Category Archives: Budget and Finance

Dissecting the New Franco-German Proposal for the Eurozone

The German chancellor Merkel and the French president Sarkozy met yesterday and produced this document outlining their new proposal for the reform of the eurozone economic governance. The main points are:

  • Regular meetings of the eurozone heads of state and government twice a year;
  • President of the eurozone coinciding with the president of the European Council;
  • Reinforcing the powers of the eurogroup of finance ministers (whatever that means);
  • All Member States of the euro area to incorporate a balanced budget fiscal rule into their national legislation by the summer of 2012;
  • All Member States of the euro area should confirm without delay their resolve to swiftly implement the European recommendations for fiscal consolidation and structural reforms;
  • Finalizing the negotiation on the Commission’s proposal on “a common consolidated corporate tax base” before the end of 2012;
  • Macro-economic conditionality of the Cohesion fund should be extended to the structural funds;
  • Joint Franco-German proposal on a Financial Transaction Tax by the end of September 2011.

So how to interpret this proposal? I will divide my analysis in two parts: 1. Efficiency to solve the urgent problems of the eurozone and 2. Long-term institutional considerations.

1. Efficiency to solve the urgent problems of the eurozone

This proposal will not solve the urgent problems of the eurozone. It is far from what is necessary to calm the markets and will not help neither the ECB, nor Italy and Spain. While Merkel and Sarkozy did touch upon the creation of a eurozone bond as a distant possibility, they did not make a positive step in this direction. This happens while many experts claim that only two options remain open – the creation of a eurozone bond or the breakup of the eurozone. I firmly believe that a eurozone breakup will be a huge blow to the whole world economy, and some research supports this view. That is why any further dodging of this issue will only add to the damage to the eurozone economy.

2. Long-term institutional considerations

Looking carefully at the Franco-German proposal, there is nothing really new that is being added to the Pact for the Euro. The common consolidated corporate tax base and the financial transaction tax (Tobin tax) are old ideas, and they are being drafted by the Commission. The “eurozone economic government” is nothing more than a high-level political meeting with unclear powers, but probably within the framework of the Euro Plus Pact. The “president” of the eurozone probably adds some weight to the position of the president of the European Council, but again his/her powers are not clearly defined and would probably only deal with coordination.

What is more troubling is the intrinsic logic of these proposals. They stay within the logic of intergovernmentalism, leaving all the important decisions to an intergovernmental body. This is a recipe for failure. It’s infuriating that after sixty years of supranational regulation we resort to an inefficient mechanism that remains prone to the joint-decision trap. We are curing the problem with more of the same, and this will lead to deepening of the problems. If we want to keep the eurozone intact we must give an independent body – the European Commission or another entity, the power to sanction Member States for their infringement of the budgetary discipline “golden rule”. Any other solution will not work precisely the way the current mechanism for ensuring budgetary stability in the eurozone does not work.

This intergovernmentalist trend must be stopped. Nobody believes that the Member States are able to control each other. If we want the integration process to continue, we need to take into account its inherent logic. Otherwise we will only breed hybrids that will live shortly and leave a mess behind.

Commission Proposes Increase of EU Funds Co-Financing for Six Countires

The European Commission has proposed to increase the co-financing rates for the EU funds for six EU countries that have been affected by the crisis.

Under the proposal, six countries would be asked to contribute less to projects that they currently co-finance with the European Union. The supplementary EU co financing is designated for Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Latvia and Hungary.

The measure does not represent new or additional funding but it allows an earlier reimbursement of funds already committed under EU cohesion policy, rural development and fisheries. The EU contribution would be increased to a maximum of 95% if requested by a Member State concerned. This should be accompanied by a prioritisation of projects focusing on growth and employment, such as retraining workers, setting up business clusters or investing in transport infrastructure. In this way level of execution can be increased, absorption augmented and extra money injected into the economy faster.

It concerns Member States that have been most affected by the crisis and have received financial support under a programme from the Balance of Payments mechanism for countries not in the Euro area (Romania, Latvia and Hungary) or from the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism for countries in the Euro area (Greece, Ireland and Portugal). Bulgaria is not included in this scheme.

 

 

The Second Greek Bailout: the Details

The leaders of the eurozone have approved the second bailout of Greece that is supposed to finally overcome the debt crisis in this country. The total official financing will amount to an estimated 109 billion euro. The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) will be used, but the maturity of the loans will be extended from the current 7.5 years to a minimum of 15 years and up to 30 years with a grace period of 10 years. Lending rates will be around 3,5%, close to the costs of borrowing for the EFSF. The maturities of existing loans from the first Greek bailout will be extended. The private sector will contribute with up to 37 billion euro. Financial institutions will be offered a set of optional forms of contribution, including the buy-back of Greek debt, the extension of bond maturities and the rollover of existing debts. Greek banks will be recapitalized “if needed”.

The EFSF and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) will be allowed to:

  • act on the basis of a precautionary programme;
  • finance recapitalisation of financial institutions through loans to governments including in non programme countries ;
  • intervene in the secondary markets on the basis of an ECB analysis recognizing the existence of exceptional financial market circumstances and risks to financial stability.

The EFSF lending rates and maturities for Greece will also be applied for Portugal and Ireland.

So will the new bailout be effective? It’s hard to say. The economic commentators are somewhat sceptical. Felix Salmon notes that this deal is not enough on its own to bring Greece into solvency. He believes that this is not a one-off event and that the same instruments will have to be used for Portugal and/or Ireland.

It’s clear that the deal will alleviate fears for a financial meltdown in the eurozone. However, the deal does not efficiently address the growth problem for Greece (and by extension for Portugal, Ireland, Spain, etc.). The fundamental problem of the eurozone persists. Until we manage macroeconomic imbalances and structural impediments to growth, we will not be able to overcome the reasons for the current debt crisis.

 

 

Commission Proposal for the New Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020

The Commission has put forward its proposal for the new Multiannual Financial Framework of the European Union for the period 2014-2020. The Multiannual Financial Framework is the main budgeting document of the EU for the seven-year period, and little can be changed once it is adopted. The proposal has to be approved by the Member States and the Parliament.

The main innovations:

1. Expenses

  • A new fund for financing infrastructure, the Connecting Europe Facility that includes a preliminary list of transport, energy and ICT projects;
  • Stronger link of cohesion financing with the Europe 2020 objectives;
  • New category of ‘transition regions’;
  • New conditionality provisions;
  • Partnership contracts with each Member State to ensure mutual reinforcement of national and EU funding;
  • An integrated programme of €15.2 billion for education, training and youth, with a clear focus on developing skills and mobility;
  • A common EU strategy called “Horizon 2020” for investment in research and innovation worth 80 billion €;
  • 30% of direct support to farmers will be conditional on “greening” their businesses;
  • €4.1 billion for the fight against crime and terrorism and €3.4 billion for migration and asylum policies.

2. Revenues

  • New own resources for financing the budget- a financial transaction tax (Tobin tax) and a new modernized VAT;
  • Simplification of the existing correction mechanisms.

You can also read the critical assessment of the proposal by Charlemagne. Real Time Brussels looks at the fierce political battles that will likely emerge in the process of adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework.

 

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).

 

 

Why the Structural Funds Don’t Work Properly in Bulgaria

The Open Society Institute Sofia has issued a report that outlines the main causes for the poor performance of Structural Funds in Bulgaria (summary in English here). The Structural Funds are the main instruments of the EU regional and cohesion policy. However, new Member States from Eastern Europe, and Bulgaria in particular, face significant difficulties in using those funds in their regional development.

Three problems are outlined in the report:

  • Deficits in the national programming of EU funds for the financial period 2007–2013;
  • Poor implementation of the principle of partnership with representatives of the civic sector in the national management of the Structural Funds;
  • Deficits of the regional planning in Bulgaria.

These findings are significant, since they put in doubt the implementation of the next EU multiannual financial framework in Bulgaria. The absorption capacity is clearly very low, and specific measures must be provisioned to avoid repeating the mistakes. The European Commission usually focuses its criticism on the institutional capacity of the Bulgarian administration and the quality of the management structures. But this report clearly indicates that the problem is much deeper and starts with the programming and planning stages.