«THE buzzword in Brussels these days is “growth”. Perhaps the looming recession across much of Europe is concentrating minds. Or leaders may realise that the prospect of years of austerity is stirring bad blood. Unless the debt crisis was resolved and growth recovered, said Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s head, Europe and the world risked reverting to the 1930s. At their next summit on January 30th, European Union leaders will solemnly talk of boosting output, tackling youth unemployment, supporting small firms and much else. They might even commit money to job creation, for example by recycling unspent EU funds through the European Investment Bank.
Do not be fooled by such pieties. Everybody has different ideas about growth and they often reflect longstanding prejudices. For Germany, fostering growth is not about spending more money, but about fiscal discipline and structural reforms in weaker countries. For France, the priority is to curb “disloyal” competition, by harmonising taxes to stop low-tax states (eg, Ireland) taking business away from high-tax ones (eg, France), or stopping Britain from imposing tougher rules on its banks that might make them seem safer than French ones. For the British, Dutch, Swedes and other north Europeans, growth should come from the boost to competition from deepening the single market and pursuing free-trade agreements. For ex-communist countries in the east, the secret is the vital role of EU transfers.»
Hopeful or hopeless?, Economist Jan 28