The Theory of Fiscal Federalism: What Does it Mean for Europe?
At the core of the ongoing political and academic debate on European integration lies a fundamental question: what is the appropriate assignment of policy tasks to different levels of government? This paper asks what economic theory has to say about this normative problem. Our starting point is traditional economic theory, which approaches the question of policy assignment from the perspective of social welfare maximization by a Pigovian benevolent planner. Then, we discuss the political economics approach to this same question. Two themes run through the paper. The first theme is that, when allowing for political economy considerations, straightforward normative conclusions on the appropriate degree of centralization are much more difficult to draw. The second theme relates to the existence of complementarities between policy dimensions. Complementarities imply that, in the absence of clear constitutional safeguards, the process of European integration is unstable and fragile. We conclude with a discussion of how to combine flexibility and commitment in the process of European integration.
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