The Eurozone’s Crossroad

PARIS – Heading into 2014, financial markets are quiet and Europe’s politicians are relieved, but the fundamental problems that have driven the euro crisis for the last four years remain, and now is the time to address them. That is the claim of two important recent papers, one by a bipartisan group of German economists, lawyers, and political scientists called the Glienicker Gruppe, and the other by Ashoka Mody, a former International Monetary Fund official who is now at Princeton University and the European think tank Bruegel.

Aside from the need to act, however, the authors agree on little else. The German group argues that the eurozone’s survival requires a political union equipped with a common budget. Mody says that European Union’s federalist plans have been disappointed for five decades, and that the only way forward is to abandon efforts to fine-tune national policies set in Brussels and instead pursue a decentralized union.

Their shared premise is correct: complacency about the euro crisis is misguided, the fixes adopted so far do not go far enough to ensure lasting stability, and the current respite should be used to design the bloc’s permanent architecture. Furthermore, the advent of a bipartisan government coalition in Germany, together with the appointment of a new European administration following the European Parliament election in May, creates a window for new thinking.

The two papers’ disagreement is political, not economic. The Glienicker Gruppe argues that a stable monetary union needs a transfer mechanism to help cushion severe economic downturns and a legitimate government to ensure that democracy and the rule of law prevail at all times and in all countries. Their point is that the EU has passed the integration threshold beneath which EU members could behave independently. The degree of interdependence that the euro has created calls for proportionate instruments to manage common public goods. Their idea is that the eurozone could not afford a neo-fascist government in a member country, and that preventing such an outcome requires both carrots (transfer mechanisms) and sticks (supranational powers).