In first place for ECON comes the discharge of functions that have been delegated to the Parliament under the Union treaties. This discharge is carried out meticulously and diligently.
Secondly, there is the search for increased relevance and importance, by which the EP takes initiatives to assert its presence and relevance, propose policy alternatives, contest or approve European Council or Commission operations, and investigate ongoing economic and social matters having a Europe-wide relevance.
At a third level, which however is related to the first two, ECON conducts what I can only call research and education exercises for its own members and their assistants, as well as for the European public at large. So, academics, business and professional people and other experts and lobbies, are invited to participate in seminars and similar meetings to exchange information and views. Indeed sometimes it feels like one has gone back to University.
It is within this grid that ECON’s priorities and output need to be evaluated.
Beyond routine, I would list ECON priorities as follows :
It undertakes ongoing scrutiny of prevalent single market policies in the economic, financial and monetary fields, their implementation by the Commission, and new proposals to develop policies that are growth friendly on a European scale. The greatest emphasis at the moment is going to competition issues, financial services regulation and since the Luxleaks scandal broke, to tax avoidance, evasions, what have you.
One important ECON goal in this regard has been the need to lift the recessionary to stagnant conditions that have prevailed within most of the single market since 2008. A key approach to counter the problem has been moves to bolster European public and private investment, with the so-called Juncker plan to set up a strategic investment fund serving as a major plank. ECON served as a steadfast partner to the European Commission in getting this project to take off and will now need to ensure that it is implemented and monitored effectively.
Meanwhile, at the level of the eurozone, ECON focuses on the rules that have been developed since 2008 to stabilize the eurosystem, by way of how the Commission and the Council monitor economic and budgetary performance of euro countries, and issues recommendations and sanctions. An ECON priority in this area has been to make its voice better heard and better followed when Commission and Council come to their decisions. Success in this respect has been limited but ECON persists.
So, ECON has been dedicating substantial space in its agenda for resolutions and studies that seek to bolster the decision making capacity of the eurzone, especially by way of enhancing the zone’s ability to have its own financial arm. Many ECON members are keen to have this basically federalist tool set up and to give their input about how it should be desgined and implemented.
On this item, I am one of those who are reluctant to agree to further federalist integration, before concrete steps are taken to counter the growing structural divergences within the Eurozone that arise from the north-south divide, the arising east-centre divide, and the one-size-fits-all rigidities that characterize the management of the Eurozone, given the prevailing mantra that it cannot be a transfer union.
Under the EU treaties, the European Central Bank is accountable to the European Parliament.
In practice, this requirement is met by the President of the European Central Bank conducting a formal quarterly “monetary dialogue” with ECON.
A related policy area in Eurozone management to which ECON attaches priority is the full development of a banking union, considered crucial if in future, the zone is going to avert another crisis where states become liable for unsustainable bank exposures in order to avoid financial chaos. Here, the crunch issue has become the introduction of the third pillar of banking union, in the form of a deposit insurance scheme at Eurozone level.
These to me would appear to be the top priorities. Naturally, other ECON members could have a different ranking and/or a longer list of major goals. For instance, some could claim that in order to ensure democratic accountability, it is important to get ECON’s participation well established in the eurozone’s financial salvage operations, such as the one for Greece, or in the monitoring of deficits in national budgets.
Beyond this however, it could be of interest to highlight some fault lines that distinguish or confuse ECON debates on arising issues. Here are some:
–regarding the single market: whether new European regulations in such areas as financial services and markets, or state aid, should be light touch or coherently stated across the board to apply as widely as possible; also whether decisions had best be left for nation states to take in coordination between them, or whether they should follow the so-called “community” method;
while –regarding the Eurozone: whether budgetary stringency and structural reforms of the labour market should take precedence over all other issues, or whether such priority should be accorded to growth friendly initiatives in a flexible context, while equal stringency should apply to the operations of budgets run for a surplus, as to those run into a deficit.
Clearly, there could be much more to say about the strategic and other priorities of a committee like ECON in a Parliament like the EP which is a hybrid representative institution.
In my view though, the fundamental problem is how to make ECON’s priorities known to, and understood, by citizens and business operators in our countries, so that they can guide us as to what make best sense for them.
At present – again in my view – ECON deliberations are too guided by the beliefs and knowledge of people who are too far removed from the economic and financial action that is happening on the ground, in our towns and villages.