Europe needs to learn from China

By John Ross
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, May 16, 2012
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Four years into the international financial crisis, it is clear that the economic policies followed in Europe to deal with it have failed to do so. This realization has now led to major political changes in Europe, as indicated by the recent French and Greek elections. The Financial Times headlined its lengthy analysis of the transpiring events the "Seven days that shook Europe."

For a long time, there was a refusal to examine the real facts of Europe's economic situation and take the appropriate policy measures. Once Europe does start to analyze its economic problems correctly, however, it will see that it has a lot to learn from China. Naturally this does not mean that Europe can mechanically copy China's approach, but there are important trends which Europe can study.

The fundamental trends in Europe's economy are illustrated in Figure 1. This shows the changes in different components of the European Union (EU)'s GDP since the first quarter of 2008 – the peak of the last business cycle and immediately before the onset of the financial crisis. It may be seen that the negative trend in the EU economy is entirely dominated by its fall in investment. The EU's trade balance has improved during the financial crisis, government consumption has risen, and the fall in personal consumption is relatively small. But the fall in fixed investment is huge, amounting to 150 percent of the total decline in GDP. This fall far more than offsets the performance in other economic sectors. The economic situation in Europe is therefore entirely dominated by this investment fall.

After four years of failing to look at the real situation, an identification of this actual core problem in Europe's economy is beginning to emerge. European Parliament President Martin Shulz recently wrote on Europe's crisis: "…what is to be done? First, targeted investment should be given priority." José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, and Olli Rehn, the European commissioner charged with dealing with the euro crisis, have now said it is likely that EU leaders will agree next month to increase the capital of the European Investment Bank by €10bn ($13 billion), which could be used as collateral to start large infrastructure "pilot projects" on a pan-European scale. French president-elect François Hollande campaigned on a similar platform prior to his election.

These policy changes, while a step in the right direction, are too small to turn the situation around. The EU is a US$16 trillion economy. The idea that a $13 billion program, only 0.06 percent of the EU GDP, can offset the US$343 billion decline in EU investment since the first quarter of 2008 is clearly unrealistic.

The European Commission admits that there is €82 billion (US$106 billion) in unused structural funds in the EU's medium-term budget. This could theoretically be used to tackle the investment decline. But firstly, even the use of this entire sum is less than one third of the decline in investment which has taken place in Europe. Secondly, national governments have not yet agreed that these funds can be used for a European investment program.

Therefore four years after the beginning of the crisis, EU governments are beginning to discuss the right issues, but the practical measures they are proposing are still much too small to deal with the scale of problems that Europe faces.

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