Is the euro crisis over?

By Catherine Mathieu and Henri Sterdyniak

As of early 2013, it is possible to make two contrasting assessments of the crisis. On the one hand, the euro has survived. Europe’s institutions and Member states have of course been slow and hesitant to react, and their reluctance has often fueled speculation. But its institutions have gradually managed to develop solidarity mechanisms, such as the European Financial Stability Facility and then the European Stability Mechanism, and they were able to impose strong fiscal discipline on Member states (strengthening the Stability and Growth Pact, adjustment programs, fiscal treaty).

The Member states have agreed to implement austerity policies and structural reforms. From the beginning of the crisis, the European Central Bank was willing to put in place unconventional policies, and it has supported the public debt of countries in difficulty by intervening in the secondary markets. It then undertook to commit unlimited resources to support countries in trouble that implemented satisfactory policies, which helped to reassure the financial markets and to lower risk premiums.

On the other hand, the euro zone has been unable to regain a satisfactory level of growth or to recover the 9 points of activity lost to the crisis. The Member states have been forced to implement austerity policies during a recession. According to the outlook of the Commission itself, the unemployment rate is expected to stay at about 11.8% in 2013. Imbalances between countries persist, even if they are somewhat mitigated by the deep depression that has engulfed the countries of southern Europe. The rigid standards that have been imposed on the Member states, with no real economic foundation, cannot replace the genuine coordination of economic policies. The solidarity mechanisms implemented are conditional on the loss of any autonomy and the introduction of drastic austerity policies. In the future, national policies will be paralyzed by European constraints and by the threats of the financial markets. Social Europe is not making progress, and, even worse, Europe is requiring countries in difficulty to call into question universal health care and to cut pension, unemployment and family benefits. Tax competition is continuing, and the crisis has not been seen as a time to challenge tax havens and tax evasion. While Europe is at the forefront of the fight against climate change, it is hesitating to make a robust commitment to the ecological transition. Although many countries in the area are suffering from continuing deindustrialization, no industrial policy has been implemented. A banking union will be established, but its content is not being democratically decided. The European authorities are persisting in a strategy – paralyzing national policies and imposing free market structural reforms – which has so far failed to boost growth and has made Europe unpopular. Europe is sorely lacking a socially unifying project, an economic strategy and a means of functioning democratically.

 

* Issue 127 of the “Debates et Politics” collection of the Revue de l’OFCE, which appeared in January, contains analyses that provide contrasting insights into the origins of the euro zone crisis and into strategies for resolving the crisis. This issue brings together twelve papers following the 9th EUROFRAME conference [1] in June 2012 on issues concerning the European Union’s economic policy.


[1] EUROFRAME is a network of European economic institutes, which includes: the DIW and IFW (Germany), WIFO (Austria), ETLA (Finland), OFCE (France), ESRI (Ireland), PROMETEIA (Italy), CPB (Netherlands), CASE (Poland) and NIESR (United Kingdom).

 

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