Tag Archives: Germany

How to Save the Eurozone in Few Easy Steps

The eurozone is in grave danger, and something must be done, fast. This is the message I get from various corners of the EU commentariat. Economists are particularly pessimistic. But the immediacy of the crisis is something relative – I’ve heard many macabre predictions many times during the last two years.

So I am more interested in the possible impact of the crisis on the future of the European Union. This may sound like an “unknown unknown”, but to my opinion trying to solve the eurozone crisis without taking into account the impact on the EU institutions and the integration project is useless. So let’s see what the options are.

1. Monetization of debt

The excessive debt of peripheral eurozone countries can simply be monetized by the ECB by using the proverbial printing press. The downsides are clear: the threat of moral hazard and inflation. Moral hazard means that once the ECB starts to monetize debts, every eurozone Member State can point to this precedent and demand equal treatment (i.e. more printing of euros to cover unsustainable debt). This leads to the second danger – elevated inflation, although some claim that this is not very likely due to the recession. If monetization happens, it will obviously be accompanied with a form of fiscal union, because there will have to be very strong guarantees against fiscal profligacy. In the short to medium term this approach can save the eurozone, and the European project as a whole. The problems with this approach are twofold: first, it may lead to unsustainable EU fiscal institutions if Germany and other northern Member States push too hard in their desire to guarantee fiscal discipline; second, in the long term this may also mean that peripheral Member States will become even more uncompetitive if again Germany and other northern Member States fail to reform their economies and stimulate internal demand.

In conclusion this approach may lead to long-term mutations that may transform the European Union into an undemocratic and unjust sovereign. On the good side, it saves us from immediate harm.

2. Credit crunch and disintegration of the eurozone

If the ECB does not monetize peripheral eurozone debt, then we may expect consecutive bank runs, asset sell-offs and overall economic misery in the eurozone periphery. This misery will probably be contagious, spilling over to the eurozone core, the US, Japan, China, and all over the world. Sooner, rather than later, the eurozone periphery will reintroduce capital controls and will effectively pull out of the eurozone. The economic and social consequences cannot be reliably foreseen, but will be very damaging to the global economy. Politically, the EU may disappear.

3. The way forward

It is quite obvious that the eurozone core must be convinced to monetize peripheral debt. This solution will be very difficult to achieve, but it serves all interests. However, it must be done carefully in order to protect the European project from excessive German influence that may in the long term transform the EU into some ugly mutant. The peer pressure of G20, and the US in particular, will be instrumental in achieving this difficult victory over petty short-term interests.

 

Of Eurozone Mice and Eurozone Men

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.

 

 

Dear Germany, You Are Deciding the Future of Europe

Dear Germany,

The last two decades were very good for you. You were able to unify your divided territory and your people. You had your fair deal of growth and expansion of trade. You began to “normalize”, as experts say.

Today you have to solve a great problem. It is up to you to decide whether the eurozone project lives or dies. I will not go into the details of the problem and the possible solutions. In any case you know very well what is at stake and what the options really are.

But why should you choose to save the euro? Well, two reasons spring to mind. First, a breakup of the eurozone will be very messy and will likely hurt your banks, pension funds and ultimately – your own citizens. The breakup will negate some of the important benefits of the internal European market and will cause widespread economic troubles around the whole world.

Second, killing the euro will go against your own obligations. When you founded the eurozone you also agreed that any amendment of the rules of the EMU will go through an amendment of the Treaties. That means that countries such as France and Belgium must explicitly agree to the eurozone breakup, and I sincerely doubt that they would. So in case you want to print Deutsche Marks again, you will have to infringe the Treaties in a very blatant way.

If the internal political pressure is really high you might probably risk and do it. But going against the founding principles of the European Union will have a very high price for you. One of the reasons for the unification back in 1990 was that you were securely integrated in the European Community. Yes, you are very different now and yes, you are rightly demanding a stronger voice in the world affairs. But still – there are ambiguous feelings in Europe about a strong and expansionistic German economy, especially if combined with a rapprochement with Russia. You need to think carefully about those considerations.

Whatever you decide to do, I would strongly advise talking sincerely with your own people. Cheap propaganda about the lazy Greeks may sell the newspapers, but we’re not talking about entertainment here. Your choices will define the future of all European citizens, and that means Germans as well. The European Union will never be the same after the breakup of the eurozone, and you will not enjoy the position that you have now.

Please think carefully before making your decision. The world will not end with the euro, but it will be an uglier place.

Best regards,

Vihar Georgiev

 

 

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.

The Pact for the Euro: a Summary

The heads of state and government of the еurozone Member States have adopted a new competitiveness pact, called “A Pact for the Euro”. The pact comes as a form of guarantee for Germany in order to increase the funds of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). You can read more about my concerns about the legality of such a pact here. An early assessment of the Pact for the Euro is available here.

The guiding rules of the Pact for the Euro:

  • It will be complementary to the existing instruments of economic governance in the EU;
  • It will concentrate on actions where the competence lies with the Member States. In the chosen policy areas common objectives will be agreed upon at the Heads of State or Government level;
  • Each year, concrete national commitments will be undertaken by each Head of State or Government;
  • The implementation of commitments and progress towards the common policy objectives will be monitored politically by the Heads of State or Government of the Euro area and participating countries on a yearly basis.

The goals of the Pact for the Euro:

  • Fostering competitiveness;
  • Fostering employment;
  • Contributing further to the sustainability of public finances;
  • Reinforcing financial stability.

The main policy instruments:

  • Monitoring and adjusting unit labour costs (ULC);
  • Removing unjustified restrictions on professional services and the retail sector;
  • Improving education systems and promote R&D, innovation and infrastructure;
  • Removing red tape and improving the regulatory framework (e.g. bankruptcy laws, commercial code);
  • Labour market reforms to promote “flexicurity”;
  • Tax reforms, such as lowering taxes on labour;
  • Aligning the pension system to the national demographic situation;
  • Putting in place national legislation for banking resolution;
  • Developing a common corporate tax base.

 

 

The (Un)Importance of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

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.