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Rules-based economic governance in the European Union: A reappraisal of national fiscal rules

Benczes, Istvan (2011): Rules-based economic governance in the European Union: A reappraisal of national fiscal rules.

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Abstract

The economic and financial crisis of 2007/2009 has posed unexpected challenges on both the global and the regional level. Besides the US, the EU has been the most severely hit by the current economic crisis. The financial and banking crisis on the one hand and the sovereign debt crisis on the other hand have clearly shown that without a bold, constructive and systematic change of the economic governance structure of the Union, not just the sustainability of the monetary zone but also the viability of the whole European integration process can be seriously undermined. The current crisis is, however, only a symptom, which made all those contradictions overt that were already heavily embedded in the system.

Right from the very beginning, the deficit and the debt rules of the Maastricht Treaty and the Stability and Growth Pact have proved to be controversial cornerstones in the fiscal governance framework of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Yet, member states of the EU (both within and outside of the EMU) have shown an immense interest in adopting numerical constraints on the domestic level without hesitation. The main argument for the introduction of national fiscal rules was mostly to strengthen the accountability and credibility of national fiscal policy-making. The paper, however, claims that a relatively large portion of national rules were adopted only after the start of deceleration of the debt-to-GDP ratios. Accordingly, national rules were hardly the sole triggering factors of maintaining fiscal discipline; rather, they served as the key elements of a comprehensive reform package of public budgeting. It can be safely argued, therefore, that countries decide to adopt fiscal rules because they want to explicitly signal their strong commitment to fiscal discipline. In other words, it is not fiscal rules per se what matter in delivering fiscal stability but a strong political commitment.

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