Fiscal rules specify quantitative targets for key budgetary aggregates. In this paper, we review the experience with such rules in Japan and in the European Union (EU). Comparing the performance of fiscal policy in the 1980s and 1990s until 2003, we find that the fiscal rule of the 1980s exerted some but not much disciplinary influence on Japanese fiscal policy. The fiscal rule of the Maastricht Treaty had a significant impact on political budget cycles in the EU, but did little to constrain fiscal policy in the large member states. Since the start of European Monetary Union, the disciplinary effect of the fiscal rule in the EU has vanished. Next, we discuss the importance of budgetary institutions for the effectiveness of fiscal rules. In Europe, a number of countries adopted strong fiscal rules, that is, a fiscal rule combined with a design of the budget process enabling governments to commit to the rule. We find that strong fiscal rules have been effective. We conclude with some suggestions for the design of a strong fiscal rule in Japan.
Keywords: Fiscal policy; Political budget cycles; Government budgeting
Views expressed in the paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Bank of Japan or Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies.