France launches push for stronger eurozone

The French President and his Prime Minister have called for a strong and more harmonized eurozone to help avoid further crisis. It would be led by "a vanguard of countries" and could include a new eurozone parliament.

France launches push for stronger eurozone
France wants to see a more harmonized, stronger eurozone. Photo: AFP

France wants a stronger, more harmonised eurozone led by “a vanguard of countries”, French President Francois Hollande said in an interview published on Sunday.

In the past week “the European spirit prevailed” in addressing the Greek crisis, he told the weekly Journal du Dimanche.

But he stressed the need for “two cornerstones” of a tighter, more secure, eurozone, “an European economic government” and “a specific budget” to deal with similar crises in future

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls added that this vanguard should include the six founding EU countries: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Both Hollande and Valls remained vague on the details of this initiative, with the prime minister, talking in the southern town of Avignon, saying that “in the coming weeks” France would have “the opportunity to take initiatives and make concrete propositions”.

“We are in the process of emerging from the Greek crisis, even though it is difficult, and we must learn the lessons and go much further,” Valls insisted.

'We cannot stand still'

Hollande was clear that member countries must do more.

“We cannot stand still,” he said in the interview published alongside a profile of Jacques Delors, the former head of the European Commission.

Delors, a former French economics and finance minister who turns 90 on Monday, is one of the architects of the euro.

“I have proposed taking up Jacques Delors' idea about euro government, with the addition of a specific budget and a parliament to ensure democratic control,” Hollande said.

His remarks touched on what analysts have seen as a major flaw in the euro.

Under the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, countries which share a common currency must obey rules on borrowing and deficit spending.

But the Greek crisis saw one of the 19 eurozone members notch up successive worsening deficits and amass a mountain of debt.

The problems were only addressed by bailouts from the European institutions and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Critics say the problem stems from a lack of centralised control over national fiscal policies, which today are jealously guarded areas of sovereignty.

In 2011, Delors said the crisis facing the euro required member states either to accept greater economic cooperation or a transfer of more national powers to the European Union's centre.

Hollande did not spell out his proposals in the interview but said it was time to overhaul the euro's governance.

“Sharing a currency is far more than wanting (economic) convergence,” he said.

“It's a choice that 19 countries have made because it was in their interest. No government, by the way, has taken the responsibility of leaving” the euro since its creation, he said.

“This choice calls for strengthened organisation and, among the countries which will decide it, a vanguard,” said Hollande.

“France is willing to take part because, as Jacques Delors showed, the country becomes greater when it takes the initiative in Europe.”

The idea of a eurozone parliament, to run alongside the current European parliament, has already been mooted by economists such as Thomas Piketty.

Such a “second chamber”, according to renowned French economist Piketty, could include both members of the European parliament and members of national parliaments.

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