Carney attacks German austerity

ECB Image copyright AFP

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has tonight made what can only be described as a thinly-disguised attack on the German government's refusal to spend and borrow more to promote growth throughout the eurozone.

Germany is not once mentioned by name in his speech - entitled "Fortune favours the bold" - which he gave this evening on the fringes of the eurozone, in Dublin.

But in saying that monetary union cannot work without fiscal union - or the ability and willingness of countries with stronger public finances to support those that are struggling to grow under the burden of big debts - he is in effect saying that Germany ought to do more to support the likes of Italy, Spain and France.

This is how Mark Carney - who is also chairman of the main global policy making body for banking and finance regulators, the Financial Stability Board - put it:

"For complete solutions to both current and potential future problems, the sharing of fiscal risks is required. It is no coincidence that effective currency unions tend to have centralised fiscal authorities whose spending is a sizeable share of GDP - averaging over a quarter of GDP for advanced countries outside the euro area".

And he cites the US, Canada and even Germany as federal countries where a central government has the ability to transfer significant financial resources to constituent states, as-and-when those states run into severe difficulties - which is not possible in today's eurozone.

To be clear, there is nothing new in Mr Carney's argument. Almost from the moment the eurozone was created, economists and politicians have argued that monetary union in Europe could not endure over the long term without fiscal and political union - or the transfer of national taxing and spending powers to a central decision-making body.

Mr Carney, for example, suggests that if unemployment insurance became a pooled responsibility, there could be effective transfers of significant sums across borders - perhaps tied to the implementation of labour market reforms.

But it is the timing of the intervention which is striking, coming as it does a few days after the European Central Bank launched more than a billion euros of public-sector and private-sector debt purchases, or quantitative easing, as the eurozone continues to flat-line, and as eurozone countries led by Germany baulk at providing further financial help to Greece.

Strikingly, he criticises the eurozone - which in this case in effect means Germany - for running a public sector deficit half that of the UK.

"It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, if the euro were a country, fiscal policy would be substantially more supportive", he says.

Or to put it another way, there is too much austerity in Germany and the eurozone.

And although that message is aimed across the Channel, some may wonder whether his remarks have a domestic significance - as the Tories and Labour battle over how much austerity is applicable here over the coming five years.