PARIS – In 2000, shortly after the launch of the euro, I wrote a book arguing that countries adopting the common currency should be forced in one way or another to implement structural reforms. Ten years later, where do we stand?
Surprisingly, the first country to reform was Germany. Thanks to an environment favorable to export-oriented firms and, most notably, to wage discipline, Germany began to post significant balance-of-payment surpluses. This is evident today on a dramatic scale, and is sustaining German economic growth, and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe.
The story is markedly different in other eurozone members. The “PIIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) greatly benefited from the euro, thanks not only to the removal of currency-related trade barriers, but also because their interest rates suddenly fell to levels unthinkable in pre-euro times.
Furthermore, because these countries no longer faced current-account constraints, they could spend beyond their means without any immediate apparent damage to their economies. With this artificial boost to their economic growth, they had little incentive to press ahead with unpopular reforms in line with the European Union’s Lisbon agenda.