Policy brief

The euro area's tightrope walk: debt and competitiveness in Italy and Spain

Competitiveness adjustment in struggling southern euro-area members requires persistently lower inflation than in major trading partners, but low

Publishing date
02 September 2013
Authors
Zsolt Darvas

Competitiveness adjustment in struggling southern euro-area members requires persistently lower inflation than in major trading partners, but low inflation worsens public debt sustainability. When average euro-area inflation undershoots the two percent target, the conflict between intra-euro relative price adjustment and debt sustainability is more severe.

In our baseline scenario, the projected public debt ratio reduction in Italy and Spain is too slow and does not meet the European fiscal rule. Debt projections are very sensitive to underlying assumptions and even small negative deviations from GDP growth, inflation and budget surplus assumptions can easily result in a runaway debt trajectory.

The case for a greater than five percent of GDP primary budget surplus is very weak. Beyond vitally important structural reforms, the top priority is to ensure that euro area inflation does not undershoot the two percent target, which requires national policy actions and more accommodative monetary policy. The latter would weaken the euro exchange rate, thereby facilitating further intra-euro adjustment. More effective policies are needed to foster growth. But if all else fails, the European Central Bank’s Outright Monetary Transactions could reduce borrowing costs.

About the authors

  • Zsolt Darvas

    Zsolt Darvas, a Hungarian citizen, joined Bruegel as a Visiting Fellow in September 2008 and continued his work at Bruegel as a Research Fellow from January 2009, before being appointed Senior Fellow from September 2013. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Corvinus University of Budapest.

    From 2005 to 2008, he was the Research Advisor of the Argenta Financial Research Group in Budapest. Before that, he worked at the research unit of the Central Bank of Hungary (1994-2005) where he served as Deputy Head.

    Zsolt holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Corvinus University of Budapest where he teaches courses in Econometrics but also at other institutions since 1994. His research interests include macroeconomics, international economics, central banking and time series analysis.

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