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Wages and Nominal and Real Unit Labour Cost Differentials in EMU


  • Gustav A. Horn
  • Andrew Watt


This paper addresses the issue of current account imbalances of countries within a monetary union, now widely agreed to have been a major contributor to the persistent economic crisis in the EMU. In particular we focus on the role of wages for current account developments and a possible role for nominal incomes policies in limiting and correcting imbalances. We set out why national current accounts remain important in a monetary union and examine the forces driving the current account balance. We present empirical evidence on current account developments in the Euro Area, focusing on countries in which a correction has occurred. Detailed counter-factual model-based simulations for Germany show that “wage policy” on its own is scarcely able to make an impact on its huge and destabilising surplus; what is needed is a combined approach in which nominal wages follow a wage norm (productivity plus ECB target inflation rate) while aggregate demand is managed (in this case stimulated) to fully utilise productive potential. Against this analytical background we develop a proposal for institutional reform of the Euro Area, building on existing institutions. Key elements are: reinstating the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines as the conceptual framework guiding economic policy, expanding the remit of the Fiscal Council and the Productivity Boards to cover the entire policy mix, and substantially developing the EU Macroeconomic Dialogue in particular by setting up MEDs at Euro Area and Member State levels.

Suggested Citation

  • Gustav A. Horn & Andrew Watt, 2017. "Wages and Nominal and Real Unit Labour Cost Differentials in EMU," European Economy - Discussion Papers 059, Directorate General Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), European Commission.
  • Handle: RePEc:euf:dispap:059

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    Cited by:

    1. Marios-Georgios PSYCHALIS, 2020. "Euro Plus Pact: The Greek Case," Noble International Journal of Economics and Financial Research, Noble Academic Publsiher, vol. 5(10), pages 102-124, October.
    2. Heinze, Henriette, 2018. "The determinants of German exports: An analysis of intra- and extra-EMU trade," IPE Working Papers 95/2018, Berlin School of Economics and Law, Institute for International Political Economy (IPE).
    3. Acocella, Nicola, 2020. "To Exit or not to Exit (from the EMU)?," Economia Internazionale / International Economics, Camera di Commercio Industria Artigianato Agricoltura di Genova, vol. 73(1), pages 1-20.
    4. Orsola Costantini, 2020. "The Eurozone as a Trap and a Hostage: Obstacles and Prospects of the Debate on European Fiscal Rules," Intereconomics: Review of European Economic Policy, Springer;ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics;Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), vol. 55(5), pages 284-291, September.
    5. Sascha Keil, 2023. "The challenging estimation of trade elasticities: Tackling the inconclusive Eurozone evidence," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(5), pages 1235-1263, May.
    6. Taiki Murai & Gunther Schnabl, 2021. "Macroeconomic Policy Making and Current Account Imbalances in the Euro Area," CESifo Working Paper Series 9153, CESifo.
    7. Scharpf, Fritz W., 2018. "International monetary regimes and the German model," MPIfG Discussion Paper 18/1, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    8. Sascha Keil, 2021. "The Challenging Estimation Of Trade Elasticities:Tackling The Inconclusive Eurozone Evidence," Chemnitz Economic Papers 042, Department of Economics, Chemnitz University of Technology, revised May 2021.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D40 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - General
    • E31 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Price Level; Inflation; Deflation
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation

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