The macroeconomic dialogue is a form of discussion between the European Central Bank, the Council, the Commission and the European social partners (ETUC, CEEP, BUSINESSEUROPE, UEAPME). Now over decade old, it was established by the European Council at its meeting of June 1999 in Cologne. A biannual event, the forum is designed to contribute to monetary and budgetary policies as well as wage developments. Through such dialogue, it is hoped that social partners will not only achieve a better understanding of the economic problems faced by the EU, but equally agree on joint solutions.
The impulse for macroeconomic dialogue came in the late 1990s, with the introduction of the single currency leading some political actors, particularly Europe’s social democratic parties, to call for the macroeconomic coordination of monetary, fiscal and wage policies in the Keynesian tradition. As EU president at the time, Austria, a country with experience of such macroeconomic coordination, organised an international social partner conference to address this issue on September 28–29 1998 in Vienna. Towards the end of 1998, both France and Germany backed such a policy initiative at the EU Council Summit in Vienna. However, such a position faced opposition from other member states. The European Central Bank (ECB) also voiced its reservations. While the ECB was committed to participating in macroeconomic dialogue, any such participation was dependent on it retaining its independence. As a consequence of such reservations, macroeconomic dialogue is non-binding, with the ‘open method of coordination’ notion being the preferred procedure.
Delegates and experts from the Council, the Commission, the social partners and the ECB participate in the technical and political sessions that constitute such dialogue. The technical part of the dialogue, chaired by a member of the Economic Policy Committee, sets the agenda for the political meeting. At the political meeting, business, employee and EU interests are represented by various officials. The autonomy of the parties is fully respected and the discussions are confidential. The process is not binding: no formal conclusions are drawn and each party is responsible for reporting back to its own constituency.
ETUC views the macroeconomic dialogue as a way of building a ‘consensual’ European monetary, fiscal and wage policy and has suggested a European ‘framework formula’ for collective bargaining based on compensation for inflation plus productivity. Europe’s trade unions are also in favour of reforming macroeconomic dialogue. These include more regular forum meetings, improved publicity about what it does as well as the need for closer relations with Member States. However, the ECB, some Member States and the European employer organisations have displayed no interest so far in such a coordination of European monetary, fiscal and wage policy. As a result, the macroeconomic dialogue remains an informal information and consultation forum of the major European monetary, fiscal and wage policy actors.