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Desafio da Europa: fomentar o crescimento Entre Austeridade

Publicado a 17/01/2011, 06:38 por House Work   [ atualizado a 17/01/2011, 06:44 ]

The recovery that has flickered to life in the United States and much of Northern Europe is missing in euro zone nations straining under huge debt and harsh austerity measures — places like GreeceIreland andPortugal that have imposed large spending cuts and tax increases.

Those measures may eventually lead to healthier economies, but the process will take years, economists and analysts say. In the meantime, the drag on growth is increasing pressure on the euro, and tethering competitive countries like Germany, a major growth engine, to the faltering fortunes of the European Union’s weakest members.

Countries using the euro will grow an average of 1.5 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, less than the 2.3 percent growth it predicted for the United States. While some of that difference reflects slower population growth in Europe, it points to the further relative decline of Europe’s weight in the global economy.


“This is the most brutal slimming exercise you can imagine, without the help of an exchange rate devaluation,” said Thomas Mayer, chief economist of Deutsche Bank. “It will take time and it will create tremendous economic hardship in these countries.”

To be sure, there are some positive signs. None of Europe’s biggest economies are on the brink of recession: Germany expanded a healthy 3.6 percent last year, bolstering growth in the euro area. Portugal and Spain, where growth is weak, conducted better-than-expected debt auctions last week.

But analysts were quick to point out that lenders demanded lofty interest rates for the bonds, reflecting worries that Portugal and Spain will eventually need a bailout and signaling skepticism among the markets that Europe can contain its crisis.

European finance ministers will meet in Brussels Monday and Tuesday to discuss increasing Europe’s bailout fund and institutional reforms, but on a broader level the debate will be aimed at protecting the single currency. The growing economic divide in Europe means the euro’s survival in its current form can no longer be taken for granted if policy makers fail to come up with solutions to the Continent’s underlying problems.

While mild growth is expected to return to the likes of Ireland and Portugal within a year, those forecasts have already been tempered.

Exports are a big driver of the Irish economy, and are now the only bright spot after a contraction of its bloated construction sector. But sharp government spending cuts threaten to overshadow any export recovery this year. The I.M.F. now expects the economy to grow just 0.9 percent, down from a 2.3 percent forecast just a few months ago.

Portugal’s problems are different. Unlike Ireland, its banks are not troubled. But the government has high debts, and what feeble growth it has will continue to weaken as the government curbs investments designed to stoke export growth, while wage cuts and tax increases hit the economy.

Worse, Germany’s economy will start to be buffeted by its neighbors’ problems: its growth is expected to slow considerably as the government spends more to keep the euro together. With less cash, its troubled neighbors are also curbing their purchases of German and other imports.

Most of Germany’s growth last year came in spring and summer. Since then, it has tapered off, and it is likely to cool to 2 percent this year before sliding to 1.3 percent in 2015, according to the I.M.F.

As recently as 2005, Germany was considered “the sick man of Europe.” But it sharply lifted its competitiveness after spending nearly a decade fine-tuning its economy to turn it into a manufacturing powerhouse. It deregulated labor markets, adjusted its tax code, and kept a lid on wages — measures similar to those being adopted in places like Ireland.

“It was a time that people don’t remember too fondly,” said Mr. Mayer of Deutsche Bank. “But competiveness came back. And that is the adjustment path that the others now have in front of them.”

Still, not every country can reinvent itself as a manufacturing giant, and those on Europe’s southern rim face a challenge in breathing new life into their economies. Greece, for example, is trying to turn itself into a “green economy” focused on renewable energy development, a plan the government hopes will create more than 200,000 jobs by 2015. But politicians face a struggle finding the billions needed to turn its dreams into a reality."


Europe’s economy could be sent reeling again if a new crisis engulfs its banks. Ireland needed a bailout mainly because the government had agreed to backstop its zombie banks, whose financial precariousness overwhelmed the national Treasury. Many investors worry that Spain’s banks are also severely exposed to a collapse in the property sector that will require Madrid to ask for a bailout as well.

“Ireland was a good country gone bad because of its banking sector,” said Carl B. Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics. “That’s the risk I’m worried about in the rest of euroland.”

What is certain is that Europe’s austerity programs will prove a slow grind on economies and will come with a significant human toll, which will worsen before it improves.

Governments must get their costs down by reducing wages, compensation and income, while cutting spending and raising taxes.

Already, the crisis has reinforced pressure on politicians to pull back on Europe’s hallowed social safety nets, which have become cumbersome and even more financially unsustainable as the economic downturn and deteriorating demographics drain funding.

“There is already, and there is going to be a very negative impact on the most vulnerable part of the population,” said Thomas Klau, a senior political analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “How this will play out over the next few years remains to be seen.”


Published: January 16, 2011