This is a danger little known to the taxpayer. Off-balance sheet commitments of the State, the obligations of public funding, in a more or less long term, would be skidding for several years, without that, we have warned the French. According to economist Jean-Yves Archer, recently authored an op-ed in Echoes , they amounted now to about 4300 billion euros at 31 December 2018, or more than 130 billion euros, compared to 2017, and four times more than in 2005. A sum which approach of the... double the public debt in the sense of Maastricht (2315,3 billion euros at the end of 2018)! These are the figures that leap Nathalie Goulet, senator (UDI) of the Orne river. For the one who is the special rapporteur of the mission "financial obligations of the State", the danger is real for the public budget, especially in case of economic crisis.
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off-balance sheet debt concerns in several areas. First, the social security accounts of the nation: the State guarantees the long-term payment of the pensions of the public service, and that is its commitment to the heavier (2287 billion euros). It also commits on various subsidies to special schemes of retirement, or to provide aid in the areas of housing, disability or dependence. On the economic front, the off-balance sheet liabilities are the debts guaranteed by the State, or the guarantees relating to general interest missions (support to the export or passbooks regulated...). Finally, the State may have to incur expenses in case of an extraordinary event, such as actions of de-pollution, or nuclear disaster.
Nathalie Goulet, senator (UDI) of the Orne, and special rapporteur of the mission "financial obligations of the State".
LE FIGARO. - Why such a concern about off-balance sheet commitments of France?
Nathalie Goulet.- The risk of disturbing the sleep of the drives in the summer period, which is also that of preparation of finance laws and social security financing, and budget trade-offs, it is perhaps not useless to draw the alarm bell on off-balance sheet commitments of the State. It is an ancient practice, but since the minister of public Accounts has said and wants to act for more sincerity in the last budget, let's put the cards on the table. We are not talking about a few millions but of thousands of billion. It is a time bomb for the budget of France. It is not illegitimate to think that they are investors in the French which are a surety for the whole of the French debt, explicit and implicit. The main problem comes from the lack of public information on these commitments: at the request of the Senate in 2013, the Court of accounts had issued a report on off-balance sheet commitments, in which it signaled not only their continuous increase, but also an imperfect census of the guarantees against third parties, the State, or for the regions and the local public authorities. It is not acceptable that the situation continues, several years after, on a subject so serious.
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The minister of public Accounts does not bear the responsibility of only the accounts of the State, but also those of all public administrations. However, the Court of Auditors had insisted on the need to consolidate all the information available in the census and accounting of off-balance sheet commitments. Six years later, this is still not done! Why? Without consolidation of all sectors of the public administrations, there is no reliable financial information, or global assessment is possible on the financial risks incurred by the French. A question deserves to be asked: do these information exist in the secret of the Treasury department that the hide of Parliament? Sometimes the work of parliament is akin to a race to the bottom, where the art of repetition is a requirement. So let us repeat once again that this document is essential.
Currently, what are the most significant risks for the public finances?
These are not the swords of Damocles that are missing. But the current economic climate is increasingly unstable, and the State is not prepared for an economic crisis of magnitude. The event is the most worrisome would be a rise in interest rates : what will happen if the financing of our public debt becomes much more expensive than it currently is? A one-point increase would have on the French debt an accumulated cost of $ 35 billion after only five years. It will be remembered that the rise in interest rates by the Fed in 2006, 4.5% against 1% in 2003, and has been a trigger of the 2008 crisis. The same causes producing the same effects...
The ECB itself is very concerned about the slowdown of the economy, the weakness of inflation, or even deflation in some countries. Gold in the event of a crisis, not only the interest rate of our debt would explode, but our commitments under the european solidarity vis-à-vis other countries we suppress it permanently. We live under an anaesthetic, since the additional debt costs nothing today, while the crisis feared did happen we would be buried under the mountain of debt accumulated. Then, the State might have to face huge expenses in supporting the banks that find themselves in difficulty. Let us remember the case of Dexia, the bank that the State was able to recapitalise to the tune of 2.6 billion euros in 2011 during the economic crisis. In addition to the money spent at the time, the French State guarantees in certain of its accounts: the total amount outstanding amounted to 30 billion euros at December 31, 2018. Evidence that the occurrence of a risk "bonded" is not a fantasy.
In addition, this guarantee for Dexia is cited in the general account public, but it is far from being the case of all commitments: in its report on the certification of the accounts, the Court of auditors recalls that the explicit commitment made by the State in favour of Bpifrance of nearly € 30 billion is still not mentioned, increasing the amount of off-balance sheet commitments of the State of 69.8 billion euros. How risks of this kind are not officially listed? Is there a consolidated list?
Why such an apathy on the part of the concerned departments?
Assess the risks related to the public order, intervention or off-balance sheet commitments can only be done on the inter-ministerial plan. It should be therefore, as often a desire for transparency, with more involvement of the Parliament, perhaps with a single document annexed to the budget? The transparency and sincerity have been affirmed in the law (LOLF), but they are not yet entries in the values of our governments financial who maintain the myth of their autonomy, so that our accounts, our balance sheet and our off-balance-sheet items should be aggregated. A single document should be annexed to the budget of France, which is not an addition to governments, but a people and a territory.
The administration takes the problem seriously enough?
The answer is clearly: no! Or if she takes it seriously, she hides, because it seems impossible to obtain aggregated information. Otherwise why the Court of auditors would continue to claim it? All the documents are prepared by separate areas, and it is impossible for Parliament to perform the aggregation itself as these sectors have flow and financial commitments crusaders who require the restatement of accounting. This situation is very stressful because it is legitimate to ask whether there is an administration, which has a consolidated view. If this is not the case, we do not respect the Constitution, which provides that "the accounts of public administrations are regular and sincere. They give a faithful image of the result of their management, their heritage and their financial situation". More transparency would allow to anticipate the occurrence of risks, what would any private company or household careful who knows that his bank account is already showing a deficit abyss. The problem comes from the attitude of the State. Our country is staffed by specialists outstanding that have not ceased to warn, preaching in the wilderness. The Court of auditors and the Senate alert in vain on these off-balance sheet commitments, the increase of their amount, the uncertainties that they impose on the management of our public finances, the lack of reliability of the census or the lack of information given to Parliament. But nothing, this management acrobatics without a net is continuing ; since no punishment occurs, continue to sin...
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This makes me think of the attitude of the administration vis-à-vis the fight against social fraud : the Court of auditors shall each year in the indifference of the reserves on the financial statements, and considers in particular that one of the priority areas of improvement is the increased efficiency of the devices of fight against the fraud. And yet, if there is little progress and often will display quite far from the reality. This is not a coincidence and this is a real evidence of political will if the prime minister, the minister of public Accounts and the Health care we have entrusted to the member LREM Carole Grandjean and myself a mission to the fraud to social benefits, to put an end to a taboo that should be identified to better fight it. For this finance bill which is to come, and on the off-balance sheet commitments and out of the sight, said Jean Arthuis, the deficit annihilates our freedom. If the constitutional reform is still present, it will be more urgent to insert the famous golden rule of presentation of a balanced budget, as advocated by the father of the LOLF, Alain Lambert, and rejected narrowly by the Senate in the 2008 reform.
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