Monday, January 30, 2012

Austerity vs. Europe

by Javier Solana

Project Syndicate

January 30, 2012

It is now increasingly clear that what started in late 2008 is no ordinary economic slump. Almost four years after the beginning of the crisis, developed economies have not managed a sustainable recovery, and even the better-off countries reveal signs of weakness. Faced with the certainty of a double-dip recession, Europe’s difficulties are daunting.

Not only is Europe running the risk of lasting economic damage; high long-term unemployment and popular discontent threaten to weaken permanently the cohesiveness of its social fabric. And, politically, there is a real danger that citizens will stop trusting institutions, both national and European, and be tempted by populist appeals, as in the past.

Europe must avoid this scenario at all costs. Economic growth must be the priority, for only growth will put people back to work and repay Europe’s debts.

Understandably, there is a debate about how to achieve recovery. Advocates of austerity argue that debt has a negative impact on growth; proponents of further stimulus counter that it is low growth that generates public debt, not the other way around, and that austerity in times of recession only makes things worse.

But Europeans do not have to agree on everything to find a common course. We can disagree about the long-term effects of liquidity injections, but we can all agree that it is not right to allow profitable companies to fail because credit markets are not working. We do not have to see eye to eye on fiscal policy to understand that it makes more sense to promote investment than to see our productive structure languish. And we all know that it is more cost-effective to invest in retraining the jobless than to allow long-term unemployment.


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