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.