May 21, 2020 - Economy & Business

Europe crafts a fiscal lifeline

Illustration of a life raft with stars
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Europe came one step closer to the long-held dream of fiscal union this week, as both France and Germany signed on to the idea of the EU itself — rather than member states — raising money on the bond market that could then be spent on crisis relief.

Flashback: In April, I praised a Spanish proposal that the EU issue €1.5 trillion in perpetual bonds and then give the proceeds to the member states most hurt by the pandemic. The problem was that while Spain would be a net winner from the scheme, none of the net losers seemed inclined to sign on.

Driving the news: The proposal from France and Germany is similar, if smaller, at €500 billion ($550 billion). Still, it would constitute an unprecedented transfer from Europe's richest countries to those most in need.

  • Reality check: All 27 EU member states, including fiscally hawkish nations like the Netherlands and Austria, would need to agree in order for this to become a reality. But up until now, Angela Merkel's Germany would also have been considered to be in that group.

What they're saying: "Ms. Merkel, in the twilight of her long political career, has put the interests of the 27-nation union" before her domestic concerns, writes Steven Erlanger of the New York Times.

The bottom line: The U.S. monetary union only works because it allows and accepts massive one-way fiscal flows from the rich states to the poorer ones. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has had some choice words on that subject of late.) If the European monetary union is to succeed, similar flows between states are likely to be necessary.

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