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Limited progress has been made by non-euro area EU countries on economic convergence with the euro area since 2020, the June 2022 Convergence Report of the European Central Bank (ECB) concludes. This is mainly due to challenging economic conditions.

The report, which is issued every two years, assesses progress towards euro adoption by seven EU countries that have not yet adopted the euro: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

The report includes a more in-depth assessment of Croatia, which has announced its intention to adopt the euro on 1 January 2023. Bulgaria and Croatia both joined the exchange rate mechanism (ERM II) and the banking union on 10 July 2020.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis led to a significant drop in economic activity in 2020, from which all countries under review rebounded strongly. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has weighed on growth, and inflation has increased in all the countries assessed. However, it is too early to draw any firm conclusions about how the convergence paths will be affected. The forward-looking convergence assessment is surrounded by high uncertainty, and the full impact can only be evaluated ex post.

As regards the price stability criterion, only Croatia and Sweden recorded inflation rates below or well below the reference value of 4.9%. This reference rate is based on the average inflation figures recorded in the three best-performing countries over the last 12 months – Finland, France and Greece (after exclusion of the outliers: Malta and Portugal). In the five other countries assessed – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania – inflation rates were well above the reference value over the last 12 months, as was also the case in the 2020 Convergence Report.

On the fiscal criteria, at the time of the publication of the report, only Romania is subject to an excessive deficit procedure (launched in April 2020). Although three further countries under review – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary – exceeded the 3% of GDP deficit reference value in 2021, no new excessive deficit procedures were opened.

After a sharp increase in 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, budget deficits remained elevated in all countries in 2021 except Sweden. Compared with 2020, budget balances improved in all the countries under review in 2021 except Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. According to the European Commission’s Spring 2022 Economic Forecast, the deficit-to-GDP ratio is expected to decline in most of the countries in 2022 and 2023. Nonetheless, it is expected to exceed the reference value in 2023 in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

The government debt-to-GDP ratio was between 20% and 40% in Bulgaria and Sweden in 2021 and reached between 40% and 60% in the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania, while the debt ratios in Croatia and Hungary were above the 60% reference value.

In 2022 and 2023 government debt ratios are expected to decline in four of the countries as a result of both the improvement in economic activity and the phasing-out of fiscal measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while budget balances are expected to be burdened by new measures taken in response to high energy prices and the Russia-Ukraine war.

As regards the exchange rate criterion, the Bulgarian lev and the Croatian kuna participated in ERM II for most of the two-year reference period from 26 May 2020 to 25 May 2022, at central rates of 1.95583 levs per euro and 7.53450 kuna per euro respectively. The exchange rate of the Croatian kuna displayed a low degree of volatility and traded close to its central rate. The Bulgarian lev did not deviate from its central rate. Except for the Romanian leu, the exchange rates of the currencies not participating in ERM II showed a relatively high degree of volatility.

When considering the convergence of long-term interest rates, the lowest 12-month average long-term interest rates were recorded in Bulgaria, Croatia and Sweden. At 2.5%, the Czech Republic was just below the reference value of 2.6%. Two of the countries under review – Hungary and Poland – recorded 12-month average long-term interest rates above the reference value, while in Romania the 12-month average long-term interest rate was well above the reference value.

The strength of the institutional environment is an important factor in the sustainability of convergence over time. Except in Sweden, the quality of institutions and governance in the countries under review is relatively weak. When it comes to legal convergence, Croatia is the only country examined where the legal framework is fully compatible with the requirements for adoption of the euro under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank (Statute of the ESCB).