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One Giant Leap for Europe?

The Franco-German proposal for a COVID-19 recovery fund is not quite the “Hamiltonian moment” that some have claimed. But, by reshaping the debate on risk mutualization and the benefits of transfers, it could set the stage for one.

LONDON – The €500 billion ($547 billion) COVID-19 recovery fund proposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron has been hailed as a turning point for the European Union – and for good reason. Beyond its concrete economic implications, the proposal reaffirms a commitment to solidarity by the EU’s two largest economies, thereby setting the stage for genuine progress toward fiscal union.

The basic proposition is straightforward. The EU would borrow in the market at long maturities with an implicit guarantee from the common budget. It would then channel borrowed funds to regions and sectors hardest-hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

There is plenty left to be negotiated, such as where to offer loans versus grants, what kind of conditionality to apply to projects, and the extent to which aggregate fiscal capacity should be increased. Opposition from the so-called Frugal Four – Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, and Sweden – will undoubtedly necessitate some compromise.

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