181.At the heart of any pooling of sovereignty—and a significant amount is envisaged in Stage 2 of the five Presidents’ proposals—lie democratic accountability and legitimacy. The Five Presidents’ Report suggests changes to improve the institutions and structures supporting EMU. It argues that greater integration, as discussed in the previous chapters, should go hand in hand with institutional and democratic strengthening, which is described as “both a condition for success and a natural consequence of the increasing interdependence within EMU”.
182.The events of summer 2015 exposed a tension between the conditions being imposed on Greece by the Troika in exchange for loans and the democratic mandate given to the Syriza government by the Greek people. Philippe Legrain summarised the problem facing the eurozone: “We have election after election in the eurozone in which voters reject the outgoing Government, and the first thing that happens is that voters are told that they have to stick to the old policies of the government they have just rejected because EU rules say so, and I do not think that is desirable or sustainable.”
183.As we have seen in the previous chapters, the proposals put forward by the five Presidents and the Commission are intended for both the short and long term. Our investigation has gone beyond the proposals in the Five Presidents’ Report in considering the level of integration that is necessary or desirable for the maintenance of a robust EMU. Different levels and methods of integration may require different democratic institutions to support them, and we discuss some of the options in this chapter.
184.The Report notes that steps have already been taken to strengthen parliamentary oversight of EMU as part of the European Semester; that ‘economic dialogues’ have taken place between the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission and the Eurogroup, in line with the provisions of the six-pack and the two-pack; and that the European Parliament and national parliaments have been brought together to discuss economic issues within the European Parliamentary Week. It also notes the existing right of national parliaments to convene a meeting with a Commissioner for a presentation of the Commission’s opinion on a Member State’s draft budgetary plan.
185.The Report argues that the right to convene a meeting with a Commissioner should be exercised more “systematically” than at present. It suggests changing the timings of the European Semester (as discussed in Chapter 2), proposes that Commissioners should take part in plenary debates in the European Parliament at certain points in the process, and encourages greater Commission and Council involvement in inter-parliamentary meetings such as the European Parliamentary Week. It also suggests that the “European Parliament should organise itself to assume its role in matters pertaining especially to the euro area”, but does not expand on this suggestion.
186.These proposals are largely exhortatory. We also note that the involvement of the European Parliament and national parliaments in economic governance, through participation in debates and hearings with Commissioners, is not the same as those organisations exercising control over the process. Our experience of attending the European Parliamentary Week suggests that it could be made more purposeful. We consider the role of parliaments below as part of our consideration of possible paths towards democratic and institutional integration within EMU.
187.The Five Presidents’ Report envisages a gradual consolidation of the external representation of the euro area, beginning in Stage 1 with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It argues that the importance of the eurozone in international trade, backed by a unified trade policy, along with a single monetary and exchange rate policy, implies that the eurozone should have a single voice internationally. It argues that the current fragmentation of representation results in the eurozone punching below its weight.
188.Among the package of measures published by the Commission in October 2015 was a proposal for a Council Decision to unify the representation of the euro area at the IMF. That proposal criticised the dispersal of euro area countries between appointed seats and several ‘constituencies’ (groups of countries represented by a single seat), along with the lack both of coordination through existing EU-wide channels and of a dedicated euro area representative on the Executive Board with an official mandate. Its aims in ensuring greater consistency in external representation at the IMF were (i) to strengthen the coordination of the euro area, including ensuring common statements on all IMF policy, country and surveillance issues that are relevant to the euro area; (ii) to improve representation of the euro area through a rearrangement of constituencies and the establishment of an observer status for the euro area as a whole; and (iii) to formalise representation of the euro area at the IMF’s Executive Board and the International Monetary and Financial Committee. It sought to achieve this through rearranging seats at the Executive Board so that the euro area would be grouped into one or several seats instead of being spread out and grouped with non-euro area countries.
189.Dr Hodson criticised the proposal, arguing that in situations where Member States agreed on an issue there was little additional value in unified representation, while when they disagreed it would not work. He warned that the UK’s influence within the IMF might be diluted by any reconfiguration of the EURIMF committee, on which the UK currently sits alongside euro area Member States. He also considered that more unified euro area representation might prompt a reaction from non-European members of the IMF, leading to a dilution of the eurozone’s influence and breaking Europe’s hold over the post of Managing Director of the IMF.
190.Dr Lilico considered that some form of unified representation might be useful, were the eurozone to start issuing common debt. He pointed to the debt premium associated with the euro before 2007, and argued that individual euro area Member States were, mistakenly, viewed interchangeably. If common debt were issued, “there might need to be a distinction between the sovereign euro area dealing with the IMF and the individual sovereign area dealing with the IMF. I think that they would probably continue to issue at least some debt”.
191.Sir Jon Cunliffe saw the Commission’s proposal as driven by the EU institutions with little support from Member States: “If you ask the question in the capitals of the major euro area Member States, you might get a different answer than if you asked it in Brussels”. He did not believe that the proposal would undermine the UK’s position within the IMF, although this might change as a result of wider trends towards increased representation for emerging markets.
192.In 2010 the IMF Executive Board agreed to reforms of quota and governance arrangements, a reform currently blocked by the United States Congress. We raised this in scrutiny correspondence with the Minister, David Gauke MP, who considered that the Commission proposal would neither prevent those reforms coming into force nor affect voting weights.
193.It is unclear how unified representation of the euro area in international fora will be achieved, and there appears to be opposition at Member State level, which may be difficult to overcome. The Commission has not made a convincing case for unified representation at the IMF. We note, however, that any further integration of the eurozone, including the issuance of common debt, may require unified representation of eurozone interests at the international level.
194.While the proposal for external representation has been included by the five Presidents among their plans for strengthening democratic accountability, the proposal is in reality more of an institutional reform aimed at rationalising the eurozone’s role on the world stage. However, what looks like a worthwhile administrative reform may be at odds with the desire to enhance democratic accountability, if it takes decision-making away from decision-makers at the national level. The challenge will be to establish appropriate and accountable eurozone-level decision-making structures.
195.The Eurogroup is an informal meeting of the finance ministers of the eurozone, which takes place the day before the Council of Finance Ministers of all 28 EU Member States (ECOFIN). Since 2004 it has had a semi-permanent two-year presidency, voted on by the members of the group. The current President is Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch Finance Minister. Eurozone heads of state or government also meet periodically as the ‘Euro Summit’.
196.The Five Presidents’ Report recommends, as a short term measure, stepping up the role of the Eurogroup in the European Semester. In the long term it recommends “a full-time presidency of the Eurogroup … with a clear mandate within the framework of this report. With the support of all EU institutions, it could play an even greater role in representing the interest of the single currency, within the euro area and beyond.” The Report does not provide further detail, but the idea could conceivably lead to the creation of a ‘eurozone finance minister’, as proposed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Separately, President Hollande of France has spoken of a eurozone parliament with control over its own eurozone budget.
197.Henning Christophersen went further than the Five Presidents’ Report, in suggesting the creation of a ‘Euro Council’: “an institution with its own secretariat under the supervision of the elected eurozone members of the European Parliament [that] should have its own budget and with its own secretariat.” He criticised the current arrangement, whereby countries in receipt of a bail-out are under the supervision of the Commission, responsible to all 28 Member States, rather than a euro-only configuration. He believed “that budget must be approved by the European Parliament and the Euro Council, and they must have their mandate from national parliaments to do it”.
198.Professor Codogno saw the proposal for a stronger role for the President of the Eurogroup as problematic: “As things stand, the so-called Treasury Minister for the eurozone in the future would be the head of the Eurogroup. That is not an elected position and it does not go to the European Parliament for confirmation, which is pretty odd, so it needs to be changed.” Dr Lilico considered that a role of “EU (or eurozone) President” might eventually be subject to popular vote: “the finance person would follow on from the political election of the head of the European institution as a whole”.
199.Dr Lilico also addressed the implications of further eurozone integration on non-eurozone Member States, although without the institutional separation advocated by Mr Christophersen. He said that he “would expect more and more Commission business to be devoted to euro-area matters to the exclusion of wider EU matters, which in due course would mean that the interests of non-euro members of the EU become increasingly marginal. So I do not see how, as things stand, there is any long-term future for any members of the European Union who are not members of the euro.”
200.The five Presidents’ proposals are not fully developed, and a strengthened Eurogroup could in principle be restricted to playing a more explicit role in economic convergence or coordination, enforcing fiscal discipline and representing the eurozone internationally. But when they are juxtaposed with the possible creation of a eurozone treasury and with some of conceptions of fiscal union discussed in Chapter 3, the proposals begin to sound more radical.
201.The role of the Eurogroup is of particular interest to the UK. The Government has long been concerned about caucusing among its members. Under the new Council voting rules it is possible for the eurozone, acting as a bloc, to outvote the non-eurozone countries. One of the Prime Minister’s aims in the recent renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU was to protect non-euro area Member States against the possibility of the eurozone acting in such a way in Council negotiations.
202.Professor Quaglia told us that “the Eurogroup is generally seen as a smaller body in which Member States are better able to reach a consensus. Therefore, if there is a formalisation of this body, it will have implications for the outsiders. My impression is that increasingly important, or at least politically controversial, decisions are taken in the Eurogroup first and are then discussed in the ECOFIN council.” In contrast, Philippe Legrain considered that, in the immediate term, “there is little prospect of eurozone members caucusing together, simply because they disagree on so much.
203.Thomas Wieser also thought concerns about caucusing were exaggerated:
“I have been debating this with my British colleagues for the last 10 years or so. I have been in every single Eurogroup meeting since the setting up of the thing and I cannot think of a single instance where there was this sort of, ‘How will we vote? What will we discuss tomorrow in ECOFIN?’ It has never happened, but one has to realise that there is a concern and you have to deal with it.”
205.Although our witnesses were divided on the extent to which caucusing currently takes place (or might take place in the future), we note that a stronger Eurogroup, along with the forthcoming changes to the QMV procedure, may make mechanisms to protect the position of non-euro area Member States all the more important. Notwithstanding what was agreed at the February 2016 European Council, the Government should remain alert to the impact that a formalised Eurogroup might have on the UK’s position and should do everything in its power to ensure that the UK is protected.
206.The Five Presidents’ Report talks of a strengthened Eurogroup working “with the support of all EU institutions”, which implies that it would not operate independently of those institutions. However, a separate suggestion from the five Presidents envisages the establishment of a eurozone treasury:
“A genuine Fiscal Union will require more joint decision-making on fiscal policy. This would not mean centralisation of all aspects of revenue and expenditure policy. Euro area Member States would continue to decide on taxation and the allocation of budgetary expenditures according to national preferences and political choices. However, as the euro area evolves towards a genuine EMU, some decisions will increasingly need to be made collectively while ensuring democratic accountability and legitimacy. A future euro area treasury could be the place for such collective decision-making.”
207.As with most of the Stage 2 proposals, it is not entirely clear how the treasury is intended to function, nor is its relationship with the Eurogroup, the Fiscal Advisory Board and other current or proposed EU institutions spelled out. Our witnesses had differing interpretations. Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted suggested it might take the lead in dealing with the European Stability Mechanism and the European Fund for Strategic Investments, especially if future infrastructure funding were to be conducted much more at the European level. She considered that the addition of another body might alleviate the problem of the ECB and the Commission being ‘judge and jury’. She also questioned how democratic oversight might be achieved: one option would be for eurozone members of the European Parliament to perform the function; another would be for national parliaments to convene in an assembly.
208.Graham Bishop thought that a treasury could be responsible for mutualised debt, or Eurobills, while Dr Lilico suggested it could have “tax and debt-raising powers and powers to spend”:
“Such a treasury function would clearly require political oversight … it has been suggested (obviously correctly) that the eurozone political union will need its own parliament. It will also need its own civil service functions, so as to guide its policymaking.”
209.Professor De Grauwe also regarded a treasury as an “institution that has the power to tax and to spend and is embedded within a democratic decision-making process”, rather than “some kind of institution where Ministers of Finance come together and talk to each other.” It was a mistake, he suggested, to think that the institutional structure was already or nearly in place to support EMU: “We have to move forwards much more radically, and that is precisely the problem because no one wants to do it.”
210.The Five Presidents’ Report suggests that “The European Parliament should organise itself to assume its role in matters pertaining especially to the euro”. Dr Lilico suggested that this might take the form of a “Grand Committee of the Eurozone members”. Graham Bishop also thought that the European Parliament would take a greater role in economic matters:
“The way in which it is laid out in the communication suggests that that is up to the Parliament. The people I speak to there within their rules of practice can already see how ECON can meet in a eurozone-only format. That can be done within the existing framework.”
211.Philippe Legrain thought that the European Parliament would resist the creation of a new and separate parliament: “Such is the power of the European Parliament that it is inconceivable that you would create a separate structure … a eurozone parliament, if such a parliament were to emerge, would basically start off as a committee made up of members of the European Parliament from eurozone countries.”
212.Members of the European Parliament were reluctant to develop new parliamentary structures of any kind, at least in the short term. Anneliese Dodds MEP said that she had “resisted attempts within the European Parliament to hive Eurozone issues off from general economic decision-making, as would occur, for example, if a separate ‘Eurozone’ committee were to be created”. She argued that it was important for British MEPs to engage constructively in eurozone issues as a means of building trust and ensuring that UK arguments were heard, “whether they relate to the City of London or other aspects of the UK’s economy”.
213.Roberto Gualtieri, MEP, Chair of the ECON Committee, argued that differentiation between representatives of eurozone and non-eurozone Member States was currently prevented by the Treaties:
“When we have to make a treaty change in order to have this fiscal capacity and then a treasury, it will then also be time for a specific arrangement whereby those specific actions connected to this function are voted on by participating euro area member countries. However, until we arrive at that point, any legal differentiation—which, by the way, is prevented by the current treaty—would be neither possible nor desirable.”
214.The creation of a treasury would be a bold step, and could encompass a new body having control of economic coordination, fiscal coordination, the framework of a transfer mechanism, the implementation of transfers, taxation and (if the eurozone were given a ‘fiscal capacity’) spending. The creation of such a body would entail the transfer of a certain amount of sovereignty from Member States to European institutions; the extent of such transfer, and therefore the extent to which new forms of explicit democratic accountability will be necessary to support it, would depend on the route taken. Two forms of accountability are relevant: the initial mandate given by Member States to create such a structure, and its day-to-day oversight.
215.Fabian Zuleeg argued that:
“Fiscal integration is getting too close to the key issues of sovereignty within Member States, so there has to be some form of democratic accountability, and a mechanism that allows constitutional courts across the eurozone to sign off on some form of fiscal union. That is a major challenge. It does not necessarily mean there is only one specific way that that could be designed, but there has to be something in there about how you make that democratically accountable.”
216.Professor Issing was concerned that the report suggested “steps towards a fiscal union without democratic legitimacy, because without political union all transfers et cetera will lack European democratic legitimacy”.
217.Accountability could be achieved through the existing mechanism of national Ministers representing their citizens in Council, although the rules on QMV applies limit the scope for Ministers to achieve change in keeping with specific national interests unless they can muster a majority. It could also be achieved through a bolstered role for the European Parliament, acting either as a eurozone ‘Grand Committee’ or as a separate eurozone Parliament, or through greater, and more formal, involvement of national parliaments. Thomas Wieser, for instance, offered a “budgetary assembly or budgetary committees of national legislatures” as alternatives.
218.Hans Hack was sceptical of the value that the European Parliament could bring:
“The democratic accountability of the European Parliament is something that, in itself, is not a given, in my view, with voting once in five years and they do not have a constituency. Different political systems in Europe are different, but there is not a continuous dialogue between the European Parliament and its constituents. I find the UK push, as it were, for more involvement of national parliaments in European decision-making a very healthy one.”
219.Mike Vercnocke, of the City of London Corporation, said that the European Parliament was the most democratically accountable of the EU institutions, “yet no one in the populace, not just in the UK but in most countries, takes it very seriously”. Professor Codogno, though, was more positive:
“To have full democratic accountability and address the democratic gap that is perceived to be in place in Europe, probably you need some kind of fiscal capacity in the centre and the European Parliament has to be in charge of deciding on a number of issues. The European Parliament is elected and therefore you probably address some of the issues. It is the intergovernmental approach in Europe that sometimes contradicts the democratic mandate.”
220.Dr Alex White, of the Economist Intelligence Unit, suggested that there was a more fundamental problem with establishing democratic accountability of the sort envisaged by the five Presidents. He argued that the original establishment of EMU had moved too quickly, without a ‘European demos’ to support it, and that the Five Presidents’ Report, in attempting to repair the economic mistakes made at that time, risked “conflating and worsening the political error: moving too fast and going beyond what the European polities and voters are prepared to accept and implement.”
221.The Minister would not be drawn on the desirability of a eurozone parliament in any form, arguing that “it is a matter for the eurozone countries to determine whether they feel the need to make constitutional or accountability changes. But, if it is part of the European Union, it would require a treaty change, which would require the support of 28 Member States, including the United Kingdom.”
222.We agree that it is primarily for eurozone Member States to decide the appropriate mechanism of democratic accountability that is needed to support their chosen level of fiscal integration. Fiscal integration as developed through the design of EMU and accelerated through crisis mechanisms has resulted in significantly more sovereignty pooling, yet democratic structures and processes have not developed commensurately. This lack of democratic structures or processes undermines the legitimacy of EMU in the eyes of the very citizens in whose name it has been developed.
223.It will be vital that the creation of any new accountability structure, whether that is a treasury, a finance minister, a new formation of the European Parliament, or a new role for national parliaments, should be accompanied by a clear mandate from the citizens of the eurozone countries.
224.Will any of the five Presidents’ proposals to boost democratic accountability be implemented? Professor Issing was sceptical: “For the time being, the nations of the Union are probably further away from the idea of a political union than at any time in the past, so the idea of political union is at best a vision for the distant future”. His concern was that fiscal union would precede political union. John Peet said that he did not expect a treasury to “happen by 2025—or ever”.
225.Roberto Gualtieri MEP saw the major obstacle to the implementation of any of the five Presidents’ proposals as “insufficient consensus about a higher level of fiscal transfer and risk-sharing.” Vice-President Dombrovskis, though, noted that the consultation leading up to the White Paper was intended to foster consensus between those Member States that favoured risk-sharing and mutualisation and those that advocated more sovereignty-sharing and control. He acknowledged that the Stage 2 proposals were likely to require treaty change.
226.Thomas Wieser set out some of the challenges that lie ahead:
“North of the Alps, the issue of how to increase fiscal discipline is dominant whereas the more conjunctural stabilising function is more to be found south of the Alps. Whichever side one is on, if you want a greater, binding say on national budgets or if you want to transfer budgetary competences to Brussels, you need to do something constitutionally. In my view, this would be a constitutionally larger step than actually joining the European Union. You would have to have treaty change, you would definitely need referenda in the vast majority of Member States, and then you would have to settle on what the democratically accountable body in ‘Brussels’ would be.”
227.The challenges to achieving any of the proposals set out by the five Presidents for Stage 2 of completing EMU remain significant. Eurozone Member States must first reach consensus on the balance between risk-reduction (or fiscal discipline) and risk-sharing, and on the appropriate mechanisms to achieve that balance. They must then agree on the democratic accountability structures or processes to support those mechanisms. Treaty change will be required to implement any significant change and this will require referendums in many Member States, the results of which will not be guaranteed. We doubt this will be done quickly: the five Presidents’ suggested target date of 2025 appears ambitious.
228.The Five Presidents’ Report focuses on the eurozone (or those committed to joining it) but, as we said at the start of this report, any further integration within EMU will have implications for the UK even though the UK (along with Denmark) has an opt-out from joining the euro.
229.The Minister spoke of the “remorseless logic” of economic and political integration in the euro area, while maintaining that the means by which integration would be achieved was up to those countries. He was clear that “It is in our interest that the euro area is a successful, strong currency area, so we do not want to stand in the way of the euro area resolving its difficulties”. At the same time, “we will not let the integration of the euro area jeopardise the integrity of the single market or in any way disadvantage the UK.”
230.Certain aspects of the Five Presidents’ Report directly affect the UK. Capital Markets Union is a Single Market project, and one from which the UK is likely to benefit. Were the capital markets supervisor suggested in the Five Presidents’ Report to be established it could have a significant impact on the City of London (although we note that this proposal did not appear in the subsequent Capital Markets Union Action Plan). Banking Union is another area that goes beyond the eurozone. Although the UK is not a member of the Banking Union, it is open to non-eurozone members and the UK could, one day, choose to join. The UK banking system is closely linked to that of the Banking Union, and Andrew Bailey, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, gave us one example of why this matters to UK citizens:
“Where a bank branches from a country in the euro area to the UK, as it can do under the passporting regimes in the single market, the deposit protection for the depositors in that branch in the UK comes from the home state, which is wherever it is branching from … the solvency of a national deposit protection scheme depends upon the solvency of the sovereign of that country. They are inevitably inextricably linked. We have had incidents where the solvency of the banking system of the home country is a direct product of the solvency of the sovereign, and when both of those are called into question, you then get a situation where you say, ‘Do the depositors in the UK really understand where their deposit protection is coming from?’”
231.Perhaps the most significant implication of the Five Presidents’ Report for the UK would be the creation of a new eurozone institution or role, be that a parliament, a treasury or a finance minister. The UK must ensure that its interests are not ignored by any new institutional structure. The renegotiation has sought to set out the terms of engagement between the euro-ins and the euro-outs: it will be important that those terms are preserved, for instance in the event that the Eurogroup were to be formalised or a treasury established as the primary decision-making forum for the eurozone.
232.The creation of a eurozone parliament, treasury or finance minister will require treaty change; and any treaty change requires the unanimous consent of all 28 Member States including the UK. Thus there will be an opportunity for the Government of the day to ensure that UK interests are preserved if the UK remains a member of the EU after the referendum.
233.In our recent report The EU referendum and EU reform we concluded that the terms of the ‘new settlement’, while largely restating existing principles, provided welcome clarity on the future relations of eurozone and non-eurozone states, and ensured that the interests of both groups would be safeguarded.
234.We also welcomed the Government’s commitment to “facilitate and support the proper functioning of the euro area and its long-term future” as recognition that the UK had a vital stake in the success of the eurozone, and would work to achieve that success.
235.The UK renegotiation deal foresees its terms being incorporated into the Treaties at their next revision. The five Presidents’ more fundamental proposals to enhance the functioning of the eurozone would, by requiring treaty change, provide an opportunity for the Government to entrench the settlement in EU law while at the same time ensuring that the protections secured were not undermined by the development of new institutions.
209 European Commission, Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union: p 17 [accessed 6 April 2016]
211 Regulation 473/2013 on common provisions for monitoring and assessing draft budgetary plans and ensuring the correction of excessive deficit of the Member States in the euro area states that “At the request of the parliament of the Member State concerned or of the European Parliament, the Commission should be prepared to present its opinion to the parliament making the request, after it has been made public.”
212 European Commission, Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union: p 17 [accessed 6 April 2016]
213 Proposal for a Council decision, laying down measures in view of progressively establishing unified representation of the euro area in the International Monetary Fund, [accessed 8 April 2016]
214 Written evidence from Dr Dermot Hodson ()
217 Letter to Lord Boswell of Aynho, dated 5 January 2016
218 Donald Tusk, more normally thought of as President of the European Council, is described in the Five Presidents’ Report as “President of the Euro Summit”.
219 European Commission, Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union: p.18 [accessed 6 April 2016]
220 Open Europe: [accessed 8 April 2016]
221 ‘Francois Hollande calls for eurozone government’, The Telegraph (19 July 2015): [accessed 8 April 2016]
229 European Commission, Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union: p 18 [accessed 6 April 2016]
230 It should be noted that the EFSI is an EU-28 initiative.
233 Written evidence from Dr Andrew Lilico ()
235 European Commission, Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union: p 17 [accessed 6 April 2016]. It should be noted that only the UK and Denmark have a formal opt-out from joining the euro. The other Member States are committed under the Treaties to join in due course.
236 Written evidence from Dr Andrew Lilico ()
239 Written evidence from Anneliese Dodds MEP ()
256 European Union Committee, , (9th Report, Session 2015–16, HL Paper 122)