Toward A Higher European Integration?

In an article today Europe Mulls Major Step Towards “Fiscal Union”, Reuters reports that Angela Merkel is pushing for a “giant leap forward”:

After falling short with her “fiscal compact” on budget discipline, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pressing for much more ambitious measures, including a central authority to manage euro area finances, and major new powers for the European Commission, European Parliament and European Court of Justice.

She is also seeking a coordinated European approach to reforming labor markets, social security systems and tax policies, German officials say.

Until states agree to these steps and the unprecedented loss of sovereignty they involve, the officials say Berlin will refuse to consider other initiatives like joint euro zone bonds or a “banking union” with cross-border deposit guarantees – steps Berlin says could only come in a second wave.

“Kaldorians” jumped to highlight the serious defects in the European plan for integration when officials were working on the Maastricht Treaty. One of the implicit assumption on which the dogma of “free trade” is pushed is that current account deficits do not matter. The government’s task is to only make markets free in this view. The Euro Area was formed with the highly incorrect notion (among various others) that nations can simply solve their “balance of payments problem” by getting rid of it altogether.

I was reading this article by Ken Coutts and Wynne Godley from 1990 [1] where the authors point to different kinds of arguments put forward by others to defend this position (“current account deficits do not matter” provided markets are made free).

There appear to be six different lines of argument to the effect that the current account deficit can be ignored …

… (v) A different kind of argument makes a comparison between a nation with an external deficit and a relatively poor region within a nation. It is pointed out that there is no balance of payments problem for Scotland or for Northern Ireland and from this it is concluded that as soon as Britain joins a European monetary union its balance of payments ‘problem’ will disappear permanently …

… The argument (v) that a region within a country cannot have a balance of payments ‘problem’ ignores the fact that if a region imports more than it exports its trade deficit is automatically paid for by fiscal transfers.[footnote: Strictly speaking, the fiscal transfers will always exactly compensate for any trade deficit only after allowing for the acquisition of financial assets by the private sector as implied by the ‘New Cambridge’ identity (exports less imports equals net government outlays plus the ‘trade’ deficit). The identity says, of course, nothing whatever about the level of real income and output which trading performance will have generated]. The point may be illustrated by considering an extreme case where a region consumes tradables but cannot produce them at all. In this case there will be a trade deficit exactly equal to imports of tradables, but the flow of government expenditure and net transfers will provide a minimum level of income support and keep life of a kind going without any borrowing at all taking place. If an uncompetitive region were not in receipt of fiscal inflows, its inhabitants would have no alternative but to emigrate or starve. This example illustrates that merely by sharing a common currency with another area, a region or country does not automatically dispose of its balance of payments problems since its prosperity still depends on how successfully it can compete in trade with other areas. The Delors Report itself correctly observes that a monetary union transforms a weakness in the ability to compete successfully from being a balance of payments problem into a regional problem to which there is only likely to be a solution by using the instruments of regional policy.

The movement toward more integration by giving higher powers to the European Parliament was also suggested by Wynne Godley and Marc Lavoie in 2007 [2]:

… Alternatively, the present structure of the European Union would need to be modified, giving far more spending and taxing power to the European Union Parliament, transforming it into a bona fide federal government that would be able to engage into substantial equalisation payments which would automatically transfer fiscal resources from the more successful to the less successful members of the euro zone. In this manner, the eurozone would be provided with a mechanism that would reduce the present bias towards downward fiscal adjustments of the deficit countries.

References

  1. Prosperity and Foreign Trade in the 1990s: Britain’s Strategic Problem, Oxf Rev Econ Policy (1990) 6 (3):82-92. Link
  2. A Simple Model Of Three Economies With Two Currencies, Camb. J. Econ. (2007) 31 (1): 1-23. Link

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