Jean-Claude Juncker, the decades-long Prime Minister of Luxembourg and current president of the Eurogroup (the meetings of the Eurozone’s finance ministers) has decided to set aside the langue de bois. EUobserver reports him complaining that open debate on monetary policy tended to fuel speculation in the financial markets:
Monetary policy is a serious issue. We should discuss this in secret, in the Eurogroup […] The same applies to economic and monetary policies in the Union. If we indicate possible decisions, we are fuelling speculations on the financial markets and we are throwing in misery mainly the people we are trying to safeguard from this. […] I’m ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious.
He summed up his point of view saying “I am for secret, dark debates”.
Beyond being a PR slip-up (no doubt it will fuel euroskeptic conspiracy theories..), the point is well-taken, but only to an extent. Commission spokespersons, when discussing possible bailouts or restructuring for Greece or Portugal in public, tend to be tight-lipped in public and are generally frank about their reasons for being so.
As so often in economic policy – whether banks runs or currency collapses – self-fulfilling prophecies are a serious problem. Confidence and the appearance of confidence, which open argument can undermine, can be as important as substance.
The trouble is monetary policy doesn’t seem to be conducted with the interest of the entire EU in mind but merely of its most successful economies. I should think Spanish and Portuguese citizens – to cite only the most concerned – should have a say as to why they have to pay for the decisions taken in Brussels and Frankfurt. I don’t know how they can have their voices heard if, according to Juncker, they should not even be in on the discussion.
It’s even more disturbing that he included “economic policy” in this, as opposed to just monetary, an area where with the so-called “pact for the Euro” and the “European semester” the EU is to play an larger role.