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August 23, 2017

Is Macron neo-protectionistic?

Back from summer holidays Emmanuel Macron starts his European agenda with a travel to Central and Eastern Europe - Romania, Bulgaria and Austria - where he will also meet the leaders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. On the agenda is the tightening of labour rules for posted workers. The posted workers directive permits European companies to send employees for a limited period of up to three years to other EU states on contracts under which they have to guarantee only the minimum wage of the host country, while continuing to pay the lower social charges of the home country. The French government has long complained that this leads to social dumping, eroding the labour protection system in higher-wage member states. 

Macron now proposes that posted workers should also get the benefits (travel expenses, food vouchers, housing benefits) of the host country. He also proposes to limit the contract to one year rather than three, while the Commission is proposing to reduce it to two years. Not only posted workers are the target of Macron’s initiative but also truckers. They shall receive French minimum wages even if they only transit through, according to the French proposals. 

What are the chances for this proposal flying? Germany is a tacit supporter of this French initiative but unlikely to advocate this openly, writes FAZ. Also Austria is likely to be open to this initiative. Macron also can count on a constructive attitude from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. By contrast Poland and Hungary are known as staunch opponents, and Spain seem to have reservations against Macron’s proposal. But this does not mean the end of the endeavour, as a new posted workers directive would not need unanimity. Macron’s aim is to get as much as possible done before the meeting of the labour and social affairs ministers in October. After that it will be more difficult, as the EU presidency passes over in December from Slovenia to the more sceptical Bulgaria. 

To put this into perspective: about 1% of the EU workforce is posted under this directive, mainly in the haulage and construction sector, according to Reuters. The directive is thus mostly of political importance. It could also improve Macron’s credentials with workers at home just when the government’s labour law reform is about to be finalised. 

The proposal to ensure the minimum wage also for passing truckers would push the French initiative much further, and is likely to encounter more resistance. German trade unions may support Macron’s proposal, but unionists from central Europe argue against what they call neo-protectionism.

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August 23, 2017

No, it is not easy to get rid of the stability pact

It is very easy to solve the eurozone’s many economic problems. We have been doing this at Eurointelligence for over ten years now, every weekday. The exercise becomes fiendishly difficult, however, once you take account of the political constraints. 

We were reminded of this difficulty when we read Martin Sandbu’s analysis of what Emmanuel Macron should do now. He argues that Macron should not waste political capital on a eurozone budget, and instead follow through with his domestic reform agenda, even at the expense of a fiscal overshoot. That may well be sound advice, but not for the reasons given. Sandbu argues that fiscal stabilisation in the eurozone would be more easily achieved by reforming the stability and growth pact. Since a eurozone budget will never be large enough to do the job, it would be much better if national fiscal policies played their traditional countercyclical role. 

We find that there are two problems with this argument. The first is that a reform of the stability pact is hardly easy. Germany has incorporated a balanced-budget rule in its constitution, and eurozone members have since hardened their commitment towards debt reduction to a ceiling of 60% of GDP through the fiscal compact. The idea that this can be negotiated away easily is politically naïve.

Second, if one accepts that France pursues a counter-cyclical policy right now, would that not imply fiscal tightening? Reasonable people can always disagree on the length of economic cycle, and an economy’s exact position in it. 

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