Anti-fragmentation: an incomplete diagnosis and wrong solution
A study by Marek Dąbrowski (CASE) entitled “Anti-fragmentation: an incomplete diagnosis and wrong solution”, requested by the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON), was published in the Monetary Dialogue Papers series in September 2022.
Since the 1990s, the public debt-to-GDP ratio has gradually increased in almost all current euro area member countries. In most of them, it now exceeds the Maastricht reference value of 60%, in several of them – 100%, and in a few cases – even more. It creates a severe challenge to the stability of public finances, the entire financial system and monetary stability in the euro area being also the primary cause of the so-called fragmentation.
The study begins with an analysis of the excessive public debt in the euro area. An overview of the fiscal stance in the euro area as a whole and, separately, in individual Member States from 1997 to 2021 is complemented with the analysis of mechanisms of fiscal discipline – again on the EU/euro area level and the national level separately. Three causes of the ineffectiveness of these mechanisms are then identified: (1) political economy factors at the national level; (2) political economy factors at the European level; and (3) fallacies of economic science.
The next part concerns ECB involvement in the sovereign debt market in the euro area. A historical analysis is conducted starting from the period of the EFC (2010–2015) to quantitative easing of 2014-2022. Two important periods from recent history are detailed - additional quantitative easing of the pandemic era (2020–2022) and the turn towards monetary policy tightening in 2022.
In the last part of the study, the author argues that the problem of “fragmentation” is wrongly formulated. It is a secondary symptom of the excessive sovereign indebtedness in some euro area economies. It should be remedied by fiscal policy measures (fiscal consolidation) rather than by the ECB’s quasi-fiscal activities. The latter is not consistent with its legal status, compromises its independence (and credibility of the euro), and undermines its ability to deliver on its price stability mandate. When a targeted market intervention is necessary, it should be provided by the European Stability Mechanism, the institution created for this purpose in 2012, instead of the ECB.