What, exactly, did the European Council and the national leaders mean when they told the world that they endorsed country specific economic guidelines, ”without any watering down, and noted the determination of member states to do everything necessary to implement the Stability and Growth Pact (SCG)”?

Our latest blog entries looked at the 17 June 2011 Employment, Social Policy, Helath and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council conclusions and documents, leaving us with a broad consensus (general approach), but more in the form of further document references than readable text, somewhat weakened by national reservations and subject to the upcoming Ecofin Council.

Ecofin: Integrated guidelines

Our documentation exercise turns to the Ecofin conclusions:

3100th Council meeting Economic and Financial Affairs; Luxembourg, 20 June 2011, 11595/11; 17 pages

Under the Main conclusions of the Council, we find this uplifting paragraph:

It approved recommendations on the member states' national reform programmes and budgetary policies. It thus concluded the European Semester, which is being implemented this year for the first time as part of a broader reform of the EU's economic governance.

We go to page 10 of the Ecofin conclusions to find the definitive answer to our questions about the exact contents of what the Council and the European Council endorsed:

EUROPEAN SEMESTER - INTEGRATED GUIDELINES

The Council approved recommendations:

on the member states' national reform programmes;

delivering an opinion on the member states' updated stability and convergence programmes.

It agreed to forward the texts to the European Council, with a view to its meeting on 23 and 24 June. The "integrated guidelines" will be adopted at a subsequent Council meeting, thus concluding the European Semester, which is being implemented this year for the first time as part of an ongoing reform of the EU's economic governance.

The European Semester involves simultaneous monitoring of the member states' economic and budgetary policies, in accordance with common rules, during a sixEmonth period every year.

The national reform programmes enable multilateral surveillance of the member states' economic policies, identifying growth-enhancing measures and setting national targets under the "Europe 2020" strategy for jobs and growth.

The stability and convergence programmes are aimed at ensuring sound government finances, in accordance with the EU's stability and growth pact, as a means of strengthening the conditions for price stability and for sustainable growth.

[Footnote 1 added the explanation that Euro-area member states present stability programmes, nonEeuroEarea member states present convergence programmes.]

Transparency

As you can see, the Ecofin Council offered us an elementary description of the European Semester. It acknowledged that it approved recommendations, without telling us the contents. Ecofin gave us no links or references to documents, meaning that the paper trail of decision making vanished into thin air.

So much for transparency and accountability.

Since the European Council endorsed the Council conslusions, we seem to be lost, if the preparatory General Affairs Council (GAC) does not save the day.

General Affairs Council

The track record of the General Affairs Council does not give rise to high hopes, with regard to openness and accountability.

Let us not be discouraged by past performance, but study the latest GAC conclusions:

3102nd Council meeting General Affairs; Luxembourg, 21 June 2011 (11825/11; 9 pages)

On page 7 we find the GAC contribution:

European Semester

The Council examined recommendations on national reform programmes submitted by the member states under the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth.

This follows an agreement reached on 17 June by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council on a general approach as regards the employment aspects.

The Council agreed to forward the texts to the European Council, with a view to its meeting on 23 and 24 June. The recommendations will be adopted at a subsequent Council meeting, thus concluding the European Semester.

The European Semester involves simultaneous monitoring of the member states' economic and budgetary policies, in accordance with common rules, during a six-month period every year. It is being implemented this year for the first time as part of an ongoing reform of the EU's economic governance.

No links or documentary references.

Yet another general presentation of what the European Semester is about. The GAC was even more flummy than the Ecofin Council regarding the undisclosed recommendations on the member states' national reform programmes and the opinion on the member states' updated stability and convergence programmes.

The GAC added nothing to our somewhat sketchy knowledge about the employment aspects.

Where are the differences between the Commission recommendations and the views of the member states as a whole, or individually?

What happened to the national reservations?

***

Having gone full circle, we are back at the European Council.

What, exactly, did the European Council and the national leaders mean when they told the world that they endorsed country specific economic guidelines ”without any watering down, and noted the determination of member states to do everything necessary to implement the Stability and Growth Pact (SCG)”?

In the spirit of The Emperor's New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen (see Wikipedia), could the European Council give us an open, readable and accountable explanation of what it is wearing?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. One of the reasons for high structural employment in Europe is the low mobility of workers, as Paul Hannon writes in the Wall Street Journal Europe.