Europe’s Brush with Debt

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his Italian counterpart, Matteo Renzi, refuse to comply with the eurozone's 2012 fiscal compact; instead, they intend to run up fresh debts. Their stance highlights a fundamental flaw in the European Monetary Union’s structure – one that Europe’s leaders must address before it is too late.

MUNICH – French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his Italian counterpart, Matteo Renzi, have declared – or at least insinuated – that they will not comply with the fiscal compact to which all of the eurozone’s member countries agreed in 2012; instead, they intend to run up fresh debts. Their stance highlights a fundamental flaw in the structure of the European Monetary Union – one that Europe’s leaders must recognize and address before it is too late.

The fiscal compact – formally the Treaty on Stability, Coordination, and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union – was the quid pro quo for Germany to approve the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which was essentially a collective bailout package. The compact sets a strict ceiling for a country’s structural budget deficit and stipulates that public-debt ratios in excess of 60% of GDP must be reduced yearly by one-twentieth of the difference between the current ratio and the target.

Yet France’s debt/GDP ratio will rise to 96% by the end of this year, from 91% in 2012, while Italy’s will reach 135%, up from 127% in 2012. The effective renunciation of the fiscal compact by Valls and Renzi suggests that these ratios will rise even further in the coming years.

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