Europe should have its own economy and finance minister, the European commission has said as it launched ideas aimed at making the eurozone more democratic and resilient to economic shocks.
In a bulky set of proposals published on Wednesday, the commission said the EU could have a dedicated minister of economy and finance by 2019.
The plans are the latest sketch of the EU’s future, as Britain prepares to leave the bloc and European leaders aim to shore up common policies on economy, migration and defence.
Also on the table is a plan to make the European bailout fund an EU institution, supervised by the European parliament, rather than a body run by national governments, an idea certain to meet resistance from governments such as economic powerhouse Germany.
Under the commission plan, the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone bailout fund, which takes decisions by unanimity, would become the European Monetary Fund, which would often take decisions by majority votes. In theory, the EMF, which would have a war chest of €500bn, the same as the current ESM, would be able to act faster in a crisis, but governments are likely to resist giving up their vetoes on the purse-strings.
The measures are aimed at shoring up the 19-member currency zone, but also encouraging EU countries outside the bloc to join. Currently, all EU member states have an obligation to join the eurozone, except the UK and Denmark, which have negotiated opt-outs.
After Brexit, the eurozone will represent 85% of the EU’s economic output and 76% of the population, which has raised fears that the outsiders will become second-class members without clout in the EU.
Under the latest proposals, non euro members, such as Poland and Hungary, will be able to apply for technical help and EU funds worth €300m to help them carry out reforms to prepare for joining the currency. But Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commission vice-president in charge of the euro, stressed that no country would be brought into the eurozone by force and all could join in their own time. “It is a treaty obligation but there are no strict deadlines,” he said.
According to the commission job description, the European minister of economy and finance would be a European commissioner, but would also chair the monthly meetings of eurozone finance ministers, the body that took many of the critical decisions during the eurozone crisis. The job could be created as soon as November 2019, when a new European commission takes office.
The person would police EU member states’ fiscal policies, making sure governments stick to the rules of the stability and growth pact, which sets limits on debts and deficits.
The minister would also have to report to the European parliament and could represent Europe on the international economic stage, such as the International Monetary Fund.
The departing eurozone chair, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has been criticised for rarely going to the European parliament, which has fed into a wider critique of the opaque decision-making of the eurozone council.
Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic affairs, insisted the proposals would be better for democratic accountability: “If an intergovernmental group decides without any report to the outside world, that decision would not automatically be the same [as one] monitored by the European parliament.”
Significantly the ministerial role would be a pan-European job, rather than a eurozone-only one, a sign that Brussels puts the stress on unity, rather than the more exclusive vision championed by the French president, Emmanuel Macron. Macron had called for a eurozone finance minister and parliament.
Since the recession, the EU has been debating how to reform the eurozone to prevent a repeat of the multiple debt crises that plunged Europe into turmoil.
European leaders hope that an upturn in eurozone economic growth and a mood of unity engendered by the Brexit vote will add momentum to agree long-debated reforms.
European leaders, minus the UK, will discuss the plans at a special summit next week, but little progress is expected in the absence of a new German government. Donald Tusk, the head of the European council, has called on leaders to take “concrete decisions” in June 2018.
But that means reconciling the different visions of France and Germany, which represent two different schools of thought in the eurozone.
France’s new president has called for a budget worth several hundred billion euros. Germany, backed by northern European countries, has long been wary of a large common budget or common pooling of debt.
In its proposals the commission stopped short of putting a number on a eurozone budget, saying that would have to wait until May 2018, when it published a plan for the EU’s budget after 2020.