To Amend or Not to Amend? That is the Question

Today EU leaders will discuss a very important proposal put forward by France and Germany. It’s all about fiscal supervision and bail-outs, and the question is whether an amendment of the Treaties is necessary or not. Germany insists that a credible system of fiscal monitoring needs a credible sanctioning mechanism in order to keep EU Member States’ spending in check. To do that, Germany proposes the introduction of new texts in the Treaties. In exchange Germany would support a permanent bail-out mechanism. But it turns out that many are opposed to this proposal.

A number of media (EUobserver, Euractiv, FT’s brusselsblog) report that a number of Member states are very critical of the proposal. Viviane Reding has called the plans “irresponsible” and has been immediately reprimanded by France’s State Secretary in charge of European affairs, Pierre Lellouche. But that’s another story.

The important debate here is not whether an amendment is achievable in the medium term (it will probably be put to referendum in Ireland and possibly the UK and Denmark). The conceptual shift in the coordination of economic governance is where interests of Member States diverge.

Germany wants to impose strict fiscal discipline on all eurozone members, including the possibility of removing a Member State’s voting rights. But many argue that such budget austerity may not be the solution to the problem. George Soros himself has compared the proposals to the 1930s, where some countries became overly focused on balancing budgets during a depression. Other go further and note that it is Greece, in fact, which is bailing out Germany – in the form of an annual trade deficit that has averaged 5 billion euros, stimulating German jobs but destroying them in Greece. That is why many economists advocate for measures to stimulate demand in trade surplus countries – Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, etc.

Axel Weber, president of the German national bank, disagrees. He says that the proposal of raising wages to support domestic demand and reduce competitiveness neglects that wages are not a political control variable. Moreover, according to him simulation studies show that the effects would be confined almost entirely to the home economy in the form of changes in employment.

So who’s got it right? I’m not sure, and I am (thankfully) not an economist. But the German position will not be easy to defend unless it addresses the concerns about German policies that stimulate the aggregation of a trade surplus.

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