Thursday

13th Dec 2018

Feature

What did the EU agree at its 'make-or-break' summit?

  • Nobel-prize economist Paul Krugman in his blog on 15 November: 'ECB bail-out or bust. And it's looking like bust' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Amid the fog of terminology, draft and final conclusions and annexes, not to mention allegations and denials by EU polticians over the past 24 hours, EUobserver tries to make sense of what the summit actually agreed.

What the EU agreed

A new EU20, EU26 or EU-something-in-between treaty on financial discipline

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Also known as the "fiscal compact" and containing "debt brakes" and "golden rules", the intergovernmental treaty is to be agreed by March 2012 "at the latest."

It will cover all 17 euro-using countries plus Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Bulgaria, the Czech republic, Denmark, Hungary, Romania and Sweden are to check with national parliaments if they should join. The UK - sensationally - is staying out.

Countries must introduce a 'debt brake' into their constitutions or at an "equivalent" legal level, requiring balanced budgets, which are defined as not exceeding deficits of 0.5 percent of GDP.

Countries which breach a three percent deficit limit will face sanctions at EU level unless they cobble together a blocking majority.

The European Commission will carry a big stick: it will look at national budgets before national MPs and make demands. It will also be able to parachute in teams of budget inspectors to national capitals and push countries to apply for bail-outs even if they do not want to.

A more market-friendly bail-out fund

A new-model European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a permanent Luxembourg-based €500 billion bail-out fund, will be agreed "in the coming days." It will come into life in July 2012, not in 2013 as previously planned and will replace the current €440 billion European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). Private lenders to countries that take rescue packages will not be asked to write-off part of the debt.

Funneling more EU money back to the EU via the IMF

EU countries will pay an extra €200 billion to the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be used to part-finance future bail-outs. It is hoped the move will encourage countries beyond the EU to also pay in more, with Brazil, China and Qatar already expressing an interest.

Eurobonds, maybe, in the long-term

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy's office will produce a feasibility report by March 2012 on the issuing of common eurozone bonds in the "long term." Germany previously said "No" to this, but more recently has indicated it is just the timing that is wrong.

More summits

Eurozone summits - a novelty of 2011 - are to be held "at least" twice a year. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU27 should hold regular summits every month unlike the current arrangement of four times a year plus emergency events.

What it did not agree

No new EU treaty

The UK said it would not back the fiscal compact because other EU countries refused to give in to its demands to shield the City of London from potential EU taxes and regulators. This means the Lisbon Treaty will remain unchanged and the new intergovernmental agreement will stand alongside it - not so much a two-speed Union as a faster Union with the UK left behind.

No big bazooka

Proposals to let the ESM and EFSF stand side-by-side after 2012 with a joint lending power of €940 billion (still not enough to bail out Italy and Spain if needed) were quashed by Germany.

No ECB money-printing

Proposals that would allow the European Central (ECB) bank to underwrite ESM and EFSF debt, effectively giving them infinite bail-out resources - a solution favoured by the markets - were quashed by Germany.

The known unknowns

Will the ECB buy more bad debt?

Speaking to MEPs last week, ECB head Mario Draghi said if there is a new fiscal compact "other elements might follow" - language widely understood as meaning more purchasing of weak Italian and Spanish debt. Speaking on Thursday he said "No" and added he was "kind of surprised" people understood him that way.

What bits of the new treaty will apply to whom?

Fuzzy language in the EU summit conclusions makes it unclear whether all the signatories of the fiscal compact will be covered by all of its aspects or if there is room for little opt-outs here and there.

"Some of the measures described above can be decided through secondary legislation. The euro area heads of state or government consider that the other measures should be contained in primary legislation," the summit statment said. It did not specify which parts are too important to be left to secondary laws.

What will the EU institutions do?

British leader David Cameron insisted that the EU institutions can only serve all 27 EU countries - a situation, if true, that would torpedo the fiscal compact.

EU Council and European Commission chiefs Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso were less sure. Van Rompuy said: "We will find a large interpretation of the role of institutions." Barroso said: "The issues are exceedingly complex. We are looking at these questions, but we believe good results will come."

How will the EU bail-out fund make its decisions?

In an echo of the Cameron situation, the deal would shift governance of the EU bail-out funds from requiring unanimous decision-making to a qualified majority. But Finland wants to stick to unanimity. Its finance minister, Jutta Urpilainen, said on Friday morning Finland will quit the fund unless it gets its way.

Will there be EU-wide taxes?

The summit conclusions say EU leaders welcome "structured discussions on the co-ordination of tax policy issues" and that "particular attention should be paid to how tax policy can support economic policy co-ordination and contribute to fiscal consolidation and growth."

This - coupled with the facts the commission has called for an EU-wide tax on financial transactions and that France and Germany on the eve of the summit said the EU should have a common corporate and financial tax base - was enough to spook Cameron. But no explict deal on taxes has been reached yet.

Is it enough to convince markets?

The €1.1 trillion question (Italy and Spain's upcoming debt needs) that remains is: Will it be enough to save the euro?

Asian markets slipped on news of the UK decision. But EU markets climbed on the same news later in the day. On past form, EU bargains have given the bloc a few weeks of respite before rebels began undoing parts of the agreement and analysts realised it is much less impressive than it first looked, sending bond spreads skyward again.

Going into the summit, the prevailing theory was that if the ECB does not start printing money sooner or later, the euro will fall apart.

EU leaders embrace 'fiscal compact' demanded by central bank

EU leaders have endorsed a series of rules tightening budget surveillance and institutionalising limits on public spending - the ‘fiscal compact’ that the ECB has demanded before it can more aggressively purchase Italian and Spanish debt.

France and Germany detail sweeping changes to eurozone set-up

The Franco-German powerhouse has proposed a series of sweeping changes to the bloc’s institutional set-up in an effort to bring an end to the eurozone crisis that has laid low European economies and threatened the survival of the Union.

Political union beginning to take shape, Merkel says

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said a political union is beginning to take shape in the EU, but the Socialist opposition has accused her of putting the Union on an "incalculable" path after last week’s summit.

Greens boycott EU-Morocco vote after lobbying expose

EUobserver has exposed Moroccan lobbying at the European Parliament, prompting a probe to be launched against several MEPs. The Greens have now decided to boycott next week's Morocco trade vote in protest, saying the lobbying investigation must be finished first.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary votes to create new court overseen by government
  2. Polish PM calls confidence vote in EU judicial clash
  3. MEPs urge Russia to free Ukrainian prisoners
  4. No renegotiation of Brexit deal, MEPs say
  5. Italy to spend less than EU feared: report
  6. May: new leader would have to delay or rescind Brexit
  7. Brexit chaos as Tory MPs to vote on May's leadership
  8. EU set to spend 3.2 percent more in 2019

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. COP24: Vanuatu in 'constant state of emergency' on climate
  2. EU awaits May's future, insists on no renegotiation
  3. Deja vu: Bulgaria pipeline to face EU scrutiny
  4. MEPs and EU staff hid from Strasbourg gunman
  5. 'Trumped Up': The curious case of Babis' conflicts of interest
  6. EU rules out Brexit changes, but could help May
  7. Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes
  8. UN text not yet ready for ministers, says EU climate czar

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  2. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  3. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  6. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  8. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  10. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  11. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us