If there was ever a time for apocalyptic titles, well, this is it. Politicians, journalists, market participants, commentators, academics and pretty much everybody under the sun have engaged in an unofficial competition for who is going to come up with the most depressing prediction of what the not-so-distant-future holds for the eurozone and Europe at large.
If these doomsday predictions are anything to go by, our world will come crashing before our eyes very soon. Maybe, but it is not all that bad. This is indeed the end of the eurozone as we know but I believe we should all feel fine.
What is about to end is the perverse system of guarding a monetary union with peer pressure alone. The Stability and Growth Pack was an inadequate tool for governance, based on intergovernmentalism. Supranational institutions like the European Commission and Eurostat were left powerless to enforce discipline (or even question Member States’ statistics).
Proposals are already on the table to strengthen the governance of the eurozone and empower the Commission to scrutinise national budgets, warn about the build-up of imbalances and challenge Member States that break the rules. But more needs to be done; not least the creation of a European treasury with the appropriate authority, know-how and firepower to make fiscal and economic policy common for the eurozone as a whole.
The intergovernmental model of governance has taken focus away from the collective good of the Union and put the emphasis on EU Member States’ competing national interests. What we need is independent and supranational institutions, taking decisions beyond narrow national interests, with the good of the EU as a whole in mind.
In a similar vein, the idea that monetary union can prosper without fiscal union has run its course.
The emergence of imbalances and the loss of competitiveness are features of all monetary unions, including the US or the UK. To reduce the chance that these imbalances occur, scrutiny of fiscal policies and national budgets must be accompanied by the integration of labour, social and tax policies in an effort to form not just common economic policies but also a truly common European economy.
But when imbalances do emerge a system of transfers must be put in place to afford the embattled part of the union time and space to implement the necessary policies that will allow it to regain competitiveness. Those transfers will be conditional to the applications of the appropriate policies and can only happen in the context of a comprehensive fiscal union, with the rights and responsibilities that implies.
Furthermore, the European Central Bank must be liberated from its purely price stability remit. A strong and stable eurozone requires an central bank that monitors the build-up of imbalances across the economy and the financial services sector and is able — and willing — to function as lender of last resort when solvent member states and financial institutions find themselves in liquidity problems due to a systemic shock in the markets.
The creation of a fiscal union and the strengthening of the central bank will allow for the issuance of common bonds without the risk of moral hazard. Member Sates won’t need to rely purely on the discipline of markets when they have to abide to the discipline of eurozone institutions. At the same time, the eurozone will not run the risk of constantly falling pray to the un-picking of its weakest link by the markets.
Last, but certainly not least, this Huxleyian Brave New World should have at its core democratically legitimate and accountable institutions. If we are to move closer to fiscal and economic federalism, governed by the independent and supranational institutions mentioned above, EU citizens must be at the heart of the process. Those charged with making decision — be it the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council, a European Finance Minister or the Members of the European Parliament — must be directly accountable to the people.
Direct election for the three former, and a more representative voting system for the latter, will ensure a direct link between the electorate and the elected, and legitimise the process of economic integration needed to safeguard the future of the eurozone. This is not pro-European fantasy: it is a necessary building block in the architecture of the new governance structure of the Eurozone. And for that we need a new, grand, pan-EU Social Contract between EU citizens and their elected representatives.
The sooner we start drafting that contract the quicker we will be able to take EU citizens on board the process of closer European integration, bidding farewell to the world as we know it while greeting a new, brave one.
Petros Fassoulas is the Chairman of the European Movement UK