“Europe’s Malaise: The New Normal? is republished with permission of Stratfor.” Geopolitical Weekly / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 Excerpts:
“[T]he German economy contracted by 0.2 percent last quarter. Though many will dismiss this contraction outright, the fact that the world’s fourth-largest economy (and Europe’s largest) has shrunk, even by this small amount, is a matter of global significance.
Europe has been mired in an economic crisis for half a decade now. Germany is the economic engine of Europe, and it is expected that it will at some point pull Europe out of its crisis. There have been constant predictions that Europe may finally be turning an economic corner, but if Germany’s economy is contracting (Berlin claims it will rebound this year), it is difficult to believe that any corner is being turned. It is becoming increasingly reasonable to believe that rather than an interlude in European prosperity, what we now see is actually the new normal. The key point is not that Germany’s economy has contracted by a trivial amount. The point is that it has come time to raise the possibility that it could be a very long time before Europe returns to its pre-2008 prosperity and to consider what this means.
The German economy contracted despite indications that there would be zero economic growth. But the rest of Europe is faltering, too. France had zero growth. Italy declined by 0.2 percent. The only large European economy that grew was the United Kingdom…. Excluding Ireland, which grew at a now-robust rate of 2.5 percent, no EU economy grew more than 1 percent. Together, the European Union scarcely grew at all.
…Europe is fairly stagnant, the unemployment situation is truly disturbing. Spain and Greece both have around 25 percent unemployment, the level the United States reached during the Great Depression. While that’s stunning, 15 of the 28 EU members have unemployment rates of more than 10 percent; most have maintained that high rate now for several years. More alarming, these rates are not falling.
…. Europe as a whole is not growing at all, and unemployment is high.
Five to six years after the global financial crisis, persistent and widespread numbers like this can no longer be considered cyclical, particularly because Germany is running out of gas. …..One of the things that should concern Germans is the banking system. It has been the obsession of the European financial elite, at the cost of massive unemployment, and there is the belief, validated by stress tests, that the financial system is sound.
For me, there has been an ongoing mystery about Europe: How could it have such high unemployment rates and not suffer a consumer debt crisis? The climbing rate of unemployment should be hitting banks with defaulted mortgages and unpaid credit card debt. Given the fragility of the European financial system in the past, it seems reasonable that there would be heavy pressure caused by consumer debt.
The known nonperforming debt situation is sufficiently concerning. Four countries have nonperforming loan rates surpassing 20 percent. Six have rates between 10 and 20 percent, including Italy’s, which stands at 15.1 percent. The overall EU rate is 7.3 percent. Obviously, the situation in Italy is the most dangerous, but there is the question of whether these numbers capture the entire problem. Spain, with 24 percent unemployment, is reporting only an 8.2 percent nonperforming loan rate. Portugal, with lower unemployment rates, has an 11 percent nonperforming loan rate. France (with more than 10 percent unemployment) is reporting only a 4.3 percent nonperforming loan rate.
The devil is in the details, and there may be an explanation for these anomalies. But the definition for a nonperforming loan has been flexible in Europe and other places before, and the simple question remains: How can such long-term high unemployment rates not produce significant problems in consumer debt?
It is simply unclear how Europe untangles this Gordian knot. Considering the length of Europe’s economic malaise, a strong argument would be required to say this is a passing phase. Given Europe’s unemployment, Germany’s need to export to the rest of Europe, and persistent weak growth rates now spreading to Germany, it is simply not obvious what force will reverse this process. Inertia is pointing to a continuation of the current pattern. It is hard to see anything that will help Europe recover its vibrancy.”
Europe needs a plan will deliver real benefits to Europe’s people by rebuilding financial health starting at ground level. They need a plan that is non-political, that balances national budgets, and unleashes the dynamic power of economic liberty for the people.
Europe needs a plan that will lift them out of their economic doldrums.