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14th Aug 2022

EU report: 12 countries at risk of new economic crises

  • Rome managed to water down the wording of the report (Photo: Giampaolo Macorig)

A first report by the EU commission looking at macro-economic data across the bloc up until 2010 warns that 12 countries, including Italy and Spain are at risk of new crises due to their public debt and lack of competitiveness.

Part of legislation strengthening economic surveillance, the "Alert Mechanism Report" published on Tuesday (14 February) singles out Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK as in need for further "in depth" scrutiny of their macro-economic policies.

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"If it turns out that imbalances exist and that they are harmful, this new tool is a meaningful step towards correcting the imbalances which built up over the years. Sound fiscal policies and early detection and correction of risky economic imbalances are necessary conditions to return to sustainable growth and jobs," EU economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said.

Based on ten indicators such as housing prices, private loans, public deficit and export performance, the report initially singled out Italy, Spain, Hungary and Cyprus as "pressing cases". But in the final version, all 12 countries were put in the same basket, even though housing bubbles and increased private debt in Denmark and Sweden are less of a problem than Rome's high public indebtedness.

According to Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, a former EU commissioner, put pressure on the college of commissioners to water down the language of the report ahead of a treasury bonds sale in Rome on Friday.

When asked about the draft version, Rehn said he regretted the leak, but insisted he still stands behind the final version of the document. "This is what I proposed to the college," he said.

An EU official in Brussels told journalists under condition of anonymity that there were "better ideas at some point than what the draft had proposed, and that is what ended up in the final version."

Another official dealing with this dossier admitted that the data is relatively old - as it only goes up until 2010 - but insisted that "this is just a first filter," with the "in depth analysis" to look at fresher data from last year. If member states fail to take these warnings into account, a so-called macro-economic imbalance procedure can be launched, which could lead to the suspension of EU funds from 2014 onwards.

Apart from the old data, the report also does not deal with surpluses, as they are not seen as a potential problem in the bigger EU picture. Rehn explained that for this first exercise, his team focused on deficits and competitiveness laggards, rather than the surpluses and maintained that the German economy performed "relatively well during the crisis." But "structural factors driving surpluses" will be analysed in upcoming reports, he promised.

German Green MEP Sven Giegold however says the commission is turning a blind eye to the surplus countries. "One of the main reasons for the continued difficulties in the eurozone are the imbalances between core and peripheral countries. You can't stabilise the eurozone unless deficit and surplus countries are moving towards each other," he wrote on his website.

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