The new Europe
The financial crisis is largely over, yet confidence in the ECB and EU remains low. Thanks to Brexit and populism, there is currently no shortage of challenges – nor of a visionary upswing in some parts of Europe.
In a nutshell
Billions in taxpayers' money has been spent rescuing banks since the financial crisis erupted in 2008. From the debt crisis to the euro crisis, the EU stumbled from one low point to the next. Greece in particular had to contend with a loss of confidence on the international financial markets – from which Germany gained considerable benefit, by the way. The refugee crisis followed in 2015, with the Brexit referendum in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. But new visionaries also took to the international stage, including the new French President, Emmanuel Macron.
In order to reboost the economy, the European Central Bank (ECB) has been pursuing a much criticised excessively low interest rate policy for years, which we can assume is benefitting German households, however. Since 2015, the ECB has been buying bonds from European institutions and states – a measure for which there are justifiable grounds. Since June 2016, it has also been buying corporate bonds, and published the results of the second stress test round in July 2016.
"ECB is one of the few institutions contributing to the solution."
It turns out that the ECB is taking specific action to continue providing momentum and security to the European economy. "It is one of the few institutions contributing to the solution", according to Reint E. Gropp, President of the IWH. "But to achieve a sustainable solution, politicians need to act much more decisively." However, countries are different as to how quickly they implement reforms and hand oversight over to EU-institutions.
The refugee crisis was and still is one of the EU's main stumbling blocks. A lack of cooperation between member states has allowed the humanitarian crisis to continue to spread, with immigration and the distribution of refugees remaining a critical issue, despite the EU-Turkey Agreement. Immigrants' integration into the labour market, especially in Germany, will remain a political challenge for decades. But science must also provide analyses and potential solutions. For example, the Leibniz Association's "Crises of a globalised world" research network has addressed the issue of the refugee crisis.
Migration was and is a constant issue when it comes to Brexit. But the UK's decision to leave the EU also touched on other economic dimensions: Even before the referendum, an IWH study had already suggested that the pound would react strongly to the UK's departure. With the increasing likelihood of Brexit, more than 50% of researchers asked by Thomas Krause predicted a significant devaluation of the pound against other currencies, including the euro. Stock market price volatility therefore reached record levels ahead of the referendum. "This turbulence reflected the uncertainty that was and is associated with the Brexit decision", states Gropp. The President takes a calm view the fate of London's financial centre, however: "London's financial centre will retain its dominant position within Europe despite Brexit. This is based on both the experience gained from the introduction of the euro and is also due to London's considerable location factors: the size of the city, the regulatory environment and its human assets." Should the United Kingdom withdraw from the EU in a „hard Brexit“ in March 2019, exports to Great Britain are likely to decline. Export-oriented EU countries such as France and Germany, as well as important suppliers like China would suffer job losses. In Germany, the car industry would be most affected.
On a third front, the EU is fighting for the confidence of its citizens. But while on the one hand, the popularity levels of eurosceptic parties rose or national conservative parties even governed some Member States in the past, the EU also appears to be reinventing itself: Neither Brexit nor the election of Donald Trump in the US have fractured the EU. On the contrary. Despite meeting with domestic resistance, French president Emmanuel Macron is a committed European. The EU also now aims to close ranks when it comes to defense.
Crises are always an opportunity for change. It is no secret that the EU has potential for improvement in many respects. Perhaps this new momentum will finally trigger other important change processes: improvements to the democratic legitimacy of the EU institutions, less regulation of the labour and product markets, a reduction in bureaucracy both in the EU and its member states, the implementation of the capital markets union and a new weighting for EU spending. This is the only way for the EU to remain sustainable – prepared for future financial crises and strengthened by new cohesion.
Publications on "The New Europe"
EFN Report Autumn 2017: Economic Outlook for the Euro Area in 2017 and 2018
in: EFN Reports, No. 4, 2017
In 2017 the world economy is in an upswing, but consumer price inflation is still surprisingly low in advanced economies, and central banks will therefore keep key interest rates very low and financial conditions favorable for the rest of the year and, probably, for 2018. Global growth, though, will moderate a bit, since expansive policy measures in China have been reduced. As an early consequence, imports of emerging Asia were no more than stagnant during summer. The upswing in the euro area is broad based, both regionally and with respect to the different components of aggregate demand, as investment has recently picked up markedly, partly due to construction of dwellings. From the production side, the level of capacity utilization in the manufacturing sector is clearly above its long-term average and rising further. Inflation will not have reached the ECB’s target rate of below but close to 2% at the end of 2018. The trend of a growing participation rate in labour markets and the amount of part-time and low quality jobs are some reasons why overall wage and price dynamics are still very moderate; the appreciation of the euro, the incorporation of technical innovations and a possible change in the consumer preferences for low-cost products could be other reasons. We forecast a GDP growth rate of 2.3% for 2017 and 1.9% for 2018. This year’s strong pickup of world trade means that net exports will, in spite of rather strong domestic demand, contribute positively to GDP growth in 2017, while the opposite holds for 2018, due to the significant appreciation of the Euro.
EFN Report Summer 2017: Economic Outlook for the Euro Area in 2017 and 2018
in: EFN Reports, No. 3, 2017
• Worldwide economic activity is vivid in summer 2017. Data on production for the first quarter of the year were only mixed: in the euro area quarterly growth was accelerating, but it went down in the US, Japan, and China. Other basic indicators, however, suggest that these economies continue expanding healthily. • Risks concerning the international economic policy framework remain, in particular since the economic agenda of the US government is still unclear, and no one knows whether the Brexit negotiations will lead the way to an orderly separation of Britain from the EU. • Production in the euro area has been expanding by more that 1 ½ % per year for almost three years now; since summer 2016, this expansion has even gained a bit of pace, mainly due to a expansion in France and, to a lesser extent, in Italy. • The ECB’s cautious hints at a coming normalization of monetary policy were enough to have a discernible effect on financial conditions at the end of June: yields for long term bonds rose, and the euro appreciated. That said, the common currency is still relatively cheap, and borrowing costs for non-financial firms and private households are still low. • Overall, we raise our GDP forecast for 2017 from 1.7% (spring report) to 2.1% and for 2018 to 1.8% (spring: 1.7%). We expect HICP inflation to remain well below the ECB target both in 2017 and 2018. • A major risk for the continuation of the current upswing in 2018 comes from the normalization of monetary policy: it is not clear by how much long term interests will rise and whether higher borrowing costs will jeopardize the confidence of financial markets in the solvency of some public debtors in the euro area.
The Appropriateness of the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure for Central and Eastern European Countries
in: IWH Discussion Papers, No. 16, 2017
The experience of Central and Eastern European countries (CEEC) during the global financial crisis and in the resulting European debt crises has been largely different from that of other European countries. This paper looks at the specifics of the CEEC in recent history and focuses in particular on the appropriateness of the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure for this group of countries. In doing so, the macroeconomic situation in the CEEC is highlighted and macroeconomic problems faced by these countries are extracted. The findings are compared to the results of the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure of the European Commission. It is shown that while the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure correctly identifies some of the problems, it understates or overstates other problems. This is due to the specific construction of the broadened surveillance procedure, which largely disregarded the specifics of catching-up economies.
Do We Want These Two to Tango? On Zombie Firms and Stressed Banks in Europe
in: IWH Discussion Papers, No. 13, 2017
We show that the speed and type of corporate deleveraging depends on the interaction between corporate and financial sector health. Based on granular bank-firm data pertaining to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) from five stressed and two non-stressed euro area economies, we show that “zombie” firms generally continued to lever up during the 2010–2014 period. Whereas relationships with stressed banks reduce SME leverage on average, we also show that zombie firms that are tied to weak banks in euro area periphery countries increase their indebtedness even further. Sustainable economic recovery therefore requires both: deleveraging of banks and firms.
Inflation Dynamics During the Financial Crisis in Europe: Cross-sectional Identification of Long-run Inflation Expectations
in: IWH Discussion Papers, No. 10, 2017
We investigate drivers of Euro area inflation dynamics using a panel of regional Phillips curves and identify long-run inflation expectations by exploiting the crosssectional dimension of the data. Our approach simultaneously allows for the inclusion of country-specific inflation and unemployment-gaps, as well as time-varying parameters. Our preferred panel specification outperforms various aggregate, uni- and multivariate unobserved component models in terms of forecast accuracy. We find that declining long-run trend inflation expectations and rising inflation persistence indicate an altered risk of inflation expectations de-anchoring. Lower trend inflation, and persistently negative unemployment-gaps, a slightly increasing Phillips curve slope and the downward pressure of low oil prices mainly explain the low inflation rate during the recent years.