Policy brief

Is the European Semester effective and useful?

The authors study whether and to what extent EU countries implement recommendations on macroeconomic imbalances given by the EU in the so-called Europ

Publishing date
13 June 2018

The authors study whether and to what extent EU countries implement recommendations on macroeconomic imbalances given by the EU in the so-called European Semester. They assess how recommendations have evolved since 2013, based on a new database. Konstantinos Efstathiou and Guntram B. Wolff also study how EU recommendations on addressing macroeconomic imbalances compare to recommendations given by the International Monetary Fund.

Overall implementation of recommendations by EU countries has worsened in the last few years, in particular when it comes to recommendations addressed to countries with excessive macroeconomic imbalances. The policy content of the recommendations is broadly aligned with economic priorities emphasised by their corresponding legal bases, but a sizable share of recommendations, such as childcare, are also labelled as relevant for resolving macroeconomic imbalances. Moreover, for countries with macroeconomic imbalances, the IMF tends to emphasise financial imbalances more frequently than the EU. The authors also note that the EU makes significant political choices about which imbalances are judged to be excessive and which are judged not excessive.

Low implementation is likely a result of the fundamental dilemma facing the EU. National policies have major cross-border implications making coordination important, but countries take sovereign decisions mostly based on national considerations. They therefore argue that recommendations given in the context of macroeconomic imbalances should be focused on key issues of macroeconomic and cross-border relevance. Moreover, a significant gap was noted between analyses as described in the recitals of recommendations and the actual recommendations, and would urge greater consistency. Finally, the European Semester exercise is very difficult to digest and communication of key analyses and recommendations could be significantly improved to make them more accessible to national policymakers.

About the authors

  • Guntram B. Wolff

    Guntram Wolff was the Director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy and governance, fiscal, monetary and financial policy, climate change and geoeconomics. Under his leadership, Bruegel has been regularly ranked among the top global think tanks and has grown in influence and impact with a team of now almost 40 recognized scholars and around 65 total staff. Bruegel is also recognized for its outstanding transparency.

    A recognized thought leader and academic, he regularly testifies at the European Finance Ministers' ECOFIN meeting, the European Parliament, the German Parliament (Bundestag) and the French Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). From 2012-16, he was a member of the French prime minister's Conseil d'Analyse Economique. In 2018, then IMF managing director Christine Lagarde appointed him to the external advisory group on surveillance to review the Fund’s priorities. In 2021, he was appointed to the G20 high level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. He is also a professor (part-time) at the Solvay Brussels School of Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he teaches economics of European integration.

    He joined Bruegel from the European Commission, where he worked on the macroeconomics of the euro area and the reform of euro area governance. Prior to joining the Commission, he was coordinating the research team on fiscal policy at Deutsche Bundesbank. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund.

    He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bonn and studied in Bonn, Toulouse, Pittsburgh and Passau. He taught economics at the University of Pittsburgh and at Université libre de Bruxelles. He has published numerous papers in leading academic journals. His columns and policy work are published and cited in leading international media and policy outlets. Guntram is fluent in German, English, French and has good notions of Bulgarian and Spanish.

  • Konstantinos Efstathiou

    Konstantinos, a Greek citizen, works in Bruegel as an Affiliate Fellow in the Macroeconomics and Governance area. Before joining Bruegel, Konstantinos was at the European Commission, as a Blue Book Trainee in the Cabinet of President Juncker. He also interned at the Central Bank of Luxembourg (BCL) as a research assistant, involved in projects related to the Wage Dynamics Network (WDN) research group.

    He holds a Master in International Economics and International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where he specialized in Quantitative Methods and European Studies.

    Konstantinos’ research interests include macroeconomics, European economic governance and international economics.

    Konstantinos is a native speaker of Greek, speaks fluent English and has good knowledge of French.

    Declaration of interests 2017

    Declaration of interests 2018

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