In an attempt to give Europe’s shared economy a quick boost without any time-consuming hurdles, the European Commission adopted a new set of measures Wednesday to expand its oversight of the common currency union and the EU’s 28 economies.
Concerned about Europe’s 18 million unemployed and the increase in debt on eurozone countries’ books since the financial crisis, Brussels is eager to fix leaks in economies without changing the treaties that define its relationship with national governments.
“We have the rules, we need to use them better,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the Commission’s vice-president for the euro and social dialogue, told journalists Wednesday.
The new efforts include asking the 19 countries in the single currency to convene a board to monitor economic competitiveness — an obsession in the eurozone, where countries can’t alter exchange rates to address unevenness in economic performances. The precise design of the boards, which already exist in countries like the Netherlands and Belgium, will be left to national capitals.
In Brussels, the new measures involve starting a new group of five macroeconomic experts in 2016, called the European Fiscal Board, who will provide advice to the Commission on its oversight of national budgets and debt levels.
Since the global financial crisis, national debt across the eurozone has increased 20 percent, relative to economic output.
But experts worry that convening new meetings and increasing the flow of progress reports in Brussels will do little to address the causes of the problem.
“The national competitiveness boards and the euro-area Fiscal Council are all ‘soft’ measures whose actual impact is highly uncertain,” said Daniel Gros, president of the Center for European Policy Studies.
The European Trade Union Confederation expressed concern about the potential for competitiveness boards to sprawl beyond their mandate and disturb labor markets.
“The euro area is suffering from a lack of investment and a lack of internal demand,” said Veronica Nilsson, an executive from the labor group. “I am not sure how setting up Competitiveness Boards will help. I would be more in favor of setting up ‘Social Progress Boards’ to make recommendations on tackling unemployment, poverty and inequality.”
The Commission also proposed changing the eurozone’s representation on the International Monetary Fund’s governing council, where countries like Germany and France have their own vote while others like the Baltics and Finland share their votes with non-euro Nordic countries.
To ensure eurozone countries “speak with one voice,” Dombrovskis said the president of the Eurogroup — the powerful club of finance ministers from the currency area, currently led by Dutchman Jeroen Dijsselbloem — should represent the eurozone by 2025. The transition would begin with the eurozone asking for observer status at IMF board meetings.
Consolidating the eurozone’s presence would make it the largest shareholder in the IMF, giving it more clout on the global stage.
Other reforms include changes in the schedule of the economic homework and grades the EU issues to the 28 countries under its watch — known as the European Semester — and efforts to complete the Banking Union, a project the EU has been working on for years to protect national economies from the any instability in the banking sector.
The Commission will present further measures that will require treaty change — a drawn-out process involving votes in national capitals — in the spring of 2017. That is the next step in a 10-year plan to improve the EU economy, as outlined in a report earlier this year from the presidents of the Commission, the Council, the Parliament, the Eurogroup and the European Central Bank.