European unemployment insurance


By Léo Aparisi de Lannoy and Xavier Ragot

The return of growth cannot eradicate the memory of how the crisis was mismanaged at the European level economically, but also socially and politically. The divergences between euro area countries in unemployment rates, current account balances and public debts are at levels unprecedented for decades. New steps in European governance must aim for greater economic efficiency in reducing unemployment and inequalities while explaining and justifying the financial and political importance of these measures in order to render them compatible with national policy choices. The establishment of a European unemployment insurance meets these criteria.

The idea of a European mechanism for unemployment compensation is an old idea dating back to at least 1975. The idea is now being extensively debated in Europe, with proposals from Italian and French economists and policymakers and studies conducted by German institutes, with the latest OFCE Policy Brief offering a summary. The possibility is even being mentioned in communications from the European Commission. The Policy Brief describes the European debates, as well as the system in place in the United States.

The European unemployment insurance mechanism presented in this note aims to finance the unemployment benefits of countries experiencing a severe recession and draws on the US experience to do this. A programme like this would constitute a second European level, supplementing the different national levels of unemployment insurance. It would help provide the unemployed support in countries hit by a deep recession, which would also contribute to sustaining aggregate demand and activity while reducing inequality in the recipient countries. It is also consistent with a reduction in the public debt. This mechanism would not lead to permanent transfers to countries that are not carrying out reform, nor to unfair competition or the transfer of political powers that are now covered by subsidiarity. As in the case of the United States, it is consistent with the heterogeneous character of national systems.

To give an order of magnitude, an insurance system that is balanced over the European economic cycle and involves no permanent transfers between countries would have boosted growth in Spain by 1.6% of GDP at the peak of the crisis, while Germany would have received European aid from 1996 to 1998 and from 2003 to 2005. France would have experienced a GDP increase of 0.8% in 2013 thanks to such a system, as shown by the simulations conducted by the European teams.

For the complete study, see: Policy Brief de l’OFCE, no. 28, 30 November 2017.


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