Whoever wins the election must make sorting out the public finances the top priority, the European commission warned on the eve of the poll, as it predicted the British budget deficit would swell this year to become the biggest in the European Union, overtaking even Greece.
The commission's spring economic forecasts put the UK deficit for this calendar year at 12% of GDP, the highest of all 27 EU nations and worse than the Treasury's own forecasts.
The country's budget shortfall was the third largest in the EU last year but will overtake both Greece and Ireland this year, according to the forecasts. Greece's measures to tackle its public finances problems are projected to cut its deficit to 9.3% of GDP.
Worries about Britain's public finances – in their worst state since the end of the second world war – continue to unnerve financial markets and analysts are divided over whether a hung parliament will have the clout to rapidly reduce the deficit.
"The first thing for the new government to do is to agree on a convincing, ambitious programme of fiscal consolidation in order to start to reduce the very high deficit and stabilise the high debt level of the UK," said European economic and monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn.
"That's by far the first and foremost challenge of the new government. I trust whatever the colour of the government, I hope it will take this measure."
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New York Times