Policy brief

Europe's social problem and its implications for economic growth

The European Union faces major social problems. More than six million jobs were lost from 2008-13 and poverty has increased. Fiscal consolidation has

Publishing date
31 March 2014

The European Union faces major social problems. More than six million jobs were lost from 2008-13 and poverty has increased. Fiscal consolidation has generally attempted to spare social protection from spending cuts, but the distribution of adjustment costs between the young and old has been uneven; a growing generational divide is evident, disadvantaging the young. The efficiency of the social security systems of EU countries varies widely. Countries with greater inequality tended to have higher household borrowing prior to the crisis resulting in more subdued consumption growth during the crisis. The resulting high private debt, high unemployment, poverty and more limited access to education undermine long-term growth and social and political stability.

Policymakers face three main challenges. First, addressing unemployment and poverty should remain a high priority not only for its own sake, but because these problems undermine public debt sustainability and growth. Second, bold policies in various areas are required. Most labour, social and fiscal policies are the responsibility of member states, requiring national reforms. But better coordination of demand management at European level is also necessary in order to create jobs. Third, tax/benefit systems should be reviewed for improved efficiency, inter- generational equity and fair burden sharing between the wealthy and poor.

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.

  • Guntram B. Wolff

    Guntram Wolff is the Director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy and governance, fiscal, monetary and financial policy, climate change and geoeconomics. Under his leadership, Bruegel has been regularly ranked among the top global think tanks and has grown in influence and impact with a team of now almost 40 recognized scholars and around 65 total staff. Bruegel is also recognized for its outstanding transparency.

    A recognized thought leader and academic, he regularly testifies at the European Finance Ministers' ECOFIN meeting, the European Parliament, the German Parliament (Bundestag) and the French Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). From 2012-16, he was a member of the French prime minister's Conseil d'Analyse Economique. In 2018, then IMF managing director Christine Lagarde appointed him to the external advisory group on surveillance to review the Fund’s priorities. In 2021, he was appointed to the G20 high level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. He is also a professor (part-time) at the Solvay Brussels School of Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he teaches economics of European integration.

    He joined Bruegel from the European Commission, where he worked on the macroeconomics of the euro area and the reform of euro area governance. Prior to joining the Commission, he was coordinating the research team on fiscal policy at Deutsche Bundesbank. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund.

    He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bonn and studied in Bonn, Toulouse, Pittsburgh and Passau. He taught economics at the University of Pittsburgh and at Université libre de Bruxelles. He has published numerous papers in leading academic journals. His columns and policy work are published and cited in leading international media and policy outlets. Guntram is fluent in German, English, French and has good notions of Bulgarian and Spanish.

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