Tag Archives: Stability and growth pact

European Monetary Union: A Status Report

In the NZZ (August 7, 2015), René Höltschi provides an excellent overview over the status of European Monetary Union (EMU).


  • EMU combines centralized monetary policy authority with decentralized fiscal powers. This creates the risk that national governments try to free ride.
  • Heterogeneity across Euro Zone member states renders centralized monetary policy difficult. Without national monetary policy instruments, prices and wages need to adjust more in the face of asynchronous business cycles.

Previous solutions:

  • The stability and growth pact was meant to address the first issue. It failed, for political reasons. Markets didn’t impose sufficient discipline either; they anticipated bailouts.
  • Hopes for reduced heterogeneity—as a consequence of EMU—have been shattered.

Reforms so far:

  • During the crisis, member states established rescue funds and agreed on various crisis measures.
  • They pursued a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, they tried to build on the decentralized approach of the Maastricht treaty. On the other, they aimed at closer integration in the form of banking, fiscal and eventually, political union.
  • Major responsibilities in the area of banking supervision and resolution have been transferred to the European Central Bank. Bail-in procedures have been agreed upon.
  • No major changes occurred in the fiscal policy domain. The “Six-pack” and “Two-pack” measures to strengthen fiscal discipline, coordination and supervision have proved ineffective (e.g., no action against France).

Proposals and discussion:

  • The recent “Five-presidents’ report” distinguishes between short-term (until 2017) and longer-term (until 2025) measures (see below). The report proposes to strengthen the existing framework before moving towards closer integration (Euro treasury, macroeconomic stabilization, fiscal and political union). France and Italy have voiced support.
  • Fiscal union entails a common budget and potentially, a common unemployment insurance. Unity of liability and control would require that fiscal competences are centralized as well. In turn, this would require changes of the European treaties.
  • A further strengthening of banking union, e.g. delegation of banking supervision to a newly created European authority (rather than the European Central Bank), also would require treaty changes.
  • But throughout Europe, there is no desire to delegate powers to “Brussels.”
  • Instead, skeptics like the Bundesbank or the German Council of Economic Experts advocate a bankruptcy procedure for Euro-zone governments: to strengthen discipline and encourage monitoring by financial markets any assistance by the European Stability Mechanism should be preceded by private creditor bail-ins (extensions of maturity, haircuts).
  • Some observers also advocate exit from the Euro zone as an ultima ratio measure. But others argue that this very possibility would undermine the stability of the Euro area.

Five-president’s report:

  • Commissioned in October 2014 by the heads of state and government, the report has been published in June 2015 by presidents Jean-Claude Juncker (European commission), Donald Tusk (European council), Jeroen Dijsselbloem (Euro group), Mario Draghi (European Central Bank) and Martin Schulz (European parliament).
  • In the short term, the report proposes: to improve elements of the previous “six-pack” and “two-pack” reforms, including streamlined coordination and supervision of national fiscal policies;
  • a common backstop for national deposit insurance systems;
  • a European fiscal council serving as watchdog; and
  • independent national agencies to monitor competitiveness.
  • For the longer term, the report proposes: completion of monetary union and fiscal union;
  • macroeconomic stabilization, stopping short of permanent transfers or income equalization schemes; and
  • a Euro zone treasury.
  • Accountability as well as the role of national parliaments and the European parliament in coordinating fiscal policy is to be strengthened. The Euro zone is to be better represented vis-a-vis third parties. Intergovernmental arrangements (for example the European Stability Mechanism) that were created during the crisis are to become integral parts of the EU treaties.

Germany and the Euro

In an FT oped, Thomas Mayer summarized a rather typical “German” perspective on European monetary policy. In his view, a sound euro needs either full political union or just stringent rules that are enforced. Helmut Kohl promised the former. When it didn’t happen, ECB independence and the Maastricht treaty should substitute. Ex post, Germany should have asked for more, in particular resolution and exit procedures (and, one may add, it should have played by the rules itself). The crises in the Eurozone illustrated governance problems. Merkel feared Grexit and tried to reestablish the rules. She

built a pan-European “shadow state” — a web of pacts to ensure that countries followed policies consistent with sound money.

It has not worked. From Greece to France, countries resist any infringement on their sovereignty and refuse to act in a way that is consistent with a hard currency policy. The ECB is forced to loosen its stance. Worse, it has allowed monetary policy to become a back channel for transfering economic resources between eurozone members, which politicians have refused to allow through fiscal mechanisms they control. This is Germany’s worst nightmare.

How will the situation be resolved? A century ago, Eugen Böhm-Bawerk, the Austrian economist and finance minister, proclaimed laws of economics to be a higher authority than political power. Some Germans say that a hard currency is an essential part of their economic value system. If both are right, politicians will be powerless to prevent Germany’s departure from a monetary union that is at odds with the country’s economic convictions.


“The Stability Pact—Rationales, Problems, Alternatives,” Kyklos, 2006

Kyklos 59(4), November 2006, with Assar Lindbeck. PDF.

… the paper makes two contributions, one analytical and one substantive. On the analytical side, we apply economic theory to identify rationales for the SGP and to develop adequate policy responses in light of these rationales. … On the substantive side, we highlight the “legalistic” perspective adopted in the SGP. …