October 31, 2011
The decisions agreed upon by EU leaders during the 26th of October summit – the leveraging of EFSP, the “voluntary” 50 percent reduction of Greece’s debt, improved coordination of fiscal policies within the eurozone countries, the appointment of a super-commissioner with fiscal oversight responsibilities – have all been judged as steps in the right direction by the financial community. Stock markets have reacted positively and so have a few major rating agencies.
Less enchanted with the outcome are, however, the leaders of the ten EU countries which are not currently part of the eurozone. As a result, the summit was the scene of harsh verbal exchanges between David Cameron and the French president, for example, but tensions were equally evident among the Swedish and Romanian delegations.
The non-members of the eurozone feel that the Union is heading towards a two-speed Europe. In other words, its core is made up by the 17 eurozone member countries, headed by Germany and France, whilst the rest are relegated to the periphery, geographically as well as economically. The UK’s chief concern, as the leading financial centre of the Union, is the insistence of eurozone member countries on introducing a financial services tax which could cripple the activity of the City of London. Romania, on the other hand, has expressed reservations about the measure to recapitalise EU banks with large exposure to the Greek, Italian or Spanish debts. As most of its banks are foreign-owned, that might lead to a drastic reduction in lending to local companies. All the other leaders feel already excluded from the important decision-making process, which will take place in the first instance within the euro-club and only afterwards discussed with the rest of the EU’s political representatives.
The emergence of the two-speed Europe could have been avoided by the northern kingdoms if they had agreed to join the eurozone from day one. At the time, countries like the UK and Sweden, for example, sported healthy finances and a fiscal discipline which were in accordance with the criteria established at Maastricht. All is not lost, however. Membership of the eurozone is still open to them in the future, if only they could overcome their reluctance to join. The newer EU members, such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and even Bulgaria are all making strenuous efforts to reduce their budget deficits, improve tax collection and prepare their economies for becoming full members of the eurozone in the years to come.
Viewed in this light, the existence of a eurozone core that could act as a catalyst for change upon the “periphery” is not altogether as negative a development as some EU political leaders wish to present it to their electorates. (sources: Der Spiegel, Reuters, Le Monde, The Economist, The Guardian)Florian Pantazi