Thursday, February 18, 2010

The European Hermaphrodite

In an interview to Repubblica‘s financial supplement of 15 February Giuliano Amato proposes to “turn the current European crisis into an opportunity – by founding a European Monetary Fund”. Giuliano Amato was twice Italian Premier in 1992-93 and 2000-01, four times Treasury Minister, once Minister for Institutional Reform and Minister of the Interior; he is a distinguished academic, Professor of Constitutional Law, and has just been appointed Senior Advisor for Italy by Deutsche Bank. His generous proposal has vision and must be taken seriously.

Regional solutions are a step forward when global solutions are not there, but conditional financial assistance to governments experiencing imbalances in their external accounts or public finances is already being provided by the IMF. All EU and EMU members are both shareholders and clients of the IMF in any case. Giuliano Amato says “Those who are keen on the europeanisation of economies feel that something is lost if we are not capable of resolving our own problems ourselves”. Why does he endorse these views? If we set up a European Monetary Fund, should we then want to set up a European Health Organisation next to the WHO, a European Trade Organisation next to the WTO, a Bank of European Settlements next to the BIS?

Giuliano Amato does not regard the European Union as simply another regional organization, albeit of considerable scale. More than once he has defined the EU as a “hermaphrodite”, combining lasting traits of international organization with traits that used to belong exclusively to states. Therefore he believes that it was a mistake to build the single currency with a mere coordination of national economic and fiscal policy. A European Monetary Fund would give the single currency the instruments necessary to offset asymmetric shocks within the European Union. However, even someone sharing his hermaphrodite characterization of the Union might draw from it the diametrically opposite conclusion - that it should evolve more in the direction of a federal or unitary state than in that of a regional grouping (with its own regional Monetary Fund).

Apart from this, the proposal for a European Monetary Fund presumes that the operational criteria of this Fund would be different from those of the IMF, otherwise why bother? But if the EMF criteria were more severe than those of the IMF the Union cannot prevent its own members from applying for IMF assistance; if EMF conditions were less severe the Union might first try and negotiate with the IMF less stringent conditionality in general at least for its own members. It would only be worth setting up an EMF if, say, its conditions were more grounded in social and political consensus, more geared to what is left of the European Social Model, less US-centered and US-inspired.

Except that, in the financial crisis of 2008-2009 the IMF has been capable of providing the necessary leadership for implementing a global fiscal and monetary intervention against the crisis, while European institutions limped behind their various deflationary regional rules and traditional constraints.

Imagine a small group of tennis players (Giuliano Amato is a very fine tennis player), all fee-paying members and shareholders of a tennis club that works satisfactorily, who propose to found a second, exclusive club for the provision of tennis facilities identical to those already provided by the pre-existing club, simply to be able to call it their own. There would be no point - unless the game was played under different rules, but this possibility has not yet been illustrated.

1 comment:

D. Mario Nuti said...

Giuliano Amato e-mailed me the following comment, with permission to add to the post:

"That's fair, given our difference of view on the concept of hermaphrodite. In my view, with a European Fund there would be more of a State than there is now. So it would be like building a communal tennis court or swimming pool."