Fiscal Arrangements in Federations: Four Lessons for Europe

Martine Guerguil 

February 25, 2015

Does the European Union need closer fiscal integration, and in particular a stronger fiscal center, to become more resilient to economic shocks? A new IMF book, Designing a European Fiscal Union: Lessons from the Experience of Fiscal Federations, published by Routledge, examines the experience of 13 federal states to help inform the debate on this issue. It analyzes in detail their practices in devolving responsibilities from the subnational to the central level, compares them to those of the European Union, and draws lessons for a possible future fiscal union in Europe.

The book sets out to answer three sets of questions: (1) What is the role of centralized fiscal policies in federations, and hence the size, features, and functions of the central budget? (2) What institutional arrangements are used to coordinate fiscal policy between the federal and subnational levels? (3) What are the links between federal and subnational debt, and how have subnational financing crises been handled, when they occurred?

Federations have addressed these issues in many different ways, but four features stand out when comparing their practices to those of the European Union.

Given the challenging economic and political circumstances in Europe, it may well be impractical to expect a prompt, well-articulated response to these questions. But the concrete experiences of federations do shed light on the decisions and trade-offs that the European Union will likely have to face in a not so distant future.

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