Thursday 18 October 2012

Schaeuble's Currency Commissioner

German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, floated the idea of a currency commissioner in the run-up to this week's European Council summit. The currency commissioner would be able to veto national budgets, and would be independent of the rest of the College of Commissioners (the Commission takes decisions by majority vote) to "depoliticise" the role.

This idea is clearly bonkers. You cannot "depoliticise" the fundamental matter of national budgets, because you cannot pretend that budgets and economic issues are simply matters of technical wizardry, with expert options being implemented for desired outcomes - desired outcomes are political matters, and deserve a meaningful airing in a publically accountable body: the national parliament. While there is an argument for certain budgetary contraints on Eurozone Member States to ensure the functioning of the common currency - in exchange for solidarity between Member States, it should be stressed - at the end of the day Member States should be able to set their own budgets.

Rather than trying to come up with tighter and more rigid and better enforced rules for the Eurozone, we should be working to divorce banks from the sovereigns to make banking a European matter within the Eurozone, and creating a system where Member States can go bankrupt, without endangering the system and with some support for recovery after bankruptcy. A flexible and politically accountable system would work much better than Schaeuble's approach - there needs to be political accountability for national budgets at the national level, and at the European level for those elements of European solidarity.

Even on the European level of accountability, Schaeuble's plan fails: an independent currency commissioner would be free of the restraint of the rest of the college of commissioners (and here the issue of the nationality of said commissioner would come into political focus), and the ability of the European Parliament to hold him or her to account is also muddied. Could the EP sack this independent commissioner or only as a part of the Commission as a whole? Where's the balance between independence and accountability here?

Schaeuble's approach here reveals an underlying philosophy that's plan wrong. Money and budgets are political, and there needs to be democratic accountability and participation both nationally, and Eurozone-wide for the Euro to work. Once Schaeuble and others take account of this basic fact we might get to see more realistic and workable plans being suggested.

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