An ocean apart: Comparing transatlantic responses to the financial crisis

Publishing date
12 March 2011

Has the EU-US relationship become a sideshow or is it still central to the global economy? Conflicting signals have been sent out since the outbreak of the global crisis. The creation of the G20 and its designation as ‘the premier forum for international cooperation’ suggest that attention and priorities have moved away from the traditional G7 focus on the transatlantic economy. But most of the key policy debates of the last two years have retained a characteristically transatlantic flavour. This applies to the controversy about the pace of consolidation which resulted in an open US-German rift at the Toronto summit in June 2010; to the discussion on the new bank capital ratios which again was essentially a euro- American affair; and to the broader conversation on the priorities of financial regulatory reform, for which the big action agendas have been the US Dodd-Frank Act and the European endorsement of a blueprint for coordinated supervision and a single European macroprudential body.

True, other issues – the global rebalancing, or the creation of global financial safety nets – have had a distinctive G20 scope. But at least a fair share of the international debate has been transatlantic.

There are reasons for this state of affairs. To start with, what is known as the global crisis has been first and foremost a transatlantic crisis. As discussed in several contributions in this volume, the wake of the crisis financial integration through portfolio diversification essentially remained an EU-US phenomenon.

Accordingly the subsequent financial turmoil primarily affected the European and American financial systems, and other economies indirectly only, through trade or capital outflows. It is therefore natural to see the same two regions take the lead in setting the agenda for financial reform. Second, the problems they are facing in the aftermath of the shock – the travails of deleveraging, unemployment, the need for unconventional policy responses, the lowering of the growth potential, the rise of public debt, political pressures for protection – are largely common. Third, while they are not the main contributors to world growth, the EU and the US still constitute the bulk of the global economy, and what happens to them matters considerably for all.

The US and the EU however are not responding to the same shock in the same way and this is what makes the comparison interesting. It is telling that the sovereign debt crises developed in Europe in the first half of 2010 and triggered a move towards consolidation while the US fiscal situation is by most standards worse than the aggregate European situation. It is telling also that the priorities of financial reform have not been the same. Clearly neither the policy space nor the policy traditions are identical and this portends significant divergence across the Atlantic. How far this divergence will go and whether policymakers on the two continents will disagree or agree to disagree is one of the key questions for the future of the global economy in the years to come.

All this justifies a revival of the transatlantic economic conversation. The joint Banca d’Italia-Bruegel-Peterson Institute conference, held in Rome on 10-11 September 2009 with the support of the European Commission, aimed to contribute to the conversation through research and policy discussions. We hope that the papers collected in this volume will help foster a fact-based, analytically sound discussion.

About the authors

  • Jean Pisani-Ferry

    Jean Pisani-Ferry is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel, the European think tank, and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute (Washington DC). He is also a professor of economics with Sciences Po (Paris).

    He sits on the supervisory board of the French Caisse des Dépôts and serves as non-executive chair of I4CE, the French institute for climate economics.

    Pisani-Ferry served from 2013 to 2016 as Commissioner-General of France Stratégie, the ideas lab of the French government. In 2017, he contributed to Emmanuel Macron’s presidential bid as the Director of programme and ideas of his campaign. He was from 2005 to 2013 the Founding Director of Bruegel, the Brussels-based economic think tank that he had contributed to create. Beforehand, he was Executive President of the French PM’s Council of Economic Analysis (2001-2002), Senior Economic Adviser to the French Minister of Finance (1997-2000), and Director of CEPII, the French institute for international economics (1992-1997).

    Pisani-Ferry has taught at University Paris-Dauphine, École Polytechnique, École Centrale and the Free University of Brussels. His publications include numerous books and articles on economic policy and European policy issues. He has also been an active contributor to public debates with regular columns in Le Monde and for Project Syndicate.

  • Adam Posen

    Adam S. Posen is the president of the Peterson Institute for International


    Adam Posen is President of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. From 2009-12, during the global financial crisis, he served as an external voting member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, and was a globally recognized advocate of activist macroeconomic policy response to the crisis. He is the author or editor of six books, and has served as a visiting scholar or consultant to central banks throughout Europe, North America, and East Asia. He is in his fifth term as an Economic Advisor to the US Congressional Budget Office. He received his PhD in Political Economy from Harvard University, and has been the recipient of fellowships and major research grants from the European Commission, the Ford Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the US National Science Foundation.

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