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Bilan de l’Union économique et monétaire (UEM) et des performances de la zone euro

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20 janvier 2008

Dix ans après le lancement de la monnaie unique, le think tank bruxellois, Bruegel, a réuni un groupe d’experts de haut niveau afin de dresser un bilan de l’Union économique et monétaire (UEM) et des performances de la zone euro. Le rapport intitulé : "Coming of age : Report on the euro area", formule un ensemble de recommandations visant à améliorer les performances et le fonctionnement de la zone euro. Il identifie pour cela une série de secteurs stratégiques : politique monétaire, politique fiscale, réformes structurelles, stabilité financière, élargissement et dimension externe et gouvernance de la zone euro.


Au moment où l’euro fête ses 10 ans, les défis auxquels les Etats membres de la zone euro et la Banque central européenne doivent faire face sont de taille. L’inflation de la zone euro atteint les 3%, la croissance économique est en baisse, l’euro atteint des taux d’appréciation records face au dollar et la situation financière mondiale est particulièrement instable. Le think tank bruxellois Bruegel a réuni un groupe d’experts de haut niveau afin de dresser un bilan de l’Union économique et monétaire, 10 ans après le lancement de l’euro. L’évaluation de la politique monétaire, des performances de la zone euro, de la politique fiscale, de la stabilité financière et du rôle de l’Eurogroupe permet à ce groupe d’identifier différents niveaux de réformes et de formuler un ensemble de recommandations pour l’améliorer le fonctionnement et les performances de la zone euro.




Analytical framework

EMU is a learning process, but we are concerned that in some respects the process is excessively slow. Almost ten years into EMU, some of the basic tenets of participation in a currency union seem not to have permeated policymaking in some of the member countries. Too often, budgetary policies combine a disregard for long-term constraints with perversely procyclical short-run behaviour ; economic reforms that have the potential to improve the functioning of the euro area are postponed ; and contradictory statements undermine the credibility of the common exchange rate policy. The European Commission and the ECB deserve high marks for having consistently focused on the logical implications of forming a monetary union, but they too have sometimes been slow in drawing lessons from evidence. Devotion to the treaty – even to a narrow interpretation of it, as in the case of the enlargement criteria – and obedience to established practices have more than once hampered policy learning. This situation is worrying in two respects. First, current behaviour does not allow the euro area to reap the full benefit of the single currency and governments have sometimes failed to realise that membership in a currency union requires a change in behavior.

Second, EMU can accommodate a certain degree of mutual mistrust, but at a cost : less resilience when coping with crises, less chance for economic agents to anticipate the policy response to shocks and less scope for market participants to decipher statements on exchange rates. At best, this results in poorer performance ; at worst, in a less robust EMU system. More uncertain global economic conditions make this situation untenable.

Policy specific Recommendations

Monetary policy

The ECB should improve its policy framework by moving towards a full inflation target regime.
The ECB should publish forecasts for inflation and GDP that reflect the views of the Governing Council.
The ECB should voluntarily inform the Eurogroup that it has adopted a reformed inflation target, and the Eurogroup should respond with an unequivocal endorsement (through an exchange of letters, perhaps) to show public support for the improved framework.

Fiscal policy

The focus of EU surveillance should increasingly be a comprehensive concept of debt sustainability.
The EU should recognise progress in home-grown fiscal discipline through granting increased national fiscal autonomy to countries that have put in place credible and appropriate national fiscal policy rules and institutions.
In assessing national fiscal rules and institutions, the scope for differentiation should be recognised.
The presidency of the Eurogroup should assume leadership in the implementation of the reforms we propose and, if required by exceptional circumstances, in devising common fiscal guidelines for the euro area.

Structural reforms

The Eurogroup should act as a catalyst and a caucus for reforms which are of the competence of the EU but which are of particular importance for the functioning of the euro area. The euro area should promote cross-border labour mobility.
As regards policy fields for which member countries are responsible, the EU should use the budget review of 2008/2009 as an opportunity to direct EU spending towards promoting growth and reforms. The euro area could foster policy learning through resorting more systematically to independent assessment and benchmarking and encourage the Commission to enhance its surveillance role by issuing under its own responsibility nonlegally-binding assessments and recommendations along the lines of IMF Article 4 staff reports.
The Eurogroup should consider issuing formal recommendations to a country whose policy represents a threat to the normal operation and sustainability of EMU.
In the rare case where trade-offs between structural reforms and budgetary adjustment arise, such trade-offs should be addressed by requesting from the country concerned a time-bound commitment to reach a specified debt-to-GDP ratio.

Financial stability

The euro area should take the lead in promoting a European prudential and supervisory regime for pan-European banks.


The criterion for price stability should be amended or reinterpreted. One possibility would be a requirement that the inflation rate must not exceed by more than 1.5 percentage points the average inflation rate for the euro area, as opposed to the average inflation rate of the three member states where inflation is lowest. Another, somewhat stricter possibility could be to take as a benchmark the average inflation rate for the three countries whose performance is the closest to the ECB objective. This would amount to reinterpreting the reference in Article 121 of the treaty to the ‘three best performing member states in terms of price stability’ and to considering that best performance does not mean lowest possible inflation but inflation as close as possible to the objective.
A first-best solution would be to scrap the obligation of two-year membership of the ERM2 for those countries that so wish. At any rate, the requirement should be interpreted flexibly, taking into account the country’s previous exchange rate history.
There should be more emphasis on a prudent debt limit for the new member states, and the deficit limit chosen should be consistent with the debt limit and with medium-term growth prospects.
To help promote fiscal sustainability, the new member states should aim to reach budgetary balance or surplus during periods of rapid growth.

External dimension

The current distribution of responsibilities for exchange rate policy is broadly appropriate.
Verbal discipline is a prerequisite. There can be no effectiveness on exchange rate matters as long as ministers and even heads of state and government publicly disagree with each other and with the EU institutions.
The euro area should express its views on the exchange rate policies of its main partners.
The Eurogroup has significant responsibilities. Its involvement in foreign exchange market interventions remains necessary when such interventions are concerted, and is highly desirable for unilateral interventions. The Eurogroup president is the natural interlocutor of foreign governments on exchange rate and exchange regime matters.
Arrangements for external representation need to be streamlined. A delegation mechanism should be developed to allow the president of the Eurogroup to represent the Eurogroup externally and vis-à-vis neighbouring countries in the event of a crisis.

Recommendations for governance of the Eurogroup

The authors propose to reserve formal Council recommendations to the prevention of risks regarding the proper functioning and the sustainability of EMU. Besides irresponsible public debt accumulation, potential risks covered by such a provision should include threats to financial stability, unsustainable macroeconomic policies potentially resulting in severe real exchange rate misalignments within the euro area, and external threats to stability.
The authors propose that it be possible to hold Council meetings in euro area format, including at the level of heads of state and government.
The authors recommend the creation of a single euro area chair at the IMF.