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As the European Union experiences a robust economic recovery, with the unemployment rate at a 10-year low and job creation at a 10-year high, the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the second largest economy of the Eurozone creates a de facto window of opportunities for a comprehensive institutional reform.
Mr. Macron delivered a speech at Sorbonne University on September 26, 2017 laying out his vision for “a sovereign, united and democratic Europe”. In his vision the Eurozone encapsulates the heart of Europe’s global economic power.
Why does the Eurozone need to be reformed?
The Eurozone is the monetary Union under which 19 out of the 28 member states of the EU agreed to adopt a common currency. The euro, nowadays used by 338 million consumers daily, is part of the European identity for many EU citizens. However, the 2009 sovereign debt crisis highlighted that the Eurozone was incomplete. The call for a strong fiscal Union to support the existing monetary Union could not be ignored any longer. Especially member states with the poorest fiscal discipline had to deal with an asymmetric economic shock. Even if steps have been taken to strengthen the governance of the Eurozone in terms of prudential regulation and banking union, the need to build stronger institutions to foster growth and to fund common investments has not disappeared.
What is currently being discussed?
To reshape a Eurozone seen as the backbone of a strong Europe, the French President advanced several proposals:
1. A common Eurozone budget.
Mr. Macron is pushing for more economic integration with the creation of a common Eurozone budget. It would have one main objective: financing investments and emergency assistance in case of economic shocks as well as responding to financial crisis. Access to this budget would be conditioned with respect to common fiscal and social standards.
2. A Eurozone Finance Minister.
The French President also called for more political integration through the creation of a Eurozone finance minister. This minister would permanently chair the Eurogroup and would oversee the common budget. This position would merge the existing jobs of president of the Eurogroup with the different EU commissioners in charge of the economy.
3. A Eurozone Parliament.
Additionally, Macron is in favour of creating a Eurozone Parliament (or a Eurozone subcommittee inside the European Parliament) to politically control the finance minister. He would also serve as vice-president in the European commission.
What are the challenges ahead?
In March 2017 the European Commission presented its White Paper on the future of Europe. It gives an overview of different scenarios to describe the possible state of the Union by 2025. Considering his manifesto, President Macron’s Eurozone proposals would undoubtedly enter into the most ambitious scenario drafted by the Commission. In this option, called “doing much more together”, member states are expected to “share more power, resources and decision-making across the board”.
However, Macron’s political willingness may be tested both at the national and European level. In France, he may enter a period of uncertainty as his government implements its reform agenda. The political cost of some of the upcoming structural changes, such as the housing or the fiscal reforms, is still unpredictable. At the same time the labour market overhaul is expected to be fruitful only on the long run. In a country that remains divided on the EU, following an election in which 33,90% of the voters supported Marine Le Pen and 25% did not cast any ballot, the question is whether the president will enjoy enough popular support on his European agenda.
In the EU, President Macron will have to convince his European partners. While France’s relationship has deteriorated with Poland on the issue of posted workers, countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain or Portugal have already welcomed the latest announcements. Moreover, by choosing as senior diplomatic advisor the former French Ambassador to Germany who also served as Ambassador to the EU, the French President expressed his eagerness to reengage with Germany on European affairs. The current political crisis in Germany is therefore closely followed by Paris as any unbalanced outcome could undermine the consequential German support that Macron is seeking for a successful Eurozone reform.
Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.