March 31, 2012
The harsh austerity measures afflicting southern EU members like Greece, Spain, Portugal or Ireland are generating massive unemployment and negative economic growth, not to mention the type of social turmoil that can conceivably degenerate into civil war. As the European Union is far from a truly federal structure, fiscal transfers from economically viable member-states to distressed areas of the Union are currently out of the question. Still, policy measures aimed at reversing the negative trends in economic activity and employment should become the top priority both for Brussels and EU national governments, if the deterioration of economic conditions is to be prevented from spreading.
The amounts needed to kickstart economic growth in the south and to drastically reduce unemployment, to be sure, would have to be in the vicinity of 1 trillion euros. These would fund EU-wide mega-infrastructure projects in transportation, energy generation and the maintenance of adequate provision of education and healthcare services. Unfortunately, most EU governments are now locked in a battle to reduce their fiscal deficits, in a vain effort to appease restless international financial markets and speculators. One of the few solutions advanced by – among others – Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of Ecofin, is that of issuing eurobonds, although the idea was flatly rejected by Germany and France.
The European Commission lacks the financial muscle to undertake such projects. To overcome that, it should, however, be enabled to issue a batch of one-off eurobonds earmarked for financing development and economic growth projects in distressed regions of the EU. Issued over a period of five years and sold exclusively to EU nationals, by a banking system that owes a lot to states and depositors alike, these eurobonds with long maturity dates could be an adequate financial instrument needed to raise large amounts of money in these times of huge economic stress.
By putting the European Commission in charge of the proceeds, the projects to be undertaken will not only benefit the countries most in need, but the European Union as a whole. As matters now stand, the alternative is to use crypto- financial transfers from northern countries to the South, which would result in higher taxation levels affecting the rich as well as the struggling European middle classes. The eurobond solution could also prove instrumental in redeeming the badly tarnished image of EU authorities, who are currently being perceived as a mere conveyor belt of highly unpopular austerity policies dictated by the financial markets.Florian Pantazi