unlimited) for a temporary response to the COVID-19 crisis. It followed with an economic and fiscal scenario analysis to help parliamentarians gauge potential implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent oil market developments (updated regularly), and independent cost estimates of COVID-19 measures announced by the Government of Canada. Further, the office published the costs of proposed COVID-19 policy responses requested by non-governing parliamentarians (that is, opposition members or backbenchers). The PBO created a special section of its website for COVID-19 analysis.

The Canadian PBO also sounded alarm bells when the Government of Canada attempted to pass legislation while parliament was not sitting out of “an abundance of caution not to spread COVID-19” to grant itself broad powers over taxation and spending legislation that is constitutionally under the control of Parliament. The PBO, among others, raised awareness around these changes, helping to put pressure on the government to amend the legislation.

First COVID-19 case: 27 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

In response to a request from a member of the Assembly, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) took the initiative to prepare a report looking at hospital capacity in relation to COVID-19. It also dedicated the March edition of its regular unemployment statistics commentary to the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three and a half months following the first case (and on schedule with the usual financial cycle), the office released its complete economic and fiscal outlook with forecasts and scenario analysis capturing the impact of the pandemic. The FAO will release a detailed analysis of the government’s COVID‑19 spending announcements in the coming weeks.

First COVID-19 case: 27 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis in real time

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

The Autonomous Fiscal Council (AFC) published a report in March recognising that a flexible and countercyclical fiscal policy was required to respond to the pandemic, with a focus on the needs of the health system, relief to lower income households and employment protection. They have followed up with two reports on various economic and fiscal assessments of the crisis and have emphasised the need for a return to fiscal prudence over the medium term. They contest the size of the fiscal impact of some measures and asked the government for further details on their calculation.

First COVID-19 case: 04 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Czech Fiscal Council has released several research products on the pandemic, including summaries of fiscal measures, discussion of economic impacts and revenue impacts, and sensitivity analysis for fiscal aggregates. The Council also issued several statements calling for substantial fiscal policies to address the crisis, but also drawing attention to the manner in which the government suspended its national fiscal rules.

First COVID-19 case: 01 March 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

The Danish Economic Councils, in their additional role as Denmark’s National Productivity Board, published its annual Productivity report within a month of the first reported case. The report considered the impact of COVID-19 on a number of different economic outcomes. The Councils also published a detailed discussion of cost-benefit considerations when considering the magnitude of a fiscal response to COVID-19 within five weeks of the first case, as well as a detailed economic scenario analysis (containing one optimistic scenario and one pessimistic scenario) shortly thereafter, and related commentary by the Presidency of the Council. The Councils plan to update the scenarios in mid-June, which will be projections based on revised data for 2019. The Councils have also published several short posts on topics such as leveraging the crisis for a green transition and a discussion of how to reopen the economy.

First COVID-19 case: 27 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

The Fiscal Council of Estonia published a brief post outlining its assessment of the risks to the government’s spring outlook, finding that it was optimistic in its assumption that the economy would see a full recovery by 2021. The Council also highlighted downside risks to revenues from tax noncompliance and suggested that the government submit its long-term outlook by autumn at the latest. One of the mandatory publications of the Fiscal Council related to the government’s four-year targets set out for the structural balance may be postponed, as the government has delayed setting the targets until the third quarter of 2020. The Fiscal Council followed up with another statement reviewing the government’s performance over the previous year, finding that it did not abide by the fiscal rules. The Council has been unable to publish its annual report assessing the government’s medium-term budget strategy as it has been postponed until autumn due to uncertainty in the economic outlook.

First COVID-19 case: 27 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing note

The European Fiscal Board (EFB) released a statement on national and ECB action in response to the COVID-19 crisis on 23 March. It suggested the response would need to involve joint actions and intentions beyond any that had been announced and advocated a flexible interpretation of fiscal rules and that the general escape clause should be used to its full extent. It also recommended to begin thinking about the fiscal principles to be applied as the EU enters the recovery phase. The EFB pleaded to remember the lessons of the Global Financial Crisis and to allow enough flexibility in adjustment paths to accommodate growth-friendly national expenditure, taking advantage of low interest rates to pursue EU objectives such as the Green Deal and digitization. The Board is working on an extensive discussion of the general escape clause and the longer term policy implications of the pandemic that will be published in June.

First COVID-19 case: 22 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

The Independent Monitoring and Evaluation of Fiscal Policy Function of the National Audit Office of Finland has published assessments of the planning assumptions by the Ministry of Finance and activation of escape clauses related to the COVID-19 crisis. This was also presented to the parliamentary Finance Committee. Staff at the Independent Monitoring and Evaluation of Fiscal Policy Function have also issued four blog posts on the National Audit Office website about the economic impacts of the crisis and Government responses. Topics have included the impact of the pandemic on municipalities’ social and health care costs, the potential for the crisis to be the biggest economic disaster in Finland’s history, where fiscal policy should focus during the crisis, the activation of the escape clause of the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact and the need for further reform of the EU fiscal framework, and an overview of the crisis and implications for fiscal policy.

First COVID-19 case: 29 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

The Finnish Economic Policy Council (EPC) published its assessment of the medium-term budget plan and policy reactions to the COVID-19 crisis in May, after submitting their opinion to the Parliamentary Finance Committee. The assessment also presented an updated analysis of long-term fiscal sustainability. The EPC noted that national medium-term targets set by the government in 2019 were tied to normal global economic conditions and were currently unclear. They also recommended that adjustments to the fiscal framework would need to be made after the crisis and that the government should begin planning for them immediately.

First COVID-19 case: 29 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

The High Council of Public Finance (HCFP) issued a note on 17 March 2020, eight weeks following the first incidence of COVID-19 in France. The Council determined that the health crisis and its economic and financial consequences count as unusual events beyond the control of the government and fall within the scope of “exceptional circumstances” in Article 3 of the Treaty on the Stability, Coordination and Governance of Public Finances. In the same note, the HCFP commented that the government’s budget was based upon very optimistic assumptions of a one-month travel restriction and lock-down. On 09 April, the Government revised markedly its macroeconomic scenario (from -1% to -8% for GDP growth), but the HCFP in its updated opinion determined that the government’s assumption that there would be a relatively rapid return to normal activity beyond May 11 remained optimistic, noting that the forecast fall in activity could be greater if the assumption were not met.

First COVID-19 case: 24 January 2020

The Independent Advisory Board to the Stability Council is expected to provide a statement regarding compliance with the upper limit to the structural general government budget deficit at the regular meeting of the Stability Council in June 2020.

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Greece PBO published a detailed economic and fiscal forecast including the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and public finances, and the feedback of the government’s measures back to the economy. The report included a strong appeal for larger and more coordinated action at the EU level on financing and fiscal initiatives. They have also released an outturn analysis for economic and fiscal results for the first quarter of 2020 covering the impact of the pandemic.

First COVID-19 case: 26 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time (forthcoming)

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

The Hellenic Fiscal Council (HFC) has modelled two economic scenarios of the impact of wider Eurozone GDP declines on the Greek economy and issued a statement that the suspension of EU and national fiscal rules apply. The Council has also assessed but not yet published the budgetary impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and is adjusting forthcoming publications to account for macroeconomic and fiscal developments related to the crisis. The HFC plans to release its bi-annual report at the end of May, which will include macro and fiscal projections for 2020.

First COVID-19 case: 26 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

The Fiscal Council of Hungary posted a statement on the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis on 16 April 2020. The statement emphasized the considerable flexibility and room to manoeuvre created by a successful decade-long consolidation, and a budget reserve the government planned to tap. The Council was supportive of the government action and plan. It expressed concerns that external financing would be difficult and agreed on the government’s plan to rely on domestic financing. The Council reported that risks to fiscal outlook were to the downside. The statement acknowledged the suspension of national fiscal rules (though the government granted itself the suspension) and pointed to the EU’s activation of the general escape clause. The Council discussed the creation of three funds from repurposing existing funds, confirming that the action would not affect the budget balance. The Council will publish its opinion on the 2021 draft budget in the coming weeks.

First COVID-19 case: 04 March 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

The Icelandic Fiscal Council is awaiting activation and implementation of the escape clause for national fiscal rules for its monitoring activities. The Council has not prepared a report but has been called before the parliamentary Budget Committee for questions concerning economic scenarios.

First COVID-19 case: 28 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council published an endorsement letter of the government’s Stability Programme Update assumptions in April, noting the high level of uncertainty for the macroeconomic forecasts due to the crisis. The Council later released a detailed Fiscal Assessment Report on 27 May 2020 that included scenario analysis and discussions of debt and fiscal sustainability. The Acting Chair and Chief Executive have published op-eds related to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and fiscal policy choices going forward.

First COVID-19 case: 04 March 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

  • Costing emergency legislation

Ireland’s Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) produced over a dozen reports dealing with COVID-19 developments in the two months following its first case, beginning with a backgrounder on Ireland’s emergency response measures. The PBO has also costed measures to support unemployed workers, among others, and responds to costing queries from members. It is also assisting the new parliamentary committee on COVID-19.

First COVID-19 case: 29 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

    • Requests from committees and individual legislators

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Italian Parliamentary Budget Office (UPB) has published several documents, including a report recommending the suspension of EU fiscal rules, a substantial piece of analysis (the largest and deepest among all IFIs) on the economic and fiscal consequences of COVID-19 and the government’s emergency response to it, and an updated report on economic developments and forecasts related to the pandemic. Because of the uncertainty linked to the economic outlook, the UPB’s activities related to the endorsement process of the government's forecasts have been delayed. The UPB also participated in the hearings of parliamentary committees and responded to committee analytical requests.

First COVID-19 case: 30 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Costing emergency legislation

South Korea’s National Assembly Budget Office (NABO) has published economic forecasts that take into account the outbreak of COVID-19, analysis of the government’s first and second supplementary budget initiatives to tackle COVID-19, and has incorporated analysis of the public health crisis into its regular products. It has completed costs estimates and responded to requests from legislators, as well as devoting an edition of its Fiscal Trends & Issues publication to the pandemic.

First COVID-19 case: 20 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

Within two weeks of Latvia’s first reported case, the first meeting of the newly elected Fiscal Discipline Council was held, and a statement was published discussing the uncertainty surrounding the potential impact of COVID-19 on the Latvian economy. The Chair also undertook an interview in the media calling for a proactive fiscal response to the COVID-19 crisis. The Council has published a number of monitoring reports since then, and its assessment of the Stability Programme, which approved of the government’s response to the pandemic but called for a careful assessment of future plans. The Chair has been called to participate in a parliamentary committee meeting on the Stability Programme and will participate in discussion of a new regulatory framework for fiscal discipline.

First COVID-19 case: 02 March 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

The Budget Policy Monitoring Department (BPMD) assessed the government’s medium-term Economic and development plan and endorsed it, while citing significant uncertainty as the result of the COVID-19 crisis. The BPMD also submitted an opinion to Parliament that the unusual event complies with the definition of the term exceptional circumstances under Article 7(2) of the Constitutional Law on the Implementation of the Fiscal Treaty. It also published its assessment of Lithuania’s Stability Programme update for the European Commission.

First COVID-19 case: 28 February 2020

The National Council of Public Finances (CNFP) has not published analysis related to the COVID-19 crisis as of 06 May 2020 (the below is restricted to 2019 historical data as a result of COVID-19 uncertainty). The Council has limited its structural balance calculations and reporting on medium-term budgetary objectives to 2019 outturn data only.

First COVID-19 case: 29 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Requests from committees or individual legislators

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Center for Public Finance Studies (CEFP) has published some analysis on the COVID-19 crisis among its regular reports, as well as briefing notes on the actions of Mexico’s central banks, a compilation of macroeconomic indicators and private sector forecasts in the first quarter of 2020, and an assessment of the potential funds the government can access in its plan to fund pandemic measures by reallocating existing public trusts and funds.

First COVID-19 case: 28 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Netherlands CPB published a comprehensive economic and fiscal assessment of four scenarios of the possible impact of COVID-19. The scenarios modelled different assumptions for the duration of the physical contact restrictions and the severity of the economic impact.

First COVID-19 case: 27 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

On 15 April 2020, the Council of State (Raad van State, or RVS) sent a letter to the Minister of Finance and to Parliament explaining that it could not provide an assessment of compliance with European fiscal rules due to the uncertainties that surround the Stability Programme caused by the COVID-19 crisis, but that it has complied with the European Commission’s requirements and that the government’s actions in response to the crisis are prudent. The Council’s regular Spring Report was put on hold and technical briefings to both Chambers of Parliament were cancelled due to the lockdown.

First COVID-19 case: 27 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasting (forthcoming)

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis (forthcoming)

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

The Public Finance Council (CFP) has approached the crisis as an advocate of EU action, discussing the highly uncertain environment and supporting a common financing pool. The Council first issued a statement acknowledging the crisis within two weeks of Portugal’s first case, postponing its annual Economic and Fiscal outlook given the projections would be immediately out of date. The CFP also drew attention to the fact that the government did not comply with recent guidelines in the preparation of the Stability Programme, foremost because it did not include any macro or fiscal scenario analysis (and the CFP was therefore unable to perform its usual role in assessing them). The CFP has committed to publishing its Economic and Fiscal Outlook on 03 June 2020.

First COVID-19 case: 02 March 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasting in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

  • Monitoring activations and implementation of escape clauses

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Council for Budget Responsibility (CBR) has published two versions of analysis of the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economic and fiscal situation under various scenarios and assumptions. It also published a short assessment on the impact of fiscal measures on public finances and several blogs relating to the pandemic, including a call for a common European fiscal approach, potential techniques for test and trace and possible public health strategies to fight the pandemic. The Council also is one of the first to incorporate scenarios of the pandemic into formal long-run fiscal sustainability assessments and is now in the process of preparing an in-depth opinion on the fiscal measures introduced by the government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First COVID-19 case: 06 March 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis in real time

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Republic of Slovenia Fiscal Council has acted quickly in assessing government plans to confront the crisis and acted quickly to confirm that the pandemic qualifies as an unusual event under national fiscal rules. The Council has been complementary of the size of the government’s response, confirming that it is in line with the substantial measures being called for in the international community. However, in a subsequent assessment of the government’s medium-term framework, the Council found that the measures were less sizeable than official estimated by the government and described several underlying concerns that go beyond the temporary fiscal response to the pandemic.

First COVID-19 case: 04 March 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

  • Costing emergency measures

Spain’s Independent Authority for Fiscal Responsibility (AIReF) is closely following and assessing the impact of the COVID‑19 crisis and the fiscal measures put in place. It reviewed the potential suspension of EU and national fiscal rules and recommended that the government activate the escape clause and begin working on the mandatory Rebalancing Plan for the aftermath of the crisis. On 1 May 2020, AIReF released a statement endorsing the macroeconomic forecasts of the government’s Stability Programme Update, heavily caveating that it is doing so because of the flexibility the European Commission permitted in simplifying information requirements, drawing attention to shortcomings in the scenarios the government provided (or failed to provide). AIReF released its full report on 6 May 2020, which contained two macroeconomic scenarios and estimates of the possible cost of measures taken by the government and their effect on the budget as an independent check and for transparency. It also contained a fiscal and debt sustainability analysis and other briefing material related to the national and international implications of the crisis. The office has also conducted its own cost estimates in order to assess the government’s estimates of its fiscal response and has promoted transparency by publishing more disaggregated estimates of the measures.

First COVID-19 case: 31 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

The Swedish Fiscal Policy Council (FPC) addressed the COVID-19 crisis in its annual report on 13 May 2020. The report provides an overview and evaluation of measures to respond to the crisis, a forecast evaluation, and some commentary that the Finance Committee’s initiative to revise the budget for the current year was a “weakening of the budgetary process.” The FPC report would normally be subject to an open hearing in the Parliament's Finance Committee, but due to the pandemic all the Committee's public hearings during spring 2020 have been cancelled.

First COVID-19 case: 14 February 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Economic and fiscal scenario analysis

    • Assessments of government planning assumptions

  • Monitoring activation and implementation of escape clauses

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) released a suite of COVID-19 scenario analysis and commentary on 14 April 2020 focused on the impact of the economic disruption and the government’s policy response on public sector net borrowing and debt. The Office said it would be sensible to borrow more now and that the fiscal costs of inaction would be greater. It also costed some emergency measures under an illustrative scenario. It previously acknowledged the COVID-19 situation alongside two of its regular publications. The OBR’s Chairman presented the analysis in a webcast online and the Office has since added a policy monitoring database.

The OBR’s scenario analysis generated record-setting public interest, with their best performing social media statistics and over 10,000 downloads of the PDF.

First COVID-19 case: 31 January 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

  • Costing emergency legislation

On 23 April 2020, the Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) published its main report updating the Scottish Budget position. The Commission assessed the significant shift in UK and Scottish Government spending commitments since their last publication including spending associated with the COVID-19 response. The report also included commentary on the possible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and the Scottish Budget. In March, the Commission published a forecast for COVID‑19 relief provided for non-domestic rates taxation and in May the Commission published forecasts of the effects of two policy changes, one relating to certain housing market transactions and the second was a one-off payment to carers. The SFC had to delay forecasts following the postponement of the Scottish Government’s Medium Term Financial strategy, which was announced on the SFC website in a statement on 16 April 2020.

First COVID-19 case: 01 March 2020

  • Providing rapid analysis

    • Self-initiated briefing notes

    • Economic and fiscal forecasts in real time

    • Requests from committees or individual legislatures

  • Costing emergency legislation

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has published preliminary and updated projections of key economic and fiscal variables, presenting them to the House Committee on the Budget, and has responded to requests from Congress to cost the government’s emergency response legislation. Before publishing its projections in detail, it made its updated economic assumptions that underpin cost estimates transparent through a blog post. The CBO has collected materials related to COVID-19 in a special section of its website.

First COVID-19 case: 20 January 2020

Notes

← 1. A review of budgeting and public management responses in the OECD can be found in “Initial Budget and Public Management Responses to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic in OECD Countries”, (OEDC, forthcoming).

← 2. With few exceptions, fiscal rules in OECD countries contain escape clauses for exceptional circumstances such as severe recession or natural disasters.

← 3. Parliamentary Budget Officer (2020), “PBO’s estimate of federal fiscal room in Fiscal Sustainability Report 2020”, Canada, https://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/en/blog/news/pbo-estimate-federal-fiscal-room-in-fiscal-sustainability-report-2020--pbo-estimate-federal-fiscal-room-in-fiscal-sustainability-report-2020.

← 4. Czech Fiscal Council (2020), “Statement of the Czech Fiscal Council Concerning the Current Situation Related to the New Coronavirus Type Pandemic”, https://unrr.cz/en/statement-of-the-czech-fiscal-council-concerning-the-current-situation-related-to-the-new-coronavirus-type-pandemic/

← 7. National Post (23 March 2020) “COVID-19 bill would give Liberals power to raise taxes without parliamentary approval until end of 2021”, https://nationalpost.com/news/covid-19-bill-would-give-liberal-government-power-to-raise-taxes-without-parliamentary-approval-until-end-of-2021, accessed 29 April 2020.

← 8. European Fiscal Monitor Special Update (March 2020), https://www.euifis.eu/download/european_fiscal_monitor_special_update.pdf.

← 9. Some European countries report that under extraordinary temporary unemployment schemes, beneficiaries are not considered unemployed, for example.

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