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Thursday, September 11, 2014

What to expect from the Commission's new economics team

Will France's Moscovici (left) be effectively shackled by
Finland's Katainen (centre) and Latvia's Dombrovskis (right)?
The new European Commission (EC) also sees the overhaul of its approach to the Eurozone. While Pierre Moscovici holds the Economic and Financial Affairs post (essentially Olli Rehn’s successor), he will be overseen by the Vice Presidents (VPs) for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and the Euro and Social Dialogue – Jyrki Katainen and Valdis Dombrovskis respectively.

An edge has been added to all this with quick German criticism of the decision to give former French Finance Minister Moscovici such a prominent economic post.

We have already pointed out in our full response to the new Commission that, contrary to popular belief (at least in some quarters in Germany), this does not necessarily change much – a lot of Eurozone rules are already set in stone. However, it is important to delve a bit more into who has what powers or controls which areas?

Katainen’s key responsibilities:
  • Helping bring together an investment package to mobilise €300bn in additional public and private investment via the European Investment Bank within the next three months – expected to be discussed at tomorrow’s eurogroup meeting and unveiled soon.
  • Coordinating the mid-term review of Europe 2020 strategy and long-term EU budget.
  • Pushing economic policy coordination in line with view of “social market economy” while also pursuing a strong structural reform agenda.
  • Steering the ongoing reform of the Economic and Monetary Union and, importantly, in charge of pursuing the work of the four Presidents' report on creating a 'deep and genuine' EMU. This suggests he will play a significant role in the bid to create a sounder eurozone and finding a way to marry the existing currency union with greater political union. It's important to note that this will bring him into regular contact with Lord Hill who is responsible for banking union in the new Commission - exactly how the financial stability aspect and the eurozone prosperity aspect will fit together here will be interesting to watch.
  • Formal oversight of the European semester – the mechanism through which budget rules are enforced in the eurozone. Also tasked with reviewing the mechanisms for achieving structural reform.
  • As might be expected there is significant overlap with those above. He has also been tasked with handling the European semester. It is expected he will handle the day to day evaluation and, in cooperation with others, will sign off on national budgets and reform plans.
  • The language around the Stability and Growth Pact is also in line with previous thinking, tasking Moscovici with making “best possible use of the flexibility that is built into” the rules.
  • The focus of this role seems to be on the macroeconomics and fiscal coordination of the eurozone. With that in mind, its expected Moscovici will attend eurogroup meetings on behalf of the Commission.
Overall then, while France may have got what it wished for, Moscovici looks firmly shackled to two fiscal conservatives. None of his tasks relating to the Eurozone are separated from these two VPs. More broadly, as the FT has pointed out, Moscovici (a French socialist) is also severely ideologically outnumbered not only within the broader Commission but specifically in the economic and financial posts.

Furthermore, the language used in the text of the letters remains quite Germanic and in line with the thinking of the current Commission:
“Combining growth-friendly fiscal consolidation, structural reforms and targeted support to investment will be key to a sustainable and strong recovery.”

“Sustainable growth cannot be built on ever-growing mountains of debt. We also know well that it is mainly companies that create jobs, not governments or EU institutions.”
There are also numerous mentions of “sound public finances” and the “social market economy” both core elements of the prevailing German economic thinking.

What to expect from the new Commission in terms of eurozone economic policy?

Finally, there are a couple of hints of what key proposals may be coming in the future. We have already mentioned the reference to a new investment package and the desire to push ahead with reviewing the current surveillance system. A further development seems to be for all those involved to try to engage a “broader range of actors at national level”, make the measures taken to improve the Eurozone more “socially legitimate” and find a more democratic alternative to the EU/IMF/ECB Troika. This suggests fostering national support for the likely continuation of significant structural reform and fiscal consolidation will be a key task for these Commissioners.

With that in mind, there is one final interesting line which is found in both Moscovici’s and Dombrovskis’ letter, they are tasked with forming:
“Proposals to encourage further structural reforms, possibly supported by financial incentives and a targeted fiscal capacity at Euro zone level”
This sounds eerily like a revival of the reform contracts, which Germany has been pushing for some time. The idea has been gaining ground once again after ECB President Mario Draghi suggested that structural reform should have similar oversight to that currently seen for national budgets. The latter part is also interesting, albeit very cryptic and vague. It could refer to the creation of a eurozone budget, possibly focused on tackling unemployment and related costs. Equally, it could refer to something along the lines of a wider assessment of the eurozone’s fiscal capacity and using it where there is scope to do so – meaning some kind of fiscal expansion in Germany (and other strong states) to offset fiscal contraction elsewhere.

Expect movement on these issues in coming months.


Jesper said...

Co-ordination breakdown already?

"Helping bring together an investment package to mobilise €300bn in additional public and private investment via the European Investment Bank"


"Sustainable growth cannot be built on ever-growing mountains of debt."

Seems like the mountains of debt is to be increased by borrowing from the EIB....

& this might be rephrased:
"fiscal capacity at Euro zone level"
replace 'Euro-zone level' with 'supra-national level' and the description is more accurate.

As a side-note: Does anyone know how much lending the EIB does where the payback is not guaranteed by tax-payers?

Jesper said...

& in classic insider bureaucrat fashion the responsibilities have been divided and spread out to the point where it is impossible to hold an individual accountable for anything....

A bit surprised at the openly federalist agenda that hr Juncker has committed the commission to, devolution of powers and/or strengthening the subsidiarity principle is completely overwhelmed by commissioners who are told to federalise.

Looks like the reform that will happen, if hr Juncker gets to push his dream, is federalisation.

& Malmström as trade-commissioner?
She's got history of pushing through things that the voters don't want, the TTIP and ISDS is most definitely being pushed for now. Unless the EP rejects the commission but how likely is that?
The situation highlights the danger of having a representative from a tiny fringe party from a small country being in charge of a centralised function affecting hundreds of millions of citizens. The fact that the TTIP would be practically irreversible if implemented doesn't make the situation better :-(