House Ad
House Ad

Economia Gli economisti (English version)

Rebuilding Euro Governance

Storia dell'articolo


Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 01 ottobre 2010 alle ore 14:03.

COPENHAGEN – Europe’s sovereign-debt problems have prompted a search for more effective approaches to economic governance in the European Union, particularly in the euro area. Having mounted exceptional efforts, first to provide financing for Greece’s adjustment program, and then to create a safety net for other distressed countries, the European Council established a task force, chaired by President Herman van Rompuy and composed largely of EU finance ministers, to make proposals for reform.

The van Rompuy Task Force will submit its final report in October, but we can anticipate its conclusions in the light of the current system’s major shortcomings.

At the euro’s planning stage, most observers fell into two camps. Some believed that the absence of political union – reflected in the euro’s lopsided design, which centralized monetary authority but left budgetary and other economic policies (largely) in national hands – would ensure the common currency’s failure. Others believed that the euro itself would trigger political unification.

Neither view has come close to reality so far – and it remains unclear whether the current proposals will settle the issue, in particular by clarifying what elements of political union are essential for the euro’s survival.

In retrospect, then, the euro appears to have been a hazardous experiment. But the decision to move towards monetary union reflected what seemed most urgent and politically possible at the time: elimination of intra-EU exchange-rate instability, which had dominated the policy agenda for decades.

There was no support for centralizing any significant elements of fiscal policy – nor is there today. But such a transfer of authority was not seen back then as necessary for monetary union to work.

Instead, the euro’s founders believed that exposure to deeply integrated markets for goods and services and a tough competition regime would keep national price and cost trends broadly in line, and that common and simple fiscal rules would prevent individual countries’ budgetary behavior from deviating strongly. The fiscal rules, later elaborated into the Stability and Growth Pact, are in themselves elements of a political union.

The original vision was that this set-up would help to assure a growth-friendly policy mix, with fiscal prudence keeping interest rates low on average. This approach was chosen not only because of political expediency; indirect coordination was seen as economically superior to the more direct coordination implied by economic governance.

L’articolo continua sotto

Tags Correlati: Bce | Ecofin | Europa | Herman van Rompuy | International Monetary Fund | Task Force


This model of monetary union left only a small role for financial markets in disciplining national budget behavior. Indeed, the adoption of fiscal rules was seen as a necessary substitute for the harsh discipline that financial markets had previously exercised over EU countries. It was recognized that, once a country adopted the euro, financial-market discipline would be constrained to credit spreads on sovereign debt – which turned out to be even smaller than foreseen, as interest rates converged to a remarkable degree until 2007-8.

Governments and EU institutions were unwilling to draw the attention of financial markets to the weakness of the single currency’s two underpinnings: the fiscal rules were ignored, and national price and cost trends diverged, partly explaining the emergence of growing country imbalances within the euro area. Increasingly, the small spreads between sovereign bonds relied on the implicit assumption that no euro area member would be allowed to get into major difficulties, despite the constraints imposed on intergovernmental rescue operations.

Fiscal discipline came back with a vengeance last year, when the state of public finances in a number of countries had deteriorated massively, owing to the recession and financial-rescue packages. In line with past experience in emerging economies, excessive market tolerance was rapidly replaced by very pessimistic assessments of debtor prospects.

Once contagion effects within the euro area became ominous, governments reacted by overseeing the Greek adjustment program and by creating the European Financial Stabilization Facility (EFSF), a temporary safety net for other major debtor countries. Both initiatives were coordinated with the International Monetary Fund, ensuring strict conditionality on the external finance obtained.

Having gained time, EU governments, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank have now turned their attention to improving future governance. Understandably, the initial efforts of the van Rompuy Task Force were directed at more effective crisis prevention: intensified budgetary surveillance and monitoring of movements in real exchange rates and external imbalances.

A number of useful initiatives are under way in both areas. However, in normal times, the policy recommendations arising from intensified monitoring – as well as the ultimate imposition of sanctions – will have to continue to rely on the persuasive power of discretionary decisions taken by the EU’s Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN). A country in trouble retains primary responsibility for correcting policy.

Improved surveillance – and the scary experience of having confronted the potential costs of being deprived of access to international financial markets – offers hope that the decentralized model for the euro area’s non-monetary policy components will work better than in the past.

The future role of financial markets in disciplining budgetary policies under such a reformed regime depends to a major extent on the ability of the van Rompuy Task Force to define a crisis-management mechanism to replace the EFSF. Neither this new mechanism, nor potential ECB purchases of bonds issued by the weakest euro area sovereigns, should be allowed to undermine the critical role that financial markets can play in supplementing the closer mutual monitoring of policies.

A future crisis-management mechanism – if, indeed, governments can agree on one at all – should retain some ambiguity as to how the insurance provided to member states will operate, focusing instead on procedures, in particular regarding creditors’ participation in sharing losses, and on the principle of IMF involvement in shaping loan conditionality. Leaving scope in this way for financial markets to impose discipline offers the best hope for maintaining individual countries’ primary responsibility for their non-monetary policies, which was central to the original vision for the euro.

Niels Thygesen is Professor of Economics (emeritus) at the University of Copenhagen, and was an independent member of the Delors Committee on Economic and Monetary Union in 1988-1989.

Copyright: Project Syndicate,


Da non perdere

Per l'Italia la carta del mondo

Mentre la crisi reale morde più crudelmente, mentre i mercati finanziari saggiano possibili

In Europa la carta «interna»

Batti e ribatti sui nudi sacrifici degli altri, sull'algido rigore senza paracadute e prima o poi

La commedia di Bruxelles

Al Parlamento europeo è andato in scena il terzo atto di una commedia dal titolo: Regole per le

Guarguaglini: ecco le mie verità

«Ho sempre detto che ero innocente, le conclusioni delle indagini lo dimostrano: nell'archiviazione

Una redistribuzione di buon senso

Arrivano dal ministero della Giustizia le nuove piante organiche dei tribunali. Un intervento

Casa, la banca non ti dà il mutuo? Allora meglio un affitto con riscatto. Come funziona

Il mercato dei mutui in Italia resta al palo. Nell'ultimo mese la domanda di prestiti ipotecari è

Jeff Bezos primo nella classifica di Fortune «businessperson of the year»

Dai libri alla nuvola informatica: Jeff Bezos, fondatore e amministratore delegato di Amazon,

Iron Dome, come funziona il sistema antimissile israeliano che sta salvando Tel Aviv

Gli sporadici lanci di razzi iraniani Fajr-5 contro Gerusalemme e Tel Aviv costituiscono una

Dagli Assiri all'asteroide gigante del 21/12/2012, storia di tutte le bufale sulla fine del mondo

Fine Del Mondo, Armageddon, end of the World, Apocalypse? Sembrerebbe a prima vista roba da