The EMU’s twisted foundations

The EMU’s twisted foundations


The Euro is quite obviously the most ambitious institutional creation in Europe in recent years. The common currency has thus become the symbol of the European federalist project. But, it is not sure that all the implications of the common currency have been clearly understood or even simply perceived. The idea of a common currency, which in itself is not without merits, has thus become the hostage of a forward flight of those who can be called the “Europeanists”[1]. In doing so, it was the economic and social well-being of Europeans, and the sustainability of the social model of continental European countries, which has been taken hostage. Yet, since the beginning of 2016 illusions are falling apart. The scales fall from the eyes of even the most partisans.

The elements of a Euro crisis are therefore undeniably accumulating and can only be strengthened in the months to come. Beyond the obvious economic consequences, such a crisis would also have obvious political implications. It is worth recalling the theoretical foundations of the Euro, but also the practices of instrumentalization of the economic theory to which the Euro gave rise.


  1. Who still believes in the Euro?


The main criticisms made against the Euro were and are the expression of a profound feeling. Doubts as to the stability and sustainability of the single currency came early and were the work of reputed economists. Some have spoken on this issue before the implementation of the Euro, such as Rudiger Dornbush (1996), or Gérard Lafay (Lafay, 1998) and jean-Jacques Rosa (Rosa, 1999). Dornbush however had clearly identified the transfer to the labour market and the production of tensions that could no longer be removed by adjustments of exchange rates. Dornbush had also pointed the case of Italy as one of the countries that would suffer the most from the implementation of the Euro. This is also the case of Milton Friedman (1997) who had identified some of the problems the Euro would cause.

In France, warnings came fast after the first years of the Euro. Notes circulated in the early 2000s by the “Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations[2] and then the Natexis-Banques Populaires[3] studies showed that financial specialists had taken stock of the limits and structural inconsistencies of The single currency as applied. A former business adviser at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Serge Federbusch (2006), had shown in an article the now exorbitant and unbearable cost of the overvaluation of the single currency. Identical doubts have since then been expressed in other countries, in Italy[4] and Germany[5] in particular. These include the works of Flassbeck and Lapavitsas (2013), or the contribution of Kawalec and Pytlarczyk (2013). Some of this work has focused on the euro zone crisis[6], or on the imbalances induced by the Euro and their consequences on the economic policies of the countries of the Eurozone[7].


These doubts were recently raised in the public square by authorities, both from an institutional point of view and from an academic point of view. Lord Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England (2003 to 2013) published in 2016 a very critical book on the Euro (King, 2016). Joseph Stiglitz, in another register, also published an important book focusing on the dangers that the Euro presented to the Economic and Monetary Union and beyond to the European Union (Stiglitz, 2016). A little earlier, in 2014, it was Paul Krugman[8] who, in his blog, drew attention to the catastrophe that constituted the single currency. More recently, it was Alberto Bagnai who called the Euro defeat of the economists[9].

It is interesting to see that these criticisms come from authors who are faithful to the theoretical framework of the New Monetary Consensus[10], and from more heterodox authors[11]. These books echo other works[12], some of which include a collective of authors, and others published individually[13].


The important point here is that an author as King puts forward one of the causes of the Eurozone crisis, the existence of different rates of inflation depending on the country. When he writes that the Monetary Union (i.e. the Eurozone) faces the problem of the existence of different rates of inflation depending on the country, it is unquestionably right. This same argument was developed in my own book Faut-il sortir de l’Euro published in 2012[14]. The Monetary Union implies that the same monetary policy will be conducted on all the countries of the zone, implying that it will be either too restrictive or too accommodating depending on the country. King writes: “Instead of being able to use differential interest rates to bring inflation to the same level, some countries found their divergences were exacerbated by the single rate[15]. Actually, the problem is simply shifted to competitiveness and places a country whose inflation is structurally superior to that of the dominant country of the Union (ie Germany) with the following alternative: to see its external competitiveness deteriorate (Which translates into a serious imbalance in the trade balance with Germany) or impose a policy of austerity that plunges it into recession.

King points very accurately to the contradiction between the democratic spirit that is supposed to reign within the European Union and the technocratic nature of decision-making. He writes thus: « Put bluntly, monetary union has created a conflict between a centralised elite on the one hand, and the forces of democracy at the national level on the other. This is extraordinarily dangerous. In 2015, the Presidents of the European Commission, the Eurosummit, the Eurogroup, the European Central Bank and the European Parliament (the existence of five presidents is testimony to the bureaucratic skills of the elite) Decisions will increasingly need to be made collectively “and implicitly supporting the idea of a single finance minister for the euro area. This approach of creeping transfer of sovereignty to an unknown centre is deeply flawed and will meet popular resistance »[16]. When he designates sovereignty as being called to be in the end sacrificed in the process, he is, of course, still right. This point was elaborated in one of my recent books[17]. This is exactly the same diagnosis found in the Joseph E. Stiglitz book. Stiglitz is also aware of the exorbitant political cost of the existence of the Euro in its present form. He announces a crisis, which he believes will be both political and economic, unless the Eurozone countries decide to move toward a full-fledged federalism or to dissolve the Euro zone calmly.

The extent of the doubts expressed as to the ability of the Euro to survive, and to function effectively, is now well established. However, the principle and existence of the Euro cannot be affected without undermining the very heart of the European project as it has been implemented for nearly 25 years. It is therefore necessary to understand the nature of theoretical foundations, which led to the current impasse and to take stock of it.


2. Euro’s theoretical foundations


The crisis in the Euro, which is also a crisis in the economies of some countries using the Euro, is now largely due to the conditions under which it was introduced. It is also one of the points on which supporters and opponents of the Euro agree[18]. For, it must be emphasized, the idea of a single currency is not without merit of its own. We must, however, identify them with precision if we do not want to confuse the real with the imaginary. We see then that the justification discourse of the Euro was constructed from a theory, that of the Optimal Currency Zones, even if it was necessary to change the theoretical framework when it was necessary to maintain a discourse of justification.


Robert Mundell first advanced the idea of a common currency, in a multi-country zone, in 1961[19]. It responded to a view progressively advanced by a growing number of standard economists that an economy in the form of trade liberalization and liberalization of capital could no longer have an independent monetary policy if one was in the presence of perfect – or almost perfect – capital mobility[20]. A common currency has essentially two advantages. The first is that it eliminates transaction costs and exchange rate uncertainties in the area where it is relevant. It should be noted, however, that these transaction costs and uncertainties are all the more important in the case of a floating exchange rate system, under the pressure of liberalized financial markets. In a situation where the rate would be fixed for fixed periods, and controlled short-term capital movements, these costs and uncertainty would already be greatly reduced. A second advantage is that a single currency, by avoiding a phenomenon of competition between monetary instruments, makes it possible to pursue a single monetary policy. The latter has the advantage of being able to give coherence to economic policy on the space of its application. However, it is necessary to have the will to carry out a monetary policy which is an integrated element of a global economic policy and which the statutes of the Central Bank allow.

The two above mentioned advantages are all the more important in the case of an integrated trading area. There would thus be a strong coherence between trade integration and monetary integration, to the point that the former would eventually determine the latter. The Euro presents itself here in the continuity of the discourse on the “Single Market” which becomes congruent with an Optimal Currency Zone. It is therefore necessary to present in totality this theory, which has been widely used – rightly or wrongly – to justify the existence of the Euro.


Mundell, actually, seeks to counter Friedman’s argument that exchange rate flexibility would alleviate the insufficient flexibility of domestic prices. It should be remembered, however, that at that time, in the Bretton-Woods system, parities were rigid, with sudden adjustments occurring discreetly[21]. The position that Mundell defends in 1960[22] is that this argument paradoxically rests on the existence of a “monetary illusion” among economic agents. The monetary illusion is here, of course, inspired by the “nominal illusion” expounded for the first time in the General Theory of Keynes in 1936[23]. We know that Keynes supposes a situation in which agents tend to refuse declines in their nominal incomes but can accept real declines in income if prices rise more than their incomes. Mundell transposes this reasoning in international economics to describe the implicit idea behind the argument developed by Milton Friedman (1953). In another article, dating from the same period[24], Mundell compares the respective effects of monetary policy, fiscal policy, and trade policy – tariffs – in fixed and then flexible exchange regimes with a view to stimulating employment. Mundell’s conclusions are as follows:

  1. Fiscal policy is more efficient in flexible exchange rates
  2. Monetary policy is more efficient in flexible exchange rates
  3. Trade policy is more efficient in terms of fixed exchange rates.

To the extent that this article is a draft of Mundell’s 1963 article[25], it may be remarked that it seems surprising that Mundell concludes that fiscal policy is flexible. This is because the fiscal policy analysed by Mundell is not a ‘pure’ budgetary policy, as his article in Kyklos shows[26], but a form of policy mix with some intervention of the central bank.


It should be then noted that in the article in which Robert Mundell presented what was to become the Optimal Currency Zones Theory, he begins his reasoning by identifying, like Friedman, three main factors of the periodic crises in the balance of payments: Exchange rate, price rigidity, and wage rigidity. On the other hand, he intends to depart from the practical conclusion of Friedman, for whom flexible exchange rates are the solution. To counter this reasoning, Mundell begins by asking himself “what is the appropriate area of a monetary zone”[27]. To answer this question, he first intends to elaborate “a conception of what constitutes an optimum monetary zone”, which would be able to shed light on the monetary experiments taking place at the time, and it must be remembered that this is precisely the period when the first signs of a tension on the fixed exchange rates (which predominate at the time) and the premise of a shift towards exchange rate flexibility, which will become the rule Early 1970s. It is interesting, and indeed premonitory, to note that he is already quoting the idea of a single currency area for the countries of Western Europe, which have just terminated the European Payments Union. He also wants to be able to address the problem of Canada and its economic ties with United States. It emphasizes that in a single currency area, the supply of inter-regional means of payment is elastic on demand. It deduces from this the fact that the adjustment between countries in the case of a monetary zone or a plurality of currencies or between regions (in the case of a monetary union) depends on the monetary form used[28].

However, in Mundell’s reasoning there is obviously a bias in favour of the area where the common currency prevails. It does not simply compare a system of several currencies in fixed exchange rates and a system based on a single currency; it combines, and this somewhat arbitrarily, the system with a plurality of currencies to a restrictive economic policy, while the single currency system is coupled with an economic policy oriented towards employment. It does not show any logical reason why it should be so. This first example cannot therefore be accepted as an irrefutable proof of the better efficiency of single-currency systems. Moreover, the example of the Eurozone show that it is rather in a zone of a common currency that restrictive economic policies prevails, precisely because of the failure of exchange rate to digest imbalances between countries. On the other hand, countries that have retained their own currencies have a greater ease in implementing economic policies geared to full employment.


The second part of the article, entitled “National Currencies and Flexible Exchange Rates”, is what is best known in Mundell’s article. Taking note of the fact that in his first part he admitted that a devaluation of the currency of one of the countries or a revaluation of the other country could have corrected the internal and external imbalances, Mundell then assumes a Productivity shock, which is supposed to lead to excess demand in one country and an excess of supply in the other, all in flexible exchange regimes. He then draws two conclusions from this example. The first is that we cannot escape both unemployment and inflation as a result of such a shock. The second is that the flexible exchange rate does not make it possible to correct the imbalance in the balance of payments between the regions of the same country (which it considers to be the “essential problem”). Consequently, for Mundell in such a case the flexibility of the exchange rate is not necessarily preferable to a single currency or even to national currencies in fixed exchange rates. It should be noted, however, that this reasoning neglects the possibility for the State concerned to implement a compensation policy between the two regions, even if it is to be financed in part by its Central Bank or by fiscal policy. This example will be taken up much later by Daniel Cohen (Cohen, 1986) to show that the counterpart of a single currency system is precisely a system of budgetary transfers.


3. Mundell’s trilemma


The traditional presentation of economic policy incompatibility triangle establishes a trilemma between the perfect mobility of capital, the fact of having a fixed exchange rate and an autonomous monetary policy. The justification usually given, as in Robert Mundell’s article of 1963[29], is that when capital is perfectly mobile, there appears to be a world capital market on which a world interest rate is formed. This rate is imposed on all countries, and if a country derogates from it upwards or downwards, it will have to undergo capital flows that will unbalance its balance of payments. However, a re-reading of Robert Mundell’s first articles makes it possible to propose alternatives to the orthodox interpretation which is often made of his theory – an interpretation which is, it must be admitted, in conformity with Mundell’s thought from 1968 onwards. Following one of Mundell’s articles in 1961[30], one can argue outside the zones of equilibrium. In particular, if one abandons the strict balance of payments balance, as has been the case in many countries, starting with the United States, the possibilities for central bank action are asymmetrical. The capacity of a central bank to defend its currency against a speculative attack, i.e. a massive sale of its currency on the foreign exchange market, is in theory dependent on its foreign exchange reserves as shown by numerous works[31]. In fact, since the currency crises of the 1990s, the ability of speculators to use very high debt leverages imposes on Central Banks that want to be able to defend themselves from accumulating extremely strong foreign exchange reserves, Is the case today for China or for Russia[32]. There is, however, another method. The Central Bank, whose currency is caught in a speculative crisis, may also increase its interest rates in order to attract capital, which would provide additional support for its exchange rate. However, in most cases this method is inefficient or requires such large increases in the policy rate that the impact on the country’s economy can be disastrous. Indeed, capital investors are reluctant to flock if they anticipate a near collapse of the exchange rate and they may even consider the rise in key interest rates as a warning sign of this collapse[33].


Two years later, it was R. McKinnon who brought his stone to this theoretical construction[34]. In his text, he explains that the more the opening of an economy to the outside is important and the more the importance of the exchange rate is reduced. The interest of an adjustment by the exchange rate is low. Peter Kennen then argued[35] that if a country’s economy were diversified, this diversification was to reduce the magnitude of what economists call “exogenous shocks”, and allowed the country to be linked to other countries by a fixed exchange rate. From this work it could be deduced that a country has an interest in linking itself to others by a common currency, provided that capital and labour are perfectly flexible (as Mundell shows) International trade important (McKinnon) and that its economy is broadly diversified (Kennen). Moreover, the extremely large monetary movements that occurred from 1975 to 1990 had not led to dramatic changes in trade balances. Some economists then deduced that the sensitivity of exports (and imports) to the price of these products was actually low in the modern economy. The idea was then developed that international trade was essentially about product quality.

Other economists have argued that countries would derive significant economic benefits from a single currency. The latter was supposed to generate a very strong increase in trade flows between the countries of the monetary zone thus constituted and thus to increase production accordingly, which Andrew K. Rose was trying to demonstrate[36]. His works have given rise to an extremely favourable literature for the Monetary Unions. They described national currencies as “obstacles” to international trade[37]. Monetary integration would lead to a sharp increase in production and potential trade[38]. The European Monetary Union would create the conditions for the success of the “Optimal Monetary Zone”, if this work were validated by reality, in a movement that seemed to be endogenous[39]. Hence we can understand various declarations of politicians affirming that the Euro would lead, by its very existence, to a strong growth. Jacques Delors and Romano Prodi have thus asserted that the Euro will promote European growth from 1% to 1.5% per year for several years[40]. They were evil prophets.

To this must be added the idea that the monetary and financial union would reduce the risks of the economic ups and downs[41]. This is what is known as risk sharing, which has become one of the arguments of Euro-defenders today[42]. These arguments are regularly summoned to explain that the Euro is inducing a “protection”.


All this converges on the need to adopt a single currency. But the theory of the Optimal Currency Zones of 1961 was not the last word of Mundell. And this introduces possible dissonances, which have been reinforced by empirical studies.


4. Theoretical and factual dissonances


The almost unconditional defence of fixed exchange rates and monetary unification resulted in Robert Mundell being called ‘the intellectual father of the euro’[43]. But if there are many references to Mundell, it is much more rare to find a presentation of his work that sheds light on his intellectual journey. In fact, there are two Mundells. The first is devoted to the study of the theory of optimal monetary zones and will be the basis of the Mundell-Fleming model. The second is the co-founder, with Arthur Laffer, of the supply-side economics. This does not imply that there is no communication between the first Mundell and the second. It can be measured with what is called the trilemma of economic policy, known as the triangle of incompatibility. If this triangle of incompatibility is indeed derived from the theoretical framework of the first Mundell, it is often interpreted today following a grid that is much more similar to the second Mundell. Economists consider that national governments no longer have any autonomous room for manoeuver. In other words, these governments can no longer exercise their sovereignty. They would now be subject to economic conditions and should seek to attract international investors. It may be noted that this corresponds fairly well to the analysis of the economic policy of France under the presidency of Emmanuel Macron. Nevertheless, the study of optimal monetary zones is largely specific.


One can thus identify several intellectual stages of Mundell. In a first step, Mundell is ‘Keynesian’, in the sense of the synthesis advocated by Samuelson, before becoming strongly influenced by theses close to the monetarists. McKinnon identified difference between periods of Mundell’s thought (McKinnon, 2004) under the name of Mundell I and Mundell II. This identification is relative to the way in which Mundell justifies his support for fixed exchange rates and monetary unions. While the first Mundell, the one of the Optimal Currency Areas Theory, seeks to determine how to replace the exchange rate, the second Mundell starts from the idea that exchange rate fluctuation is by nature destabilizing, Pass – even without compensation – is a good thing. One can understand why he was considered the intellectual father of the Euro.

Obsfeld’s analysis of Mundell’s intellectual evolution allows us to date the moment when Mundell ceases to be Keynesian (at least in the sense of Samuelson’s synthesis) [44]. This turning point is around 1969. Mundell is then at the University of Chicago, and his relationship with Friedman alone is enough to understand the complexity of the situation. Mundell and Friedman share the view that monetary policy must have as target priority price stability – that it has a ‘comparative advantage’ in this area. Moreover, Mundell clearly understands that Friedman’s response to Keynesian ideas has undermined the credibility of Keynesian ideas among the academic public. Let us add that at this time, Mundell is likely to be influenced by the work of Robert Lucas. The contribution of Robert Lucas was decisive in the re-foundation of the bases of the macroeconomic theory. The important moment was the publication in 1972 of a model of macroeconometric resolution of the problem of the neutrality of money in a situation of equilibrium of rational expectations[45]. This results from Mundell’s particular views on the exchange rate regime, the inflation target, and the role of fiscal policy.


Let us note, then, a second dissonance. The Treaty of Lisbon, which purports to crown the establishment of the “Single Market”, seeks to establish competition, known as “free and undistorted” as a founding principle[46]. The single currency, on the other hand, has the function of eliminating competition between monetary instruments. It establishes a monopoly. The latter is certainly necessary, and the theory of Free Banking or competition between currencies constitutes a deep regression. However, if one admits that the monopoly may be necessary, then, could one honestly establish competition in principle? Here we touch on one of the inconsistences of the so-called Europeanist discourse. It will not be the only one.

Establishing a monopoly of monetary instruments and policies has specific implications. Because it becomes unique, monetary policy can no longer take into account the diversity of social and economic situations in its area of application. If we follow Mundell’s initial reasoning, we must indeed have perfect labour mobility within the area concerned in order to cope with economic shocks. Does this mean that there can be no single currency except in economically and socially homogeneous areas? The answer is negative, for money is not fortunately the only economic institution or even the only instrument available. The counterpart to a single currency is fiscal and budgetary solidarity, which means that resources can be transferred to regions that would be unduly penalized in an asymmetric shock. What makes the monetary monopoly bearable in a heterogeneous economy is an active fiscal policy. This is particularly clear in the case of countries with federal structures. The share of federal spending must exceed 50% for the system to function. If this economic zone comprises several countries, then the loss of the monetary instrument must be offset by the maintenance of a strong fiscal autonomy, enabling a government to subsidize the economic sectors affected by the crisis, instead of helping them through devaluation[47]. In the case of the Euro, there is therefore a new inconsistency. The introduction of the single currency was without debate as to the possibility of setting up a federal budget, at least on the scale of the countries concerned. By the single currency, the instrument of devaluation was withdrawn from the countries and this without providing another. From this point of view, as Alexander Swoboda acknowledges, one can find in the first Mundell, the supporter of the single currency, strong arguments against the Euro as it was put in place[48].


Some of the proponents of the Euro then rallied the thesis of the inefficiency of monetary policies. Here we have a case where the object to be justified implies leaving the original theoretical framework. In this new theoretical framework, the best and only thing that a Central Bank can do is to establish a monetary rule and not to budge. The metaphor used by Kydland and Prescott (Kydland and Prescott, 1977) is that of Ulysses being chained to the mast of his ship to listen without succumbing to the song of sirens. In this context, the Euro becomes both acceptable (countries lose nothing by abandoning a monetary policy that no longer has any object) and even progress since it will establish a rule independent of the policies of the States concerned. But, as Gregory Mankyw (Mankyw, 2002, 2006) has shown, the experience of the American Central Bank has sharply denied this view.

Errors in the conception of economic and monetary union are also rooted in an essentially French economic doctrine, monetary essentialism. It is no coincidence that senior French officials played an important role in the design of the Euro. In its most complete form, this doctrine is well represented by the works of Michel Aglietta and André Orléan[49]. It makes money not only an important institution of capitalist economies, which is just, but the central institution, which is much more debatable[50]. Monetary essentialism implies a number of cumbersome assumptions, both from the point of view of the theory of individual behaviour and anthropological point of view[51].

Robert Mundell, however, can be considered as a precursor of this essentialism insofar as it adds to the two classic arguments in favour of the single currency that of the convergence of the real factors obtained by monetary unification[52]. This position is consistent with those of the “second Mundell” referred to above. Here one finds again the idea that money has the teleological virtues that will later lend it Aglietta and Orlean. In fact, as part of its defence of the principle of a single currency, Mundell undertook to call into question the theoretical elements of the “first Mundell” and which were contained in its original article[53]. In particular, it considers from the 1970s that agents react only to changes in their “real” wealth and not to the nominal amounts of their income or wealth. We are gradually witnessing a rallying of monetarist theses. However, the latter also imply heavy assumptions about the model of the human actor.

In the controversy over the common currency, we must therefore note that we have gradually shifted from an analytical approach that tried to evaluate its positive and negative elements to a position that is now purely propagandist to justify the Euro, even at the cost of blatant argumentative inconsistencies and abandoning any scientific method.


5. When reality fights back…


From 2004 on it had become clear even to the most pro-Euro defenders that reality refused to bow to their desires. Aglietta (2004) acknowledged that if debt markets are unified, the areas that continue to bear a trace, even remotely, of the real economy, such as exchanges, remain marked by “the strong resistance of segmentations National level”. The changeover to the Euro did not lead to the unification of prices among the countries of the Zone, as also the studies cited at the beginning of this text. This again refers to elements of the real economy. There is thus clearly a resistance of the real world to the simplifying unification of which the currency is supposed to be capable. Aglietta is obliged to note that the main advances expected from the introduction of the Euro have not yet materialized. It should have both increased growth and preserved Europe from external economic turmoil. However, and from the admission of one of the supporters of the Euro, it has not been so[54]. The Euro didn’t erase national divergences nor slow down the erosion of the European social model. It would have been necessary to get rid of the monetarist dogmas, which have contaminated the reflection on the single currency as early as 1973.


In the mid-1990s, George Akerlof and researchers at the Brookings Institution had shown persistence the “nominal illusion” so much criticized in monetarist writings[55]. This led them to prove that some inflation was necessary for economic development. What has not been noticed is that they backed their break with monetarism to an analysis of individual behaviour far more realistic than that of traditional models[56]. Since the 1970s, all the traditional assumptions about preferences based on individual behaviour have collapsed under the influence of researchers in experimental psychology[57]. This resulted in a complete reversal of the results that had been taken for granted since the 1960s[58]. In fact, experimental psychology supports the initial Keynesian theses[59], both against the monetarist counter-revolution and against attempts to reduce Keynes to a simple variation of the classical framework of equilibrium.

The importance of the rigidities resulting from the real sector and institutions, reflecting the individuality of the social and historical trajectory of each country, then regains its relevance[60]. These works then converge with those of Akerlof and his colleagues to show, for example, the dangers of a too low inflation[61]. Recent models known as “sticky information” models attempt to represent an economic world where actors behave more realistically than those attributed to traditional models[62]. An essential contribution of these models is to show that monetary shocks are long-term, that monetary policies have lasting and non-transitory effects on the level of activity. They confirm that the nature of an economy’s reaction to monetary policy depends on its structures and institutions. Thus the dogma of a single monetary model collapses and with it a good part of the argumentation that founded both the political shortcuts on which the Euro was constructed and the Statute of the European Central Bank.

A study of the dynamics of inflation in the countries of the Eurozone is of particular relevance here[63]. The work of Christian Conrad and Menelaos Karanasos demonstrates two essential results. First of all, there is no single dynamic of inflation, and inflation does not always negatively affect economic growth, unlike what monetarists claim[64]. There are differentiated dynamics, and in some cases inflation appears to be necessary for growth. Then, their work shows the bursting of dynamics within the Euro Zone itself. The heterogeneity of productive systems and social structures thus reflects in the monetary dynamics. Money is a mirror, or even a magnifying lens, of the dynamics of the real world. This result is perfectly consistent with that of “sticky information” models[65]. The individuality of economic and social systems, itself the product of the national histories in which these systems are embedded, is an essential factor in any approach to monetary policy. This reversal of economic science exposes the fragility of the presuppositions of the “second Mundell”, and consequently of the Euro


But criticism of the Euro is also rooted in criticism of the positive effects of a monetary union. We recall the work of A. K. Rose explaining that EMU should be of great benefit to the economies of the countries concerned. This work is now in doubt (Laurentjoye, 2013). Further research, based on more comprehensive and rigorous databases, has greatly reduced the magnitude of the positive effects of the monetary union[66]. The initial work of Rose et al. was strongly criticized because of the econometric method it used[67]. A more fundamental criticism was that these models did not take into account the persistence of international trade[68]. Finally, these models neglected the existence of endogenous factors for the development of trade, factors that are not affected by the existence – or non-existence – of a monetary union.

This has led to a fundamental questioning of the results. Capitalizing on nearly twenty years of research on international trade and “gravity” models[69], Harry Kelejian and his colleagues (Kelejian et al., 2011) have repeated the various estimates of the effects of a monetary union on the international trade of member countries. The results are devastating. The impact of the Economic and Monetary Union is estimated to be an increase in trade from 4.7% to 6.3%, which is very far from the most pessimistic estimates of the previous work which placed these effects at 20%, Even to mention the initial work of Rose which placed them between 200% and 300%. In 10 years, there was a 10 to 1 reduction (from 200% to 20%), followed by a further reduction reducing the size of these effects by 20% to an average of 5% (a factor of 4 to 1) [70]. The positive effects of a monetary union have thus been largely overestimated, obviously for political reasons. The most outrageous announcements about the positive effects of the Economic and Monetary Union were made at the very moment of the introduction of the Euro.


The Euro, as it has been conceived and implemented, now appears as an intellectual and theoretical archaic. The implicit or explicit assumptions of its defenders were all denied. A single currency can therefore be thought of only on condition that it can afford to compensate for its effects on heterogeneous economies. It then becomes impossible to assert, except to be on the same level as doctors who would still stick to the theory of “humors” of the eighteenth century, or to that of geographers arguing that the Earth is flat, that the currency Is the instrument of unification and homogenization. This is the essential turning point in the debate on the single currency, which is collapsing in its turn.


To conclude


The current crisis of the Euro has been described in numerous works, cited at the beginning of this article. The Euro was assimilated, and not without reason, to the Gold Exchange Standard and specifically to the “Golden Bloc” of the early 1930s, whose harmfulness and role in the spread of the Great Depression are well known. The impossibility for the countries of the Economic and Monetary Union to resort to depreciations (or appreciations) of their exchange rate is now a major problem. Moreover, the undervaluation of the German currency (if it still existed) because of the Euro is a well-established thing by the External Sector Report published by the IMF[71]. The Euro is therefore a problem not only for the countries of the Eurozone but also for the whole of the world economy for many years[72]. The problem of a possible EMU dissolution is then on the table. To some extent this had been anticipated by a former staunch proponent of currency union (Rose, 2007) as well as by an author harbouring more critical views (Nitsch V., 2004). This is sending us back to a problem described first by J.M. Meade, the necessity to have balance of payments balanced in a free-trade area (Meade, 1957).

But this is also highlighting the responsibility of economic theory, or more precisely of a certain economic theory, and more specifically the use and misuse of this theory in which it is instrumentalised for political purposes. This problem can no longer be masked and it points to the confusion between the analytical posture, the normative posture and the political posture of some economists. From this point of view, the Euro represents an obvious failure of economists, either because they have twisted their theories to prove at all costs the necessity and the superiority of the Euro, or because they have left those politically responsible to do so in their place and to cover them with their own reputation.



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[1] We suggest here to call « europeist » people committed to an ideological vision where the EU is seen as a panacea against all problems. This definition is close from what has written the former French Minister of Foreign affairs Mr. Hubert Vedrine (Védrine, 2005)

[2] See Partick Artus, in a CDC-Ixis sponsored study published early July 2005 and quoted by P-A. Delhommais (2005).

[3] Touati M. (2006)

[4] See, Bagnai A., (2012), Il tramonto dell’euro, Imprimatur, Reggio Emilia; Bagnai, A., (2013) « Introduction to the symposium: The euro, manage it or leave it! », Comparative Economic Studies, no 55.; Bagnai A. and Mongeau-Ospina C-A., (2014).

[5] See Bertelsmann Stiftung, (2013)

[6] See Papadimitriou D.B. and Randall Wray L. (2011),

[7] See Pérez-Caldentey E. and Vernengo M (2012)., and Semieniuk G., van Treeck, T. and Truger A., (2011).

[8] Krugman P., (2014).

[9] Bagnai A. (2017).

[10] Goodfriend M., and R.G. King, (1997).

[11] Coll., (2016).

[12] Like De Grauwe P., (2012), Zingales L., (2010) and Rosa J-J., (2011),

[13] Bagnai A., (2014); Sapir J., (2016b).

[14] Sapir J., (2012).

[15] King, Mervyn A., (2016).

[16] King, Mervyn A., (2016).

[17] Sapir J., (2016a).

[18] See, Aglietta M. and Sapir J., (2016).

[19] Mundell R.A., (1961).

[20] It is one of the important results of Mundell-Fleming model. See R.A. Mundell, (1968), chap. 16 et 17 et Frenkel J. and A. Razin, (1987).

[21] Van Dormael, A.(1978).

[22] Mundell, R.A. (1960a).

[23] Keynes, J.M. (1936).

[24] Mundell, R.A. (1961a).

[25] Mundell, R.A. (1963).

[26] Mundell, R.A. (1961b).

[27] Mundell, R.A. (1961), p.657.

[28] Idem, p. 658.

[29] Mundell, R.A. (1963).

[30] Mundell, R.A. (1961a).

[31] For exemple, Krugman, P. (1979) or Flood, R.P., Garber, P.M. (1984).

[32] Sapir J., (2008b).

[33] Sapir J. (2009 a), Sapir J., (2008a)

[34] McKinnon R.I., (1963).

[35] Kenen, P.B. (1969).

[36] Rose, A.K. (2000), and Rose, A. K., (2001).

[37] Rose, A.K., Wincoop, E. van (2001).

[38] De Grauwe, P. (2003). Frankel, J.A., Rose A.K. (2002).

[39] Frankel, J.A., Rose A.K. (1998). De Grauwe, P., Mongelli, F.P. (2005).

[40] Sapir J. (2012).

[41] Artis M. et M. Hoffman, (2007); Afonso A. et D. Furceri, (2008).

[42] European Commission, (2007).

[43] Mundell, R.A. (2011),

[44] Obsfeld, M. (2001)..

[45] Lucas R.E., (1972).

[46] TFUE (2013)

[47] Cohen D., (1986).

[48] Swoboda, A., (1999).

[49] Aglietta M. and A. Orléan (1982) and Aglietta M. and A. Orléan (2002). On the formal reasoning: Orléan A., (1985).

[50] The emerging of the essentialist view of money is analysed in Sapir J. (2000), chap. 4. André Orléan response, where he claims for himself this essentialist view of money can be found in Orléan A. (2002).

[51] For a critical analysis of the essentialist view of money, Sapir J., (2005), pp. 187-193 and 201-203.

[52] Swoboda A., (1999).

[53] Mundell R.A. (1973).

[54] Aglietta M., (2004), p. 240

[55] Akerlof G.A., W.T. Dickens et G.L. Perry, (1996).

[56] Akerlof G.A. and J.L. Yellen, (1985a), Akerlof G.A. and J.L. Yellen, (1985b).

[57] Sapir J., (2005) chap. 1.

[58] Tversky A., (1996),. Tversky A. and D. Kahneman, (1986). Tversky A. and D. Kahneman,, (1991).

[59] Akerlof G.A., (2002).

[60] Greenwald B.C. and J.E. Stiglitz, (1989). J.E. Stiglitz, (1989).

[61] Andersen T.M., (2002).

[62] Mankiw N.G. and R. Reis, (2001). See also Coibion O., (2006).

[63] Conrad C. and M. Karanasos, (2005).

[64] See Dotsey M. and P. Sarte, (2000).

[65] Coibion O., (2006),

[66] Bun, M., Klaasen, F. (2007). Berger, H., Nitsch, V. (2008).

[67] Persson T. (2001). Nitsch V. (2002).

[68] Greenaway, D., Kneller, R. (2007).

[69] Flam, H., Nordström, H. (2006). Baldwin R. (2006). Baldwin R. et al. (2008).

[70] Bun, M., Klaasen, F. (2007), are estimating the UEM positive effect to 3% at best.

[71] IMF, (2016) and IMF (2017).

[72] Bibow J. et A. Terzi, edits (2007).

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Jacques Sapir (2017, 14 août). The EMU’s twisted foundations. RussEurope. Consulté le 15 juin 2024, à l’adresse

Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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