This article from the Swiss paper TagesAnzeiger
summarizes very nicely (mostly in German) the accusations which have been made against EU-leaderships many times, namely: they knew exactly what they were doing when they formed and shaped the monetary union; they knew exactly what the dangers were and — they ignored their own findings. The most shocking realization is that the authors of the Delors-report did not think that a monetary union would come into existence in the foreseeable future: “The economic prerequisites for a monetary union that is characterized by immutably fixed exchange rates between the participating countries will probably not exist for the foreseeable future”.
The article quotes the Delors-report from 1989 as well as comments made to it from Karl Otto Pöhl (then the President of the Bundesbank) and Francois Mitterand. Let me just cite the most important quotes below.
“If sufficient consideration were not given to regional imbalances, the economic union would be faced with grave economic and political risks”.
“This is especially important because the adoption of permanently fixed exchange rates would eliminate an important indicator of policy inconsistencies among Community countries and remove the exchange rate as an instrument of adjustment from the member countries’ set of economic tools”.
“A particular role would have to be assigned to common policies aimed at developing a more balanced economic structure throughout the Community. This would help to prevent the emergence or aggravation of regional and sectoral imbalances which could threaten the viability of an economic and monetary union”.
“Wage flexibility and labour mobility are necessary to eliminate differences in competitiveness in different regions and countries of the Community. Otherwise there could be relatively large declines in output and employment in areas with lower productivity. In order to reduce adjustment burdens temporarily, it might be necessary in certain circumstances to provide financing flows through official channels. Such financial support would be additional to what might come from spontaneous capital flows or external borrowing and should be granted on terms and conditions that would prompt the recipient to intensify its adjustment efforts”.
“Moreover, the fact that the centrally managed Community budget is likely to remain a very small part of total public sector spending and that much of this budget will not be available for cyclical adjustments will mean that the task of setting a Community-wide fiscal policy stance will have to be performed through the coordination of national budgetary policies. Without such coordination it would be impossible for the Community as a whole to establish a fiscal/monetary policy mix appropriate for the preservation of internal balance, or for the Community to play its part in the international adjustment process. Monetary policy alone cannot be expected to perform these functions. Moreover, strong divergences in wage levels and developments, not justified by different trends in productivity, would produce economic tensions and pressures for monetary expansion”.
“Rather than leading to a gradual adaptation of borrowing costs, market views about the creditworthiness of official borrowers tend to change abruptly and result in the closure of access to market financing. The constraints imposed by market forces might either be too slow and weak or too sudden and disruptive. Hence countries would have to accept that sharing a common market and a single currency area imposed policy constraints”.
“The economic prerequisites for a monetary union that is characterized by immutably fixed exchange rates between the participating countries will probably not exist for the foreseeable future. Even among the members who form the nucleus of the exchange rate system, tensions must repeatedly be expected for the foreseeable future owing to differing economic policy preference and constraints as well as the resultant divergences in their economic development, which will make realignments in the central rates of their currencies necessary. Even within a common single market these problems will not simply disappear, especially seeing that this market will trigger additional structural adjustment constraints, the extent of which cannot as yet be fully assessed. For this reason, too, it will not be possible to do fully without occasional realignments in central rates for the foreseeable future. This indicates the necessity for further progress in the direction of greater convergence in a large number of macroeconomic as well as structural fields”.
“Apart from this, it should be made clear that monetary integration cannot move ahead of general economic integration, since otherwise the whole process of integration would be burdened with considerable economic and social tensions. Moreover, examples from history demonstrate that new nations did not confer a uniform monetary order on themselves until after the process of unification was concluded. Any durable attempt to fix exchange rates within the Community and finally to replace national currencies by a European currency would be doomed to failure so long as a minimum of policy-shaping and decision-making in the field of economic and fiscal policy does not take place at Community level. Without this prerequisite being met, a common European monetary policy cannot ensure monetary stability on its own. Above all, it cannot paper over the problems in the Community arising from differing economic and fiscal policies”.
“Isolated steps in the monetary field would overburden monetary policy in political terms and jeopardize the credibility of the process of unification in the longer run”.
Karl Otto Pöhl commented as follows: “From the German point of view it is essential to ensure, in the discussions about the future design of a European monetary order, that monetary and credit policy is not geared to stability to a lesser extent in an economically united Europe than is the case at present in the Federal Republic of Germany”. And later in retrospect: “When the report was formulated, I did not think that a monetary union would become reality in the foreseeable future. I thought perhaps sometime in the next hundred years. I thought it was improbable that other European countries would simply accept the model of the Bundesbank”.
Francois Mitterrand: “I consider it dangerous that the Central Bank, for lack of an appropriate political institution, assumes sovereign power. The common currency area is already a ‘German Zone’ but Germany has no authority over our national economies. With the new Central Bank, Germany would have that power” (Mitterrand later became a supporter of the common currency union).
My previous understanding had been that only people from the outside, like Milton Friedman, had criticized the monetary union (sort of as a defender of American hegemony). As is apparent, EU-leadership itself voiced the very same concerns which Friedman had voiced. I previously thought that European elites had simply been too arrogant to listen to an American. Now I know that European elites were too dumb to listen to themselves.