Open Europe Blog

EU hit with downgrade

While the spate of EU downgrades has slowed to a relative drip feed this year, it turns out there was at least one left in the locker – the EU, which Standard and Poor’s (S&P) this morning cut from AAA to AA+.

Many may ask, does the EU even have its own credit rating? And if so why? The answer is, of course it does, although why is a bit more ambiguous. It relates mostly to the rating of the EU budget and any bodies which borrow with EU guarantees. This includes the European Financial Stability Mechanism, the smaller €60bn bailout fund which is backed by the EU budget.

The move is largely symbolic but the reasoning behind it is interesting if a bit strange in places:

  • The first couple of points are obvious: the on-going financial and political instability in some states has led to the downgrade. This is par for the course in terms of ratings.
  • It’s also obvious that the EU rating would be reflective of the ratings of its largest members, some of which have seen downgrades over the past year.
  • However, it then gets a bit odd. S&P cites the EU budget negotiations, which were admittedly tricky and divisive, as an example of declining support for the EU. Firstly, the budget negotiations are always difficult but were eventually concluded and were pretty much wrapped up early this year. It’s also a bit strange given that the budget cannot run a deficit and countries are obliged to contribute – it’s not clear exactly how this relates to a credit rating issue.
  • The final point S&P raised was the issue of ‘Brexit’ and how the UK referendum could create uncertainty. Again this is some time away so the timing of the decision seems strange. Nevertheless, it does drive home an interesting point, in that S&P believe the EU would be less creditworthy without the UK. Something for members to ponder as the push for reform begins to get underway properly.

In any case, the main impact is likely to be symbolic. S&P have choice timing delivering the news on the same day when there was much backslapping and congratulations over reaching a deal on the banking union.

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