The Old New Idea for a Political Union – Misunderstood?

The Greek financial crisis now threatens the whole eurozone. It appears that without substantial debt restructuring Greece is likely to default, and would have to leave the eurozone. This could lead, however, to substantial collateral damage and unintended effects for the whole European banking and financial system. The other option is a very large fiscal transfer from the eurozone core. This second option will lead donor Member States to demand substantial political guarantees for fiscal discipline in Greece and other possible recipients (i.e. Ireland and Portugal).

It looks like the crisis has brought back the idea for a true European political union on the table. The president of the ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet, himself has called for the establishment of a European financial minister.

Now, the idea is not really new. Back in the 1950s there was such a project, called the European Political Community (EPC) that aimed to politically unite the Member States in the European Economic Community (read more about it in the excellent paper by Berthold Rittberger). The main institutional innovation in the EPC was the central role of the bicameral parliamentary body in adopting the budget and the legislation. The EPC project failed, but some of its ideas were later implemented by including the European Parliament in the legislative and budgetary procedures.

Going back to Mr. Trichet’s ideas, we see something completely different. In his framework, the Council would act on the basis of a proposal by the Commission, in liaison with the ECB, to take some measures directly affecting the economy of the Member State that has not implemented its fiscal stability program. There is no role for the European Parliament whatsoever. Apparently Mr. Trichet believes that the very agreement on a stability program is substantial legitimation for a direct involvement in the economic and fiscal policies of a Member State by the Council.

This is quite doubtful. It’s very difficult to imagine how the same people that violently oppose to austerity measures taken by their democratically elected governments will somehow accept direct interference by an institution of the European Union. It’s equally difficult to imagine that the European Parliament will approve such an institutional framework. I can certainly understand the reasonable motives for proposing such a second stage of austerity enforcement, but I’m afraid that such a procedure will decisively worsen the democratic deficit of the European Union.

If and when the governments of the Member States decide that a more profound Treaty revision is needed for establishing tighter fiscal coordination, they will have to consult their national parliaments and the European Parliament. Such consultations are in fact inevitable, since TEU requires the summoning of a Convention to adopt the draft text of the revision (art. 48, para. 2-5 TEU).



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