The growth challenge for Europe and the EMU

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Series Details No.22, September 2014
Publication Date September 2014
ISSN 1783-2462
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The European economy is slowly and painfully striving to reemerge from the last six years of crisis. It was a crisis of enormous intensity and contagiousness, given the unprecedented depth of global financial integration combined with the systemic flaws in the EMU architecture. And it is not over, as the high levels of unemployment and the growing divergence between Member States testify. The threat of fragmentation is imminent as ever: fragmentation between euro-ins and euro-outs; fragmentation between North and South; fragmentation within societies, with increasing income inequality and a growing number of, what used to be, the middle class population slipping through the social safety net and below poverty lines.

Policies of front-loaded fiscal consolidation have left welfare states in economically weaker countries severely underfunded. According to OECD data, the number of people living in households without any income from work has doubled in Greece, Ireland and Spain, and has risen by 20% or more in Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, and Slovenia. Fertility rates have dropped further since the crisis, deepening the demographic and fiscal challenges of ageing. There are long-term implications from these deteriorating trends, regarding people's long-term health, education and upward mobility from low-income families. It is also highly likely that many of the people unemployed for a long period of time will never again be able to gain proper access to the job market and build a normal career track.

The enduring effects of the crisis risk creating vicious cycles of low growth, high debt levels, austerity, declining productivity, and stagnation. These developments carry heavy implications for the future growth prospects of the European economies, for future prosperity, and for the sustainability of pension systems and welfare states. They must be urgently reversed.

This article forms part of an issue of Challenge Europe called 'Challenges and new beginnings: Priorities for the EU’s new leadership' as the launch of a new EU institutional cycle 2014-2019 began.

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