According to the economists, part of the problem is that E.U. leaders have sought to inject confidence in the markets with ringing declarations that they could not back up. But another explanation, they said, is that bold steps agreed on at Brussels summit conferences often bog down when they encounter member nations’ bureaucracies, parliaments and constitutional idiosyncrasies.
The markets move fast, they noted, while governments tend to move slowly. Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg premier who has been a fixture of E.U. affairs for years, complained recently that since the crisis erupted, financial markets have forced the bloc’s leaders to act more quickly, eliminating time for reflection, negotiation and planning.
Although it is only one measure among many that influence market decisions, the fiscal discipline treaty has been the subject of particular attention because of the fanfare that has accompanied it, first when it was agreed on at an all-night summit in December and again in March when it was signed by all but two of the E.U. countries — Britain and the Czech Republic.
In response to market pressures for swift action to lower Europe’s chronic deficits and bloated sovereign debts, only 12 of the 27 E.U. countries were required to ratify the treaty before its target implementation date of January.
Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president at the time, cited the accelerated ratification process as evidence that Europe was finally dealing with its indebtedness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also pointed to the treaty as a sign she had converted other European governments to fiscal discipline as a response to the crisis.
Since then, however, only seven countries have ratified the document, according to E.U. headquarters in Brussels. And those seven include neither France nor Germany, the bloc’s most influential countries, which originated the treaty and pushed it hard on their fellow E.U. governments.
Germany’s ratification has been held up in a constitutional court that has promised a ruling next month. France’s new Socialist government has promised to submit the treaty to parliament in a few weeks, after gaining a modest separate agreement for growth measures, but it faces questioning from the party’s left wing, doubts among its Green allies and opposition from its far-left opponents.
“Austerity forever?” asked Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front in a recent Q&A. “That is economic nonsense.”