Duradoura a recuperação europeia
Ago, 22, 2008
Apenas se os governos tirarem partido dos “tempos ensolarados”para fazerem as reformas de fundo.
Por: Peter Schrank
Fonte: The Economist


Apenas se os governos tirarem partido dos “tempos ensolarados”para fazerem as reformas de fundo.

Por: Peter Schrank
Fonte: The Economist

Can Europe’s recovery last?

Only if its governments take advantage of sunnier times to make deeper reforms

As every actor knows, it is easy to be typecast. The role assigned to Europe for the past decade has been that of sclerotic under-achiever: a slow-growing, work-shy and ageing continent that is destined to be left behind by the United States, China and India. Unnoticed by the audience, Europe, under new political leadership first in Germany and Italy and now in France and Britain, has changed the plot. Since the end of 2006 euro-area GDP has outpaced America’s: in 2007, it should grow by 2.7%, ahead of both America and Japan. The euro is at new highs against the dollar and the yen. Unemployment has fallen to 7%, the lowest since the euro started life in 1999.

The transformation has been most remarkable in Germany, the biggest European economy, once tarred as “the sick man of Europe”. From 1995 to 2005 German GDP grew at an average of only 1.4% a year. But in the first quarter of 2007 it expanded more than twice as fast, despite a large rise in value-added tax. The 2004 reforms in labour markets and welfare made by the previous government under Gerhard Schröder are bearing fruit. On international definitions, unemployment is down to 6.4%, not much above the level in Britain. German business is doing spectacularly well: the country is again the world’s biggest exporter, profits are at a record, competitiveness has improved sharply (see article).

Where Germany leads, the rest of Europe follows. In truth the picture of an entire continent in a slump was always distorted. Several countries in Europe have been doing well for some years. Britain and Spain have grown consistently. Ireland has produced the nearest thing to an economic miracle outside Asia; smaller east European economies are seeking to emulate it. Scandinavia boasts three countries that top most league tables for competitiveness. The truly troubled economies of Europe were always the core euro-area ones: Germany, France and Italy. Now that Germany has picked up speed, the other two are improving too. The new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is promising to boost growth. Some Europeans may be tempted to conclude that their economic problems are behind them, their structural faults have been put right—and there is no need for more painful reforms.

The turn of the cycle

Such a conclusion would be wrong on pretty much every count. Yes, there have been structural improvements in the core euro area, especially Germany. But much of the recovery is really cyclical. When the global economy is registering a fourth successive year of near-5% growth, it would be surprising if the world’s biggest exporter did not benefit; indeed, growth of 3% seems rather modest. Moreover, much of Germany’s renewed vigour reflects stringent control of real wages, which has secured a fall in unit labour costs when they have been rising elsewhere. Yet merely squeezing pay to gain competitiveness is not a long-term solution.

The gain also comes at the expense of other euro-area countries, such as France, Italy and Spain. This creates tensions of its own, much on display this week when the hyperactive Mr Sarkozy dropped in to a meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Brussels. He announced that France might again flout the euro-area stability pact’s restrictions on budget deficits, and repeated his previous complaints about the strength of the euro and the tight monetary policy of the European Central Bank. He ran into a stony hostility, notably from the Dutch but also from the Germans. The French president has similarly been to the fore in attacking European Union competition rules and talking up the causes of industrial policy and economic patriotism.

A myth, Mr Sarkozy, and you know it

The charitable explanation for this nonsense is that laying into Brussels is a way of diverting French voters from the genuine (and long overdue) reforms Mr Sarkozy is planning for the labour market, welfare and taxation. But his agenda seems also to be driven by a common belief in France (and in other parts of Europe) that the euro’s macroeconomic management and the obsession in Brussels with pursuing pro-competitive reforms are to blame for the region’s economic ills.

This is to get things entirely backwards. As is obvious from the divergent performance of individual countries, the euro area’s troubles are not macroeconomic in nature. Rather they are microeconomic, reflecting the failure of several countries to reform rigid labour markets and overly regulated product markets. These countries have been suffering not from too much competition, but from too little: for too long, too many of their workers and producers have been sheltered from competition, fostering high costs and inefficiency.

Nor will partial reforms of the kind so far carried out be sufficient. This can best be seen in the labour market in Germany, which (like Italy’s) has been only partly freed up. The result has been not just a welcome explosion of temporary and part-time jobs, but, more insidiously, the entrenchment of a two-tier labour market. Insiders have permanent, protected contracts; outsiders have short-term, unprotected ones. This will fuel resentment among outsiders (often the young or immigrants). It also threatens to introduce new rigidities into the wage-bargaining process, because insiders may feel sufficiently insulated to demand higher pay in the knowledge that any resultant job losses will fall on outsiders.

The unpalatable truth remains that Europe’s economies need substantial further reform if they are to prosper in an ever more competitive, globalised environment. And the recent upturn may make it harder for political leaders to get their voters to understand this.

European countries that have introduced radical reforms have usually done so in times of serious economic crisis: Britain in 1979, the Netherlands in 1982, Ireland in 1987, Denmark, Finland and Sweden in the early 1990s. Yet as all these countries found, it is easier to change when times are good, not when they are bad. That is a lesson that Germans, French, Italians and other Europeans should ponder as they bask in today’s sunshine.

Fonte: Peter Schrank, The Economist, em 12.Jul.2007

of Sabre, an offshoot of American Airlines), which fills up seats by pricing them according to demand. This booking-only system enables SNCF to fill over 80% of seats on average.

DB tried to introduce a similar system in 2003, but abandoned it because of opposition from politicians and consumer groups. They wanted DB to retain its turn-up-and-pay style of rail travel, which German passengers cherish. Karl-Friedrich Rausch, the head of DB's passenger business, consoles himself with the thought that although DB does not fill as many of its seats as SNCF, travellers can at least arrive at, say, Frankfurt airport's shiny new station and be sure that they can get an ICE train every half hour to Stuttgart or Munich without booking. One of the reasons for the German preference for hop-on, hop-off high-speed trains is that stage lengths are shorter than in France, where the population is more spread out, with fewer big towns. One German idea adopted by Railteam is that frequent travellers will be able to board the next train and get a guaranteed seat if they miss a connection because of a delay.

Mr Rausch, who used to work for Lufthansa, reckons airlines are 15 years ahead of railways in the way they manage their businesses. But he is doing his best to catch up. He is concentrating initially on the improvements to customer service that trains can offer. DB already runs co-ordinated services with Lufthansa that allow travellers to transfer from a plane to a train with a single ticket, for example. Mr Pepy at SNCF reckons that when rail networks are opened up in 2010, airlines such as Lufthansa and Air France-KLM will start operating their own train services. Mr Rausch is more cautious. He thinks open access will take some years to become a reality and that airlines will probably get involved only as partners to train operators.

Whether through competition, co-operation or both, a plethora of European directives such as the “Railway Interoperability Directive” and the “Third Railway Package” will encourage the emergence of this new era of international rail travel. Rail bosses note that on six-hour journeys they are typically winning more than 60% of the leisure market from airlines. The same is happening with business travellers on four-hour journeys. It may be a while before you can choose between a French TGV or a German ICE to ride to Bucharest or even Naples. But as when Lenin sped in his sealed carriage through war-torn Germany 90 years ago, the train of revolution has left the station.

Fonte: The Economist, em 05. Jul.2007

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