The proposed sum for the recovery fund proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is small change in an era when politicians and central bankers conjure up trillions almost daily. But, if adopted, the proposal might be remembered as the moment when Europe became a genuine political federation.

LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation.

    Admittedly, this sounds hyperbolic. The proposed sum for the recovery fund is small change in an era when politicians and central bankers conjure up trillions almost daily. And what about the gulf between words and action throughout the EU’s history? Skepticism about the Franco-German proposal is certainly understandable and may prove justified.

    The plan amounts to only 3% of the EU’s GDP, compared with the 15% of GDP already committed by Germany to industrial support. Creating any EU recovery plan will require unanimous support from the EU’s 27 member countries – and this will involve unseemly late-night squabbles between the self-styled “Frugal Four” northern governments (the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and Sweden), which have vehemently opposed funding for Mediterranean EU members which, according to Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch Finance Minister, have mainly themselves to blame for “failing to reform.”

    But to focus on these drawbacks is to miss the potential significance of the plan. What makes the Merkel-Macron deal a potential game changer is not the sum of money or their apparent backing for grants over loans; it is the financial mechanism to which both Merkel and Macron are now publicly committed and must now deliver or suffer enormous loss of face.

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