Two Pieces on Europe

by Henry on April 8, 2011

Both recommended:

First: Kevin O’Rourke’s “more general take”:http://ineteconomics.org/sites/inet.civicactions.net/files/BWpaper_OROURKE_040811.pdf (PDF) on the trilemmas facing the eurozone.

bq. What we have seen instead is a series of ineffectual moves on financial regulation, and now a complete unwillingness to confront the European banking crisis head-­‐on. Rather than promoting pan-­‐European growth strategies, the institutions of the Union have been enthusiastically promoting pro-­‐cyclical fiscal adjustments in the periphery, even as they insist that heavily indebted governments repay private creditors of private banks in full. Not only is the policy incoherent, making sovereign default more likely on the one hand, while preaching austerity on the other; the insistence that taxpayers rather than investors pay for bank losses is also setting the stage for a potentially very damaging confrontation between core and periphery taxpayers. The political consequences of this are unknowable, but in Ireland, just three months after the troika’s intervention, the political party that had been dominant since the 1930s was annihilated at the polls, with the radical and Eurosceptic Sinn Féin now sniffing at its heels: and this in one of the most conservative, and Europhile, countries in Europe. What three or four years of the current policy mix will do is anybody’s guess.

The paper is particularly interesting in its focus on the _politics_ of Eurozone governance, which does not get nearly as much attention as it deserves. John Quiggin and I have a piece forthcoming in _Foreign Affairs_ which talks to the medium-term consequences of institutionalized austerity at the European level – O’Rourke’s piece provides a good general take on the same set of issues, as well as discussing topics (class and distributional divides) that we don’t get into. The paper is being presented at INET – there is much other interesting looking material available “here”:http://ineteconomics.org/initiatives/conferences/bretton-woods/agenda.

Second, Kate McNamara’s more “topical piece”:http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67710/kathleen-r-mcnamara/can-the-eurozone-be-saved arguing that the European Union needs to take the plunge and become more like a state.

bq. In the eyes of markets and skeptical observers, the European Union is more than an intergovernmental organization but not yet a state. When the European Union bickers and dithers, the markets have no idea what may happen. The euro is the only single currency in history that has not been tightly linked to broader state- and nation-building efforts (often following wars, during which military action required budgeting and taxation). Although the euro is an extraordinary peacetime achievement, it suffers from a lack of supporting political institutions that can make broader macroeconomic policy. The European Union needs to change that and move beyond the structure of its current economic and monetary union — which were seemingly designed for a world in which private and public actors never over-borrow and financial markets never question their ability to repay — to real political and economic cohesion, something international markets would recognize as parallel to a nation state.

As she recognizes (and O’Rourke argues too) there is little enthusiasm among European leaders (let alone publics) to make this jump. This obviously generates normative objections (some perhaps fundamental) as well as practical ones. But equally, it is not at all clear that the European Union can survive as it is, as a kind of ungainly half-way house between an international organization and a genuinely federal system.