Continued structural reform in the most troubled economies is essential, and the work of building a more satisfactory institutional foundation for the euro must go on. Critical to success will be (the belated) recognition of the paradox that in economic policy, as in so much of life, what is good for one is not good for all.
German policymakers constantly note that fiscal consolidation and structural reform were key to Germany’s rise from “sick man of Europe” to today’s position of strength. But Germany’s export growth and huge trade surplus were enabled by borrowing on the European periphery. If Europe’s debtor countries are to follow Germany’s historic adjustment path without economic implosion, there must be a strategy that assures increased external demand for what they produce. Simply put, there cannot be exports without imports. This could come from a German economy prepared to reduce its formidable trade surplus, from easier European monetary policies that spur growth and competitiveness, or from increased deployment of central funds such as those of the European Investment Bank or perhaps other sources. The crucial point is that no strategy for debt repayment can succeed without providing for an increase in the demand for the exports of debtor countries.