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The size and composition of government debt in the euro area


  • Lojsch, Dagmar Hartwig
  • Rodríguez-Vives, Marta
  • Slavík, Michal


This paper explains the various concepts of government debt in the euro area with particular emphasis on its size and composition. In terms of size, the paper focuses on different definitions that are in use, in particular the concept of gross general government debt used in the surveillance of the euro area countries, the total liabilities from the government balance sheet approach, and the net debt concept which subtracts government fi nancial assets from the liability side. In addition, it discusses “hidden debt” in the form of implicit and contingent liabilities. In terms of composition, the paper provides information about euro area government debt broken down by maturity, holder or the currency of issue. All these indicators illustrate a sharp increase in government debt in most euro area countries as a result of the crisis. This in turn has several policy implications: (i) the growing government debt ratios need to be stabilised and put on a downward path which improves market confidence; (ii) fiscal surveillance needs to put more emphasis on government debt indicators than in the past; (iii) government financial assets could play a role when analysing solvency issues; (iv) implicit and other off-balance-sheet government liabilities need to be carefully monitored and reported; (v) the gross debt concept should remain the key basis for fiscal surveillance in the EU and for the Excessive Deficit Procedure in particular; (vi) beyond the size of government debt its composition is also a key factor behind public finance vulnerabilities. JEL Classification: E31, E58, F41, P24

Suggested Citation

  • Lojsch, Dagmar Hartwig & Rodríguez-Vives, Marta & Slavík, Michal, 2011. "The size and composition of government debt in the euro area," Occasional Paper Series 132, European Central Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecb:ecbops:20110132

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mathias Trabandt & Harald Uhlig, 2006. "How Far Are We From The Slippery Slope? The Laffer Curve Revisited," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2006-023, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
    2. Wolswijk, Guido & de Haan, Jakob, 2005. "Government debt management in the euro area - recent theoretical developments and changes in practices," Occasional Paper Series 25, European Central Bank.
    3. von Hagen, Jürgen & Schuknecht, Ludger & Wolswijk, Guido, 2011. "Government bond risk premiums in the EU revisited: The impact of the financial crisis," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 36-43, March.
    4. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2011. "The Forgotten History of Domestic Debt," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 121(552), pages 319-350, May.
    5. van Riet, Ad, 2010. "Euro area fiscal policies and the crisis," Occasional Paper Series 109, European Central Bank.
    6. International Monetary Fund, 2010. "Some Uncomfortable Arithmetic Regarding Europe’s Public Finances," IMF Working Papers 10/177, International Monetary Fund.
    7. Carmen M. Reinhart, 2010. "This Time is Different Chartbook: Country Histories on Debt, Default, and Financial Crises," NBER Working Papers 15815, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Milesi-Ferretti, Gian Maria & Moriyama, Kenji, 2006. "Fiscal adjustment in EU countries: A balance sheet approach," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 30(12), pages 3281-3298, December.
    9. Trabandt, Mathias & Uhlig, Harald, 2011. "The Laffer curve revisited," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(4), pages 305-327.
    10. Guido Wolswijk & Jakob de Haan, 2005. "Government debt management in the euro area - recent theoretical developments and changes in practices," Occasional Paper Series 25, European Central Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Balli, Faruk & Basher, Syed Abul & Balli, Hatice Ozer, 2013. "International income risk-sharing and the global financial crisis of 2008–2009," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 37(7), pages 2303-2313.
    2. Enrique Mendoza, 2017. "Optimal Domestic (and External) Sovereign Default," 2017 Meeting Papers 279, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    3. David Lodge & Marta Rodriguez-Vives, 2013. "How long can austerity persist? The factors that sustain fiscal consolidations," European Journal of Government and Economics, Europa Grande, vol. 2(1), pages 5-24, June.
    4. Niklas Potrafke & Markus Reischmann, 2013. "Explosive Target Balances," CESifo Working Paper Series 4297, CESifo Group Munich.
    5. Tomislav GLOBAN & Marina MATOŠEC, 2016. "Public Debt-to-GDP Ratio in New EU Member States: Cut the Numerator or Increase the Denominator?," Journal for Economic Forecasting, Institute for Economic Forecasting, vol. 0(3), pages 57-72, September.
    6. Tielens, J. & van Aarle, B. & Van Hove, J., 2014. "Effects of Eurobonds: A stochastic sovereign debt sustainability analysis for Portugal, Ireland and Greece," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 156-173.
    7. Paiardini, Paola, 2015. "Informed trading in parallel bond markets," Journal of Financial Markets, Elsevier, vol. 26(C), pages 103-121.
    8. Equiza-Goñi, Juan, 2016. "Government debt maturity and debt dynamics in euro area countries," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 292-311.
    9. Pablo D'Erasmo & Enrique G. Mendoza, 2016. "Optimal Domestic (and External) Sovereign Default," NBER Working Papers 22509, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Federico Revelli, 2012. "Business taxation and economic performance in hierarchical government structures," Working Papers 2012/12, Institut d'Economia de Barcelona (IEB).
    11. repec:kap:openec:v:28:y:2017:i:5:d:10.1007_s11079-017-9460-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Aysan, Ahmet Faruk & Ermişoğlu, Ergun, 2013. "Eurozone Debt Crisis and its Effects on Turkish Economy," MPRA Paper 50501, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Potrafke, Niklas & Reischmann, Markus, 2014. "Explosive Target balances of the German Bundesbank," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 439-444.
    14. Christophe Van Nieuwenhuyze, 2013. "Debt, assets and imbalances in the euro area. An aggregate view," Revue de l'OFCE, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 0(1), pages 123-152.
    15. Giuliana Birindelli & Paola Ferretti & Marco Savioli, 2016. "Basel 3: Does One Size Really Fit All Banks' Business Models?," Working Paper series 16-20, Rimini Centre for Economic Analysis.
    16. Andre Diniz & Bernardo Guimaraes, 2014. "Financial disruption as a cost of soverign default: a quantative assessment," Discussion Papers 1427, Centre for Macroeconomics (CFM).
    17. Juan Equiza Goni, 2014. "Sovereign Debt Maturity and Debt-to GDP Dynamics in Six Euro Area Countries," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2014-44, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.

    More about this item


    Fiscal policies; government debt; Stability and Growth Pact.; sustainability;

    JEL classification:

    • E31 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Price Level; Inflation; Deflation
    • E58 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Central Banks and Their Policies
    • F41 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance - - - Open Economy Macroeconomics
    • P24 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies - - - National Income, Product, and Expenditure; Money; Inflation

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