Guntram B. Wolff
Director and CEO, German Council on Foreign Relations
First Deputy Prime Minister of Spain and Minister for Economy and Digitalization, Spain
EU correspondent, Financial Times
VIDEO & AUDIO RECORDINGS
After the ECOFIN meeting, Bruegel and the Financial Times hosted a conversation with the Minister of Finance from Spain to discuss challenges related to pressing issues in the agenda ahead of the European Council in December, including European Monetary Union reforms and digital taxation.
In the aftermath of the ECFIN meeting, Nadia Calviño shared her thoughts on the recent achievements and ambitions of the European project. The minister provided an optimistic yet pragmatic view, highlighting the consolidation and recent acceleration of the Spanish economy and the general deepening of the EU in terms of economic and fiscal policy integration.
The minister noted how great advances have been made for the banking union and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Their technical character, unfortunately, renders them hard to communicate to the EU citizen. Nadia Calviño highlighted other topics of high importance which are indeed ‘marketable’, such as the EU deposit insurance system and the common unemployment insurance mechanism. Moreover, the minister noted how intervention in these areas is fundamental for social stability in the face of increasing inequality, child poverty and underemployment. Fiscal policy should aim for stability yet also for fairness, otherwise, sustainability will remain elusive.
Mehreen Khan, from the Financial Times and Guntram Wolff were more cautious in their assessment of progress and potential ways forward. The ambitious social / fiscal goals are undercut by the plurality of views within the EU and technical progress is yet uncertain. Yet the minister kept an overall pragmatic attitude, noting lines are blurrier than what is believed externally. Differences of opinion are not insurmountable barriers to progress.
A second concern, also voiced by attendants, was the perceived lack of transparency and de-democratisation effects of EU institutions. The minister highlighted the EU institutions are accountable, since they are elected. Additionally, not only is citizen support already increasing, but it is bound to continue so, as Europeans feel the positive effects of reform. Mehreen Khan disagreed, pointing out engaged citizens see EU institutions as obstacles, not partners.
Surrounding EU-level welfare there was a recognition of its fundamental national character, meant to reflect political and social local priorities. Yet, coordination at the EU-level would be beneficial. The possibility of establishing a (heterogenous) minimum wage on EU countries was raised by one of the attendants. The minister, though agreeing it would be desirable, was not sure whether the EU should mandate it. Guntram Wolff highlighted how economists should revise their research on the effects on employment of establishing a minimum wage.
Event notes by Catarina Midoes