Radical eurozone shakeup could see Brussels get austerity powers

The Guardian reports: The European commission could be empowered to impose austerity measures on eurozone countries that are being bailed out, usurping the functions of government in countries such as Greece, Ireland, or Portugal.

Bailed-out countries could also be stripped of their voting rights in the European Union, under radical proposals that have been circulating at the highest level in Brussels before this week’s crucial EU summit on the sovereign debt crisis.

A confidential paper for EU leaders by the EU council president, Herman Van Rompuy, who will chair the summit on Thursday and Friday, said eurobonds or the pooling of eurozone debt would be a powerful tool in resolving the crisis, despite fierce German resistance to the idea.

It called for “more intrusive control of national budgetary policies by the EU” and laid out various options for enforcing fiscal discipline supra-nationally.

The two-page paper, obtained by the Guardian, formed the basis for discussions on an interim report tabled by Van Rompuy, the European commission and the Eurogroup of countries that have adopted the euro, which is to be debated on Wednesday among senior officials in an attempt to build a consensus ahead of the summit.

Elements, however, have already sparked a backlash among eurozone member states and the suggestion that countries could lose their voting rights seems already to have been dropped.

The options outlined by Van Rompuy heavily emphasise the need for a new punitive regime overseen by EU institutions that would be given new powers of intervention. The proposals and policy options, if agreed, will be seen as seriously curbing the sovereignty of member states in setting budgetary, economic, and fiscal policy.

Dean Baker writes: The world is eagerly waiting to see if the European Central Bank (ECB) will take the steps needed to save the euro. Specifically, is the ECB prepared to act as a central bank and guarantee the sovereign debt of the countries in the eurozone as the lender of last resort ordinarily does in a crisis?

If not, there is little doubt what the outcome will be. The austerity being imposed on country after country will slow GDP growth and throw workers out of jobs. Higher unemployment will worsen deficits, since it means less tax revenue coming in and more unemployment benefits and other transfers being paid out. Higher deficits will cause investors to worry about the solvency of the government, leading interest rates to rise.

This gives us the famous downward spiral that already sank Greece’s economy and government. It will soon sink Italy and Spain if the ECB doesn’t start acting like a central bank. The fallout from disorderly defaults from these two countries will cause banks throughout the eurozone to become insolvent, leading to another Lehman-type freeze-up of the financial system.

The end result will be a second recession and another sharp spike in unemployment, not just in the eurozone, but almost certainly across the globe. The finances and the economies of the eurozone are too intertwined with the rest of the world to envision a meltdown that doesn’t also push the rest of the world into recession. At the end of this story, the euro itself is likely to be placed in the dustbin of history, another failed monetary experiment.

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