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Policy Contribution

Fiscal federalism in crisis: lessons for Europe from the US

Drawing comparisons between the fiscal architecture and situation in the US and the European Union, Bruegel Research Fellow Zsolt Darvas answers three questions in this Policy Contribution- Why has the euro been hit so hard? How would a more federal European fiscal union closer to the US model have helped? How do the euro area’s fiscal architecture reform plans stand up in light of the US example?

By: Date: July 11, 2010 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

The euro area is facing crisis, while the US is not, though the overall fiscal situation and outlook is better in the euro area than in the US, and though the US faces serious state-level fiscal crises. The focus on the euro area is a consequence of the Greek solvency problem, fear of contagion, the ambiguous policy response and institutional deficiencies.

A higher level of fiscal federalism would strengthen the euro area, not least because it could help to constrain member state-level fiscal policy, allow the resolution of banking issues, and would give less opportunity for conflicting responses. But a higher level of fiscal federalism is not inevitable.

Current fiscal reform proposals (strengthening of current rules, more policy coordination and an emergency financing mechanism) will if implemented result in some improvements. But implementation might be deficient or lack credibility, and could lead to disputes and carry a significant political risk.

Introduction of a Eurobond covering up to 60 percent of member states’ GDP would bring about much greater levels of fiscal discipline than any other proposal, would create an attractive Eurobond market, and would deliver a strong message about the irreversible nature of European integration.

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