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Europe’s Fiscal Wormhole

BRUSSELS – The International Monetary Fund now estimates a 30% risk of deflation in the eurozone, and growth figures within the monetary union continue to disappoint. But policymakers seem trapped in a cat’s cradle of economic, political, and legal constraints that is preventing effective action. The fulfillment of policy rules appears to be impossible without growth, but growth appears to be impossible without breaking the rules.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is politically committed to outdoing his country’s tough domestic fiscal framework to secure what he calls a “black zero” budget. The French government is working to regain credibility on reform promises made in exchange for delays on fiscal adjustment, and Italy, with one of the highest debt burdens in the eurozone, has little room to use fiscal policy. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is constrained by doubts about the legality of its “outright monetary transactions” (OMT) scheme – sovereign-bond purchases that could result in a redistributive fiscal policy.

With all of the rules pointing toward recession, how can Europe boost recovery?

A two-year €400 billion ($510 billion) public-investment program, financed with European Investment Bank bonds, would be the best way to overcome Europe’s current impasse. Borrowing by the EIB has no implications in terms of European fiscal rules. It is recorded neither as new debt nor as a deficit for any of the member states, which means that new government spending could be funded without affecting national fiscal performance.