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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A blueprint for doing nothing?

‘Enhanced economic co-ordination in the euro area’ is the long winded title for the new watered down version of the Franco-German ‘pact for competitiveness’ - the blueprint for saving the eurozone (well...).

Following the massive hostility towards the initial proposals the pact was pawned off onto Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, in an attempt to find a compromise. The result is a four page document that outlines some nice ideas but, scratch the surface, and it has very little substance.

The pact focuses on: fostering competitiveness, fostering employment and enhancing the sustainability of public finances. It feels as if we've heard this before, i.e. the Lisbon Agenda (or the new Europe 2020 strategy, same difference) with a pinch of the original Stability & Growth Pact.

All admirable aims and definitely issues which need to be tackled, especially if the eurozone is to avoid a similar crisis in the near future.

In most areas the actual policy specifics (specifics being pretty much every aspect of the policy other than the general overarching aim) will be left to member states, bringing into question the actual need for this document at all. Between the new macroeconomic monitoring and the increasing acceptance in member states for the need to enhance competitiveness on the national scale, what value is this pact supposed to add in real life? The lukewarm reception it received seems to support this, and casts further doubts over the chances of an agreement which contains something new and convincing being produced at the March summits.

An interesting question is how the German Bundestag and Bundesrat will respond to a proposal which quite clearly give national government quite a bit of discretion in defining their own caps on debt levels and wage setting arrangements.

At best the new pact looks to be a set of guidelines for member states to follow and to show a unified approach. That is fair enough, but it should not be treated as more.

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