Sonja Bekker (The Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies)
Following the 2008 financial and economic crisis, it became obvious that the European Union needs to reform its economic governance. The intention was, among others, to harmonize the national fiscal and economic objectives with those at the EU level. The new measures that were introduced seem to be stricter because they introduce the strengthening of the financial and economic surveillance. Moreover, the agreement on budgetary policies, which constitutes a part of the Stability and Growth Pact, still plays an important role. The EU28 states should also be trying to correct macroeconomic imbalances and achieve the objectives outlined in the Europe 2020 Strategy. After the introduction of the above-mentioned measures, the question of wheth-er the EU Member States have enough freedom to develop their alternative policies is being voiced more and more frequently.
Although it seems that, on the one hand, the changes to the economic governance are strin-gent, on the other, based on the way EU Member States fulfill the Commission’s annually published recommendations for individual countries, it is clear that they have a certain degree of freedom. The states often use the Union’s priorities to help them explain what led them to implement individual political actions. For example, France defended its policy by saying that it is consistent with the objectives set by the Commission. Furthermore, the fact that postponing the deadlines for meeting the criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact is not a rare occurrence indicates that the European Union leaves a certain degree of autonomy for the Member States in the matters of national policies.
Last, but not the least, the flexibility of the EU Member States can also be demonstrated by the fact that different countries are given different recommendations proposed by the Commission. For example, in 2014, Germany was recommended to focus on implementing changes in its pension system, whereas Poland was suggested to try to tackle poverty among the unem-ployed population. Nevertheless, some EU countries (France, Germany, Poland, Spain) are still increasingly calling for greater freedom in domestic policy, while the Commission is, by contrast, pointing to the insufficient implementation of its recommendations. The question is how to meet the requirements of the Europe 2020 Strategy. Should not the Union instead lead a dia-logue with the individual members of the EU28 rather than continue setting unilateral goals?
(The study can be downloaded here: http://www.sieps.se/en/publications/reports/is-there-flexibility-in-the-european-semester-process-20161)