Current Events & Trends: A tighter fiscal union in Europe?

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A tighter fiscal union in Europe?

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On Dec. 5, 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported: "The leaders of France and Germany...issued an ultimatum to the 27 European Union governments, saying they must decide by week's end whether they will accept greater central control over their national budgets—effectively ceding some of their fiscal sovereignty" ("Europe at Crossroads," Dec. 6, 2011).

And remarkably, the single currency and European project were "rescued" by Friday morning, Dec. 9. As the Associated Press reported that day: "European leaders redefine their continent—hoping that by joining their fiscal fortunes they might stop a crippling debt crisis, save the euro currency and prevent worldwide economic chaos. Only one country said no: Britain. It will risk isolation while the rest of the continent plots its future...[The agreement] would force countries to submit their budgets for central review and limit the deficits they can run" ("Europe Forges Fiscal Union, Sees Way Out of Crisis").

Many analysts see this as a monumental development. Ian Traynor wrote in The Guardian: "When the dust settles, Friday 9 December may be seen as a watershed, the beginning of the end for Britain in Europe. But more than that—the emergence for the first time of a cold new Europe in which Germany is the undisputed, pre-eminent power imposing a decade of austerity on the eurozone as the price for its propping up the currency" ("As the Dust Settles, a Cold New Europe With Germany in Charge Will Emerge," Dec. 9, 2011).

Others see ratification of treaty amendments by the rest of the EU to be unlikely. As Gideon Rachman wrote in the Financial Times: "The outcome of the Brussels meeting is much more likely to end up as a footnote in the history books than a bold new chapter...As economies worsen, voters are likely to revolt. Even under current circumstances, there are huge doubts about whether [the Dec. 9] EU agreement will ever come into force...

"Both the Swedish and the Dutch governments currently lack a clear parliamentary majority—and need the votes of opposition parties to get the new agreement through. But in both countries the main opposition party has already said it will reject the new treaty. Ratification in Denmark, Finland and the Czech Republic is also far from certain" (Dec. 13, 2011).

Yet if the desired fiscal union is foiled by a few countries, we may well see increased calls for a two-speed Europe or even a partial breakup, with those EU countries that want closer integration pressing on without the others. (Sources: Financial Times, The Guardian [both London], Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal.)