What is the state of economic convergence in the euro area? And will the redefinition of the Stability and Growth Pact result in a more effective policy for achieving convergence? A common currency, together with the four freedoms, was assumed to lead to economic convergence. This Clingendael Report reviews the state of convergence in the euro area by focusing on nominal, real and institutional convergence. Despite a range of policy initiatives and monitoring systems, convergence has not been achieved neither in terms of monetary and economic performance nor of the quality of governance at the national level. Despite some major successes in convergence, welfare has continued to diverge in some countries and differences in debt levels have increased up to the point of threatening the – economic and political – coherence of the euro area. Public spending also varies considerably while higher public spending does not ensure higher growth levels. The paradoxical situation has arisen in which countries that (drastically) reduced debt levels performed better in terms of growth and reduction in unemployment. Using comparative economic data for the more than 20 years since the introduction of euro, the Report among other things reaches the following conclusions:
- Upward convergence has been successful in among others Ireland and in East-European member states. These countries witnessed relatively high growth while debts were reduced. Portugal managed to bring down unemployment during the past years. Yet, a limited number of member states continue to struggle with debts, growth, and attracting investments.
- Trend analysis shows that European investment funds have failed to make a difference. Major benefactors of EU investment funds in Southern and Eastern Europe show diverging growth patterns. Ireland and East-European countries succeeded in terms of catch-up growth whereas Southern countries lagged behind. Further study is required to explain the differences in convergence and its relation to public investment.
- Contrary to the general impression that fiscal consolidation has hampered growth, we find that the countries that did cut expenditure also achieved relatively high growth levels, were able to attract investments, and managed to reduce unemployment. By implication, the notion of investment deficits in eurozone countries needs to be re-examined.
- Also in national federations with explicit stabilization mechanisms, such as the US and Germany, convergence is hard to achieve. Hence, it is probably more important to accept divergence while preventing that stability of the monetary union is undermined. Convergence is not a necessary condition for the economic stability of a monetary union as long as public debt levels do not cause negative external effects large enough to jeopardize the stability of the system.
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