This week was tumultuous for the eurozone, in a string of equally tumultuous weeks that preceded it. The Greek Prime Minister proposed a referendum for the new bailout package for Greece, was promptly scolded by his fellow eurozone leaders at the G20 summit, and had to arrange his exodus from the scene. Meanwhile Italy panicked and started redesigning its own austerity programme.
What all this reveals is a new incursion into political entrepreneurship, mainly by the leaders of France and Germany, to somehow solve this crisis. This is also a sign of failure of the European governance mechanism that simply does not withstand the political pressure.
The leaders of the main EU institutions play only supporting roles in this spectacle. The governments of the Member States, aided by the IMF, are once again trying to pull themselves by their own hair.
The crisis of European political leadership notwithstanding, we are experiencing the incapability of the institutional mechanism of the European Union to deliver in this difficult moment. Important decisions are taken outside the multilateral decision-making track. This brings more instability to the system and delegitimizes the decision taken. One of the reasons is the blatant disregard for European Union law.
During the dinner in Cannes Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy reportedly asked Mr. Papandreou whether Greece wants to stay in the eurozone or not. The problem of this question is that it has not been discussed with all 26 Member states other than Greece, and to my knowledge it would take all these 26 Member states AND Greece in order to decide on its exit from the eurozone. In other words the political entrepreneurship has neglected the very structure and substance of EU law, hiding behind the veil of urgency. Urgently taken decisions often are bad decisions, though. The European Union is much more than its currency and no economic crisis of any proportion should be used as a tool to destroy what has already been built.
While we, Europeans, remain surprisingly short-sighted, our American allies have already noticed and evaluated the huge importance of our weakness. Perhaps it is time to start thinking strategically and stop shooting in the dark.
Posted in Budget and Finance, EU Reform, Institutional Affairs
Tagged Bailout, debt, eurozone, Financial Crisis, France, Germany, Greece, IMF, Italy, referendum
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.
Posted in Budget and Finance, EU Reform, Institutional Affairs
Tagged common corporate tax base, competitiveness, coordination, Economic Governance, European Stability Mechanism, eurozone, flexicurity, France, Germany, Pact for the Euro, pension system, Public Finances, Taxation
France and Italy have signaled their desire to push for a reform of the Schengen framework for border control. One of the most important proposals is the procedural right to temporarily re-establish border controls between two countries. The European Commission is scheduled to present its own plans for amending the Schengen rules next week (4 May).
The Schengen border security legal framework is now part of the EU acquis. Any revision of the Schengen framework goes through a codecision procedure, where the European Parliament is a co-legislator with the Council (see art. 77, para. 2 TFEU). More, the Commission is the only body that can propose legislation on border checks, asylum and immigration (see a contrario art. 76 TFEU). Whatever France and Italy propose is of no relevance; the Member States do not have a right of initiative on these matters.
On all these accounts I am quite skeptical that Italy and France will succeed to push an amendment of the Schengen framework that seriously undermines the principles of the current regime. Any significant policy overhaul must be accompanied by a careful impact assessment and discussions not only among governments of Member States, but also with relevant stakeholders. It will take more than a bilateral summit to do that.
The new set of reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for Bulgaria and Romania were published by the Commission. The mechanism is used by the Commission to monitor the progress of both countries in the fields of judicial reform, corruption and organised crime. But does the mechanism matter?
It’s difficult to say. The CVM was an instrument used to extend conditionality beyond the accession date for Bulgaria and Romania. For three years after the accession the EU could impose safeguard clauses, including a specific safeguard clause in the area of justice and home affairs (art. 36 of the Accession Treaty). However, this period has expired. It the strict sense of the word CVM is no longer a conditionality instrument. Eli Gateva has written a very good paper on this, explaining that the absence of accession rewards combined with toothless explicit threats for sanctioning non-compliance produce very weak negative incentive structure.
On the other hand both the Bulgarian and Romanian governments pay attention to the recommendations in the reports and at least try to act on them. One reason for this can be the difficulty of acceding to the Schengen area. Both France and Germany have linked the two issues, although they are not legally dependent. So one may argue that the accession to the Schengen area is now a new conditionality tool, used to push reforms of the judiciary in Bulgaria and Romania.
There is also another interpretation – that “old” Member States have given up hope of achieving effective structural reforms of the judiciary in Bulgaria and Romania, and are trying to mitigate the damage by denying access to the Schengen area. This strategy will fail. Neglecting the structural deficits of law enforcement and the judiciary in Bulgaria and Romania can have wide-ranging implications for the whole European Union. It is not possible to “isolate” both countries in some sort of a triage. Their weaknesses impact negatively the overall security of the EU, and of the separate Member States.
That is why the CVM is still useful – at least as an instrument for diagnosis.
Posted in Bulgaria, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged Bulgaria, Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, Corruption, France, Germany, judiciary, law enforcement, organized crime, Romania, Schengen
There’s quite a lot of talk recently about who should replace Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank. Sylvester Eijffinger and Edin Mujagic from Tilburg University say that a firm ECB president, unwilling to yield to political pressure, is needed. Jean Quatremer provides, as usual, a very detailed picture of the behind-the-curtain negotiations surrounding the nomination of the future president of the ECB.
Two things are important here. First, we should avoid at all cost a North-South polarization surrounding this issue. True, the ECB president is elected by qualified majority, but any trust in the eurozone that is still available will be lost if Member States start fighting over this post. Second, whoever is elected should be able to guarantee strong leadership. We certainly do not need an ECB president that divides instead of unifying the eurozone.
At a time of great peril there’s no room for experimenting. I do hope that all Member States, and France and Germany in particular, will not try to over-politicize this nomination. Otherwise consequences may become overwhelming, and history will apportion blame accordingly.
Posted in Budget and Finance, EU Reform, Institutional Affairs
Tagged ECB, eurozone, France, Germany, Jean_Claude Trichet, nomination, North, President, South
France and Germany have officially announced that they will block the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area, Euractiv reports. The main deficiencies in both countries that they outline are the absence of a satisfactory juridical and administrative environment in the fields of security and justice, persisting corruption at different levels and worrying levels of organised crime.
This letter does not come as a surprise to this blogger. I have time and again noted that both Bulgaria and Romania are facing significant challenges in the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organized crime. Two questions, however, linger on.
The first question is whether Bulgaria and Romania were fit to become Member States in 2007. The European Commission believed so, and so did France and Germany at the time. However, this leads to the logical conclusion that both countries in fact experienced a deterioration of the rule of law since accession.
The second question is whether Bulgaria and Romania can actually, at any point in the future, join the Schengen area. This is not an absurd question, since if separate Member States reaffirm their right of individual assessment of the quality of the judicial systems of candidates, it may turn out that both Bulgaria and Romania are assessed against unachievable standards that surpass the present level of rule of law in the Schengen area. Again, this is a logically derived possibility.
France and Germany should understand that answering both questions will have its consequences for the level of solidarity and cohesion in the European Union.
Posted in Enlargement, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged accession, Bulgaria, Corruption, France, Germany, organised crime, Romania, rule of law, Schengen
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.
Posted in Budget and Finance, EU Reform, Institutional Affairs, Internal Market
Tagged amendment, bail-out, Economic Governance, excessive deficit procedure, fiscal policy coordination, France, Germany, sanctions, trading surplus, Viviane Reding
In what should sound as a happy end to a very unpleasant episode of EU history, France has agreed to insert certain provisions of Directive 2004/38/EC into national law texts. That is a welcome development, but I remain quite interested in the facts surrounding the recent mass expulsions of Roma citizens to Bulgaria and Romania. Infringement of EU law does not come only in the form of lack of transposition, but also in the form of direct transgression.
In recent days both Turkish and European politicians have spoken in favor of the Turkish accession to the European Union. Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, sought to unblock Ankara’s accession bid by calling on European Union countries to call referenda on the country’s EU membership. Germany’s ex-foreign minister Joschka Fischer has predicted that Austrian, French and German opposition to Turkey joining the European Union will melt away with time.
In both cases the main argument is the strength of the Turkish economy and the demographic profile of the population – Turkey’s median population age is just 28 compared to 42 in the Union and its economy grew by around 11 percent in the first half of this year compared to the EU’s 1-2 percent.
But this will not suffice. The criteria for accession are now legally binding (art. 49 TFEU), and they include the so-called “political criteria” that are especially hard to meet. The “political criteria” include stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
Turkey must strive to cover these criteria in the first place. No level of economic development can substitute for the lack of democracy or respect of human rights. The Turkish narrative must be centered on the promotion of democratic values, and only after that – on economic development. Otherwise Turkey will only position itself as a valuable trading partner and an immigration source, but not as a potential Member State.
Posted in Enlargement, Human Rights, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged accession, democracy, demographic profile, economic development. Austria, France, Germany, Human Rights, political criteria, protection of minorities, rule of law, Turkey