2016 Outlook

Euro Crisis To Rumble On

FOR STORY GREECE STUCK IN CRISIS PHOTO GALLERY - In this photo taken on Monday, March 16, 2015, ruined EU and Greek flags fly in tatters from a flag pole at a beach at Anavissos village, southwest of Athens. Anyone hoping Greece might finally have a quiet year was quickly disappointed in 2015. Brinkmanship with bailout lenders brought the country a half-step from financial collapse and eurozone exit, while Greece was at the center of Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
The European Union faces another difficult year in 2016.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The author argues that structural reforms, as difficult as they have proven to be in some European countries, are critical to the continent’s long-term success.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The focus in 2016 will likely shift from the euro crisis to the refugee crisis and the rise of populist euroskeptic parties.
    • The overall budget deficit of all euro zone countries declined from 2009 to 2014.
    • Government debt in the euro zone increased to 94 percent in 2015 from 68.5 percent in 2008 before the euro crisis.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

2015 was a rollercoaster of emotions for Europeans. The Syriza Party’s victory in the Greek election in late January marked the beginning of an unnerving showdown over whether Greece would remain in the euro zone. The winner of the election, Alexis Tsipras, portrayed himself as Berlin’s adversary in a crucial battle over the future of Europe. But now, at the start of 2016, little remains of this revolutionary momentum. Mr. Tsipras is grudgingly implementing tough reforms, against both his declared will and that of a majority of Greeks, and in doing so he is saving his country from bankruptcy. He no longer qualifies as a leader of the anti-austerity movement.

On the other hand, the left-wing populist Podemos Party achieved a respectable result in Spain’s elections last month, although it was not nearly enough to put it in charge of the government. Still, Podemos is likely to bring about the tentative end of growth-promoting structural reforms in Spain. This would be unfortunate, because the country, with GDP growth of more than 3 percent this year, serves as a positive example of a successful reform policy. Spain has an export surplus, the budget deficit is shrinking and the situation in the labor market is beginning to improve. These successes will be jeopardized if a prolonged period of political instability begins now.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is already interpreting the Spanish election result as a signal against an austerity policy that, as he says, primarily serves German interests.

Structural reform and fiscal consolidation, as backed by Germany, has been losing support across Europe for some time now. The message sent out by the decisions of 2015 isn’t one of continued austerity. Instead, the message is that no country will leave the euro. Lip service to the Stability and Growth Pact and a show of effort to comply with reform requirements are sufficient as quid pro quo for financial support. The most important thing is that appearances are preserved. The European Central Bank supports the protraction of the crisis with its zero interest-rate policy and its massive government bond-buying program.

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