Budget: The secret of 3% finally revealed

28 September 2012
Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien

Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien, 28 September 2012

At a time when the countries of the Eurozone are presenting austerity budgets to ensure that public spending deficits do not exceed the 3% of GDP ceiling required for the single currency, Aujourd’hui en France reveals “the incredible story of the birth” of this limit. The daily has found “the man who, at the request of [former French president] François Mitterrand, hastily came up with the emblematic figure.”

Guy Abeille, age 62, a former senior Budget Ministry official and “the inventor of the concept, endlessly repeated by all governments whether of the right or the left, that the public deficit should not exceed 3% of the national wealth,” told the newspaper

We came up with the 3% figure in less than an hour. It was a back of an envelope calculation, without any theoretical reflection. Mitterrand needed an easy rule that he could deploy in his discussions with ministers who kept coming into his office to demand money. [...] We needed something simple. 3%? It was a good number that had stood the test of time, somewhat reminiscent of the Trinity.

The daily remarks on the strange character of this anecdote: “In an irony of history, the technocrats in Brussels drew on the legendary 3% for inspiration when creating another rule [stipulated by the new Fiscal Compact], just as factitiously Cartesian, which obliges states to limit their structural deficits to 0.5%. Why not 1% or 2% ? No one really knows.”