martes, 12 de julio de 2011

The euro can be saved. Indeed.

Despite some people have been ignoring it, time has arrived for us to accept the fact that the structural imbalances of the Eurozone are no longer just a passing crisis beyond control, but a state of affairs that must be addressed for the future. Currency union has the effect of transforming bad news about one particular country into bad news for other countries, and for the system as a whole. Firstly, a simple revision of the Stability and Growth Pact has proved insufficient to convince the financial markets that the EU is serious about its economic governance.

The “good thing” about this nightmare is that crisis has led to an increasing consensus that political union is necessary to preserve the Eurozone. Certainly, crisis mechanisms have been set up by the EU (the European Financial Stability Mechanism - EFSM) and by the euro area (the European Financial Stability Facility - EFSF). But these measures have not been sufficient to restore calm in markets.

I honestly believe that a great deal of guilt comes from speculative markets, particularly financial interests and rating agencies from the USA, but EU governments (and even media) are to blame as well. Up to now the European public sphere has been characterized by an extreme mismatch between the importance of the integration process and the relevance the media attribute to it. Many groups and media use this mismatch as an instrument to control and counterbalance the pressures towards a European “statehood”.

The paradox is often that public opinion is asking the UE to act in a more incisive way to solve the crisis, whereas in practical terms the national governments are not willing nor giving the EU institutions the capacity to act on their own, which then leads to loss of confidence in these institutions. Probably this process is behind the lack of confidence in political actors, like the European Commission or even the European Central Bank.

At the same time, there is little willingness in Europe today to take drastic steps towards a political union. To save the common currency bailouts have been the answer so far. In fact, the interconnection of European economies and banking sector is an argument in favour of bailouts, despite increasing political costs for countries. But to be honest all of us are exposed in this bailouts (Spain is exposed to Greece by 27 bn of €). Without considering the possible moral hazard of issuing more bailouts, Germany is pushing to water down the new Basel III banking regulations, so probably German banks will continue to be undercapitalised or at least exposed to weaker Eurozone economies, though it is really hard (almost impossible) to have precise data of bank exposure. We don’t know the real cost of possible debt restructuring in Greece (with a debt level of 150% GDP).

So far reforms to address the crisis have been handled at national level, though agreed at EU level. But let’s face it, solutions adopted at Council so far have failed to bring back confidence. Nevertheless, it is still time to consider other options rather than the Greek default, which will be resolved by a possible second injection of capital (also private investors as Merkel had asked for) into Greek banks. By other options I mean Eurobonds or at least massive bond buying by the ECB, which could alter its balance sheet but would always be a better choice than simply let the euro collapse.

A single currency has requirements, particularly a fiscal union; the joint issue of Eurobonds can also be used to provide a boost to economic growth in the Eurozone. In a way, Eurobonds (by replacing national bonds) would bring into life this fiscal union where common debt would be guaranteed by all national governments. The amount of debt to be guaranteed should be within the limits of the Stability Pact. Otherwise, creditor countries should be given the right of fiscal control over debtors.

The Eurobonds would have less attractiveness for AAA countries, and this is why experts and academics suggest different solutions: a) blue and red bonds (Bruegel): participation in common Eurobond limited to given % of GDP (blue bond; senior); the rest is red bond (junior); b) differential interest rates (De Grauwe and Moesen): countries pay an interest rate related to fiscal position, etc.

Eurobond is a visible commitment where countries become jointly liable for the debt they have issued together. On top of this, Eurobonds would be able to compete clearly with the Dollar bond market, bringing liquidity to our market.

On the other hand, there is also a big paradox in Europe. Budgetary austerity is forcing now many governments to cut back on public investment projects, while public investments (infrastructure and education) are a significant variable in boosting economic growth. So we need public investment to foster economic growth, but EU countries are reasonably being asked to cut it in order to avoid an increase in debt burden, which is already unbearable.

In this context EU institutions play the game. And this is why democratic accountability has a role to play. Creditworthiness of the club is at risk, so whatever happens, reinforced economic governance has to be imposed, but this can't be properly done without measures to enhance the popular legitimacy of the EU institutions.

Do you think EU politicians are not facing these concerns? No doubt they are. They’re aware they need to transfer more decisions from the national to the EU level in a form of partnership altering policy-making at home for ever. Last developments and lack of confidence result in a weakened European Union with less capacity at home and globally.

Declarations by leaders and head of governments are not enough to convince about seriousness of commitment in the euro. The right path is to take steps towards more political integration. This lack of trust in the future of the euro zone leads to endemic instability.

jueves, 7 de julio de 2011

The role of Regions in the Mediterranean

Today and tomorrow the European Institute of the Mediterranean holds a Seminar (in Barcelona’s Palau de Pedralbes) to introduce and discuss the MedGovernance project. Today the conference room was packed with professors, researchers, civil servants and students. The aim of this project is to improve the effectiveness of policies led within the Mediterranean Basin. In this Forum, researchers, politicians and experts analyse the role of Mediterranean Regions in multilevel governance, specially the potential of decentralisation for the development of peripheral territories as well as prospective scenarios for the EuroMed cooperation policy.

The rich analytical material highlights the progressive regionalisation of European and national policies. The introduction of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in 1975 gave a major impetus to increasing the competences and funding managed by regions of the European Community and to a growing political recognition of the contribution of the regions in the involvement of subnational entities in delivering European cohesion policy. Within each Member State, the need for managing structural funds contributed to the emergence of a professional regional governance level.

Besides, the establishment of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union by the Maastricht Treaty recognised the key contribution of regional authorities to European policy-making. In the 90s the emergence of multilevel governance in the intellectual tool-box of the Union also contributed to the recognition of territorial actors.

Numerous organisations have been set up to foster the regions’ influence in European policy-making and to work as much as possible with the European Commission because of its initiative role at the beginning of the decision-making process.

The Regions are all convinced of the regional level’s essential added value. The territorial dimension engages the Regions in a new period of cooperation supporting possible cohesion policies in the East and South of the Mediterranean Basin. If in Europe the cohesion policies promoted local development, competitiveness and sustainability and offered new opportunities for many European Regions, we could expect that in the East and South of the Mediterranean Basin, weakness in territorial cooperation projects and networks have been indicated concerning the difficulty to go beyond networking types of activities and in generating effective policy change; a low degree of sustainability and a low level of involvement of external stakeholders and central State representatives; weak partnerships with discontinuous or heterogeneous operative and political commitment of partners/members; fragmentation of projects and initiatives that are often isolated and not integrated into the national or regional development.

The MedGovernance programme was launched back in 2009 with the cooperation of Regions like Catalonia, Lazio, Tuscany, Andalusia, PACA and Piedmont and it has concluded in a series of proposals and demands from the project partners: requests addressed to the EU institutions and States from Europe and the south side of the Mediterranean. Europe and the Mediterranean are thus faced with economic, social and demographic problems worsened by a deep crisis in public finances,

The deep and irreversible changes under way on the south side of the Mediterranean, at the very same time as the European Union and its Member States are initiating talks with their partners to define the EU’s new priorities:
- Implementing the EU 2020 Strategy in the Mediterranean.
- Renewing cohesion and neighbourhood policy instruments, including in their territorial dimension.
- New governance mechanisms

The emergence of approaches aimed at coordinating transnational cooperation programmes with other EU policies in areas of the European Union such as the Baltic Sea or the Danube area have been considered as an interesting perspective, though the governance process implemented in the Baltic Sea area offers a key position to Member States and national authorities, while a limited role is devolved to the local and regional level in the initiative and in the monitoring of the Strategy.

Macro-regional approaches, as experimented in the Baltic Sea area and in the Danube area, should therefore not be considered as a rigid governance model but rather as an open and flexible approach for coordinating EU policies and instruments in a transnational region. Moreover, expectations for increasing funds deriving from macro-regions are also undermined by the principle of the “3 No’s” (“no additional institution, no additional legislation, no additional funding”) repeatedly stated by Commission officials.

As for the future, the first scenario is based on the current trend of envisaging different sub-regional processes. Here, the European Union would become an archipelago of integration sub-processes. In the second scenario, a macro-regional Strategy is drawn up for the whole Mediterranean area. In the third scenario, the integration approach is led by a “bottom-up” process and by the development of macro-projects integrating European and Mediterranean strategies within local or regional priorities.

Nevertheless, the trend for a Mediterranean macro-regional Strategy seems today very unlikely given the lack of consensus existing between regions on different key issues. Finally, Medgovernance aims to propose actions to be initiated by the Mediterranean Regions themselves of course, but also to urge the EU Institutions, the European Union and Partner States, as well as the Union for the Mediterranean: Barcelona Process (UfM) to launch a series of political actions and programmes in the very near future. The solution requires a deeply renewed neighbourhood policy and has to be cooperative.

lunes, 4 de julio de 2011

¿Justo retorno?

En pleno junio se inició el debate sobre el marco presupuestario para la Unión Europea 2014-2020 con gran revuelo y polémica. Un debate que se prolongará todo el año y que debe concluir con un acuerdo definitivo a finales de 2012, bajo presidencia chipriota en el Consejo. Hoy por hoy, la realidad trasluce una práctica congelación del presupuesto, en la línea de la Carta de los Cinco presentada el pasado mes de diciembre por cinco Estados "contribuyentes netos", verbigracia Francia, Alemania, Reino Unido, Holanda y Finlandia, en que solicitaban la congelación presupuestaria hasta 2020. La incomodidad de estos Estados tiene que ver con las presiones por contener el gasto público estatal, y también ¿por qué no? con los movimientos de rescate entre economías de la eurozona. El comunicado de los "Cinco" se encontró con la férrea oposición del bloque de los países del Este, en pleno proceso de recepción de ayudas al desarrollo regional y políticas de cohesión.

El Parlamento europeo, en el plenario de junio, votó, por lo demás, no sólo contra la congelación, sino que propuso un incremento del 5% en el monto total, justificado sobre el peso político y estratégico del programa Europa 2020, totalmente inasumible sin una dotación presupuestaria correcta. Como señalaba el portavoz Garriga "no se le puede pedir más a Europa con menos financiación", a no ser que se pretenda que el objetivo 2020 quede en otro fracaso.

A la postura claramente expresada por el PE, se suma la de la Comisión, que defiende ese aumento del 5%, al tiempo que desea suprimir -y en todo caso simplificar- las devoluciones. No sólo el cheque británico, sino también las compensaciones que reciben Holanda, Suecia, Austria y Alemania, precisamente por su contribución al fondo británico. No es de extrañar que este sistema sea un verdadero quebradero de cabeza para el desarrollo presupuestario.

La Comisión presentó su informe el jueves pasado, planteando un aumento del 5,04% sobre el actual marco 2007-2013, que en realidad se traduciría en una reducción del actual en términos de renta bruta, ya que se pasaría del 1,1 % del PNB en el actual marco al 1,05 % del PNB en 2014-2020. La propuesta de la Comisión solicita un total de 1025000 millones de euros en compromisos, más 972 mil millones en pagos para el total del período 2014-2020. Destacables los 58 mil millones extrapresupuestarios (que necesitarían en su caso aprobación del Consejo) para reservas de emergencia, efectos de la globalización y la financiación del proyecto ITER. No obstante, es preciso destacar que el presupuesto europeo siempre está en equilibrio y que nunca se supera el gasto predefinido, por lo que no hay posibilidad alguna de déficit.

En buena lógica, la Comisión sigue interpretando el presupuesto como herramienta de cohesión, función para la que fue concebido en sus inicios, y que cobra relevancia justamente en un ciclo económico de crisis como el actual. Del monto total propuesto, 376 mil millones de euros serían para desarrollo regional (cohesión) y 372 mil millones para los agricultores, si bien el peso de la PAC descenderá hasta el 33% en 2020, beneficiándose otras políticas, como la de cohesión y  las de carácter ecológico y medioambiental, evidente apuesta estratégica de la Comisión. Además, 40.000 millones de euros los gestionará directamente la propia Comisión Europea para proyectos transeuropeos de redes transporte, energía y telecomunicaciones. Entre las novedades importantes, destaca una nueva área política que pretende cobrar visibilidad: la competitividad de las PYMES y el turismo. Este punto se dota de un pequeño fondo de 2400 millones de euros.

El proyecto contempla también recortes, ya que el marco presupuestario prevé una reducción del 5 % en número de funcionarios en instituciones comunitarias en 2018.

Lo cierto es que muchos Estados se han apresurado a manifestar su oposición al incremento presupuestario, incluido el liberal alemán Westerwelle, que niega un problema de financiación en la UE, o el británico Cameron, totalmente alérgico a cualquier nueva tasa.

Cabe decir, no obstante, que el gobierno francés se ha mostrado partidario de abrir ese debate y se muestra conforme con las líneas expresadas por la Comisión, aunque no se lleven a engaño, parecen actuar más en el sentido de recibir una parte de esa tasa financiera que en contribuir al presupuesto comunitario, al que según el gobierno francés Francia ya aporta 20 mil millones de euros anuales.

En un ambiente de creciente euroescepticismo, y ante una grave crisis que demanda justamente flexibilidad, es más pertinente que nunca buscar herramientas presupuestarias que puedan permitir ajustes y mitigar particularidades de la crisis en su impacto sobre regiones europeas, tanto las más rezagadas como las regiones intermedias, con problemas de competitividad, que no sólo son derivados de los problemas internos en la eurozona y su percepción por parte de los mercados.

Por lo demás, Barroso apuesta por acabar con la cultura del justo retorno (¿qué hay de mi dinero?), y se plantea buscar un nuevo recurso propio con que financiar el presupuesto de la Unión. Se habla con fuerza del Impuesto sobre Transacciones Financieras, concebido para “penalizar” de algún modo a los iniciadores de la crisis global, aunque con un fin no tanto moral sino de gravar según el volumen de operaciones sobre el sector financiero. Otra de las opciones es recaudar directamente por parte de la UE un tramo del IVA nacional, de entre el 1% y el 2%. Por ahora, parece descartarse el impuesto de sociedades (conocido como EUCIT en inglés) debido a los riesgos en cuanto a percepción de un gravamen de este estilo, en el sentido de que por ejemplo la industria europea perciba estar financiando a otros sectores, como el agrícola.

Actualmente, los recursos propios de la UE sólo representan el 15% del total, mientras que el restante 85% es financiado mediante contribuciones directas de los Estados miembros. Se prevé que tanto el tramo del IVA como el Impuesto sobre Transacciones Financieras entren en vigor en 2018, por tanto al margen de lo que es la negociación en sí del Marco Financiero 2014-2020. La Comisión estima que el impuesto financiero podría generar 30 mil millones de euros anuales.

El cuadro de la situación sigue siendo bastante descorazonador, no sólo por ese insinuado escepticismo, sino por los intentos denodados de propuestas con pocas opciones de prosperar. Tenemos a un Giscard cargado de buenas intenciones y nostálgico de la Convención que aboga por recuperar aquel espíritu constitucional, mientras que el mismísimo Lamassoure se descuelga con la propuesta de una Convención presupuestaria con la participación de sociedad civil, parlamentos nacionales y demás actores relevantes.

Sin embargo, no parece que los Estados estén dispuestos a airear públicamente un debate sobre la financiación de la Unión Europea, debate cuyas consecuencias podrían ser imprevisibles en un contexto de gran tensión política y durmiente inquietud en las sociedades europeas. Justamente por ello vivimos un momento que presenta un gran reto político y comunicativo para la Unión Europea. La combinación de necesidad y capacidad del motto “More Europe” merece más apoyo de todos nosotros, y un voto de confianza en las instituciones europeas, como único sistema garante de la superación de los viejos instintos de los intereses nacionales y de articulación objetiva de lo que significa estar juntos y haber renunciado a dosis importantes de soberanía. Los momentos difíciles son, paradójicamente, los momentos de la generosidad. También ahí nos jugamos nuestra credibilidad exterior como bloque, no sólo económico, sino también político.