A Democracy Catch-up for the Eurozone

Young economic policy experts discuss the democratic accountability of the EMU during the Econ Jour Fixe in Brussels © BDI

Lately, the window of opportunity for deepening the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has been cited repetitively. Proposals to use this momentum for structural reforms are well-known. But the time may have also come to take a closer look at the democratic accountability of the governance structure and its shortcomings.

It is agreed that the eurozone has now finally overcome the crisis years and is picking up growth again. However, now may not only be the time to reinforce structural reforms, as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and French President Emmanuel Macron proposed, but to assess the transparency and democratic legitimacy of the system and the decisions taken. While the years of crisis required quick and straightforward decision-making, the accountability and the compliance with democratic principles sometimes lagged behind. The latter has been discussed by young economic policy experts at the sixth Econ Jour Fixe Meeting (EJF) in Brussels.

Many institutions operate outside the EU Treaties

Especially the role of the Eurogroup is of concern. It was conceived as an informal discussion group but evolved into the central actor in the eurozone through fiscal policy decisions. This is highly contentious since the Eurogroup lacks both democratic legitimacy and a legal basis in the Treaties. The ad-hoc fiscal integration has caused critical practices that were even pointed out by the European Commission in the reflection paper on deepening EMU. Ideas to solve this legacy problem are already on the table.

EMU governance lacks democratic accountability

It might be possible to introduce co-decision powers for the European Parliament, majoritarian decision-making and a full-time Eurogroup president to reduce conflicts of interest. For reasons of transparency, meetings of the Eurogroup could be held publicly and the level of effective decision-making and accountability could be aligned. With the European Commission’s EMU package expected in December 2017 and a new Eurogroup president in January 2018, the time may therefore have come to review the EMU governance principles from a democratic accountability perspective.