Towards a better governance in the EU?

By Catherine Mathieu and Henri Sterdyniak

The 10th EUROFRAME Conference on economic policy issues in the European Union was held on 24 May 2013 in Warsaw on the topic, “Towards a better governance in the EU?” Revised versions of twelve of the papers presented at the Conference are included in issue 132 of the “Debates and Policies” collection of the Revue de l’OFCE entitled “Towards a better governance in the EU?“. The papers are organized around four themes: fiscal governance, analysis of fiscal policy, bank governance, and macroeconomic issues.

The global financial crisis of 2007 and the sovereign debt crisis in the euro area that begin in 2009 have highlighted shortcomings in EU governance. The intense debate that has been going on among economists over how to analyze these shortcomings and proposals for improved governance also marked the EUROFRAME Conference.

How can the Economic and Monetary Union be strengthened between countries that are still fundamentally different? How can we get out of the financial and economic crisis, the sovereign debt crisis, fiscal austerity and depression? Is it possible to develop a governance of the euro area that ensures the strength of the single currency, that avoids widening the disparities between Member States, and that gives the Members the flexibility needed, while forbidding non-cooperative policies, whether that means the excessive pursuit of competitiveness and trade surpluses or the irresponsible swelling of their public or foreign debt?

The articles in this issue provide readers with various viewpoints on possible pathways that Europe could take:

–           Some authors think that we should stick to the original Treaty, abolish solidarity mechanisms, prohibit the Central Bank from buying the debt of member countries, and make it compulsory for them to find financing on the financial markets, which, stung by the Greek experience, will now be more vigilant and impose risk premiums on countries they consider lax. But is this compatible with the single currency? Are the markets really competent in macroeconomic matters? And will the euro zone members accept being reduced to the rank of countries without monetary sovereignty, whose public debt is considered risky and who do not control their interest rates?

–           Other authors believe that we should gradually move towards a federal Europe, where the European authorities would be responsible for the fiscal policy of each MemberState; this would need to be accompanied by a democratization of EU institutions, perhaps including even some form of political union. But can there be centralized management of countries in different economic circumstances with different economic and social structures, and which thus need differentiated strategies? Isn’t the euro zone just too heterogeneous for this? Would every country agree to submit its social and economic choices to European trade-offs?

–           Other authors believe that such heterogeneous countries cannot share a single currency; that the Northern countries will refuse to give an unconditional guarantee of public debt, even though this is a prerequisite for maintaining the euro zone’s unity; that Europe is incapable of organizing a common but differentiated strategy; and that the differentials accumulated in terms of competitiveness require large exchange rate adjustments in Europe. Exchange rates need to be allowed to reflect the Members’ different situations, i.e. sharp exchange rate falls in the Southern countries, and sharp rises in the Northern countries, by returning to the European Monetary System, or even to flexible exchange rates. Each country would then have to face up to its responsibilities: the Northern countries will have to boost domestic demand, while the Southern ones will have to use their gains in competitiveness to rebuild their export sectors. But no country is demanding this leap into the unknown – the financial consequences could be terrible.

–           Finally, some authors, including ourselves, believe that public debts should once again be risk-free assets, guaranteed by the ECB, as part of a process of genuine coordination of economic policy by the Member States, while explicitly targeting full employment and the coordinated reduction of imbalances in the zone. But isn’t such coordination a myth? Is a country going to agree to change its economic policy objectives to help the situation of its partners? Don’t the European countries today mistrust each other too much to agree to guarantee the public debt of their partners?

These are the questions addressed in this issue, which, as the European elections draw near, we hope will make a useful contribution to the debate on EU governance.

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[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).

[2] This issue is published in English.

 

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