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Economics & Finance

Rebuilding Europe: new architecture needed to kick-start economy

Karen Cho |

With a weakened financial system and various European governments knee-deep in debt, the emergence of a new world financial order has taken on a new urgency of late. But instead of quick fixes as the Greek crisis has clearly demonstrated, we should instead be looking for sustainable solutions towards economic prosperity.

That was the basis of discussion at the opening plenary session, ‘The Architecture of the new Global Economy’ at the INSEAD Leadership Summit Europe held in Fontainebleau.

“Is there a reset, or is there a new framework for the economy?” Lord Simon of Highbury (MBA '66), a former British Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe posed the question to an audience comprising of INSEAD alumni and invited guests.

When I was asked this question (over 50) years ago, I always resorted to (American baseball coach) ‘Yogi’ Berra...his advice is always succinct, optimistic and driving forward...Yogi would have said ‘it ain’t over till it’s over’. But that’s not enough, he would also have said -- and this is the optimistic bit that I like -- when you come to a fork in the road, take it!

But what does the traveller do when he’s thinking about the new economic architecture? According to Lord Simon, he should look out first for a few signposts, specifically that of bilateralism -- or better yet -- multilateralism.

“For me it’s very clear; for unless there are multilateral government solutions, we are not going to take the next step. And there are plenty of indications that governments are stepping up to their responsibilities, but ‘it ain’t over till it’s over.’”

“At the regional level, it’s very clear the USA and its area of influence, Europe which is crucial to us, and Japan, China, ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) will handle things very, very differently; hence the importance of the multilateral roof. (Though) if I think about Europe, it’s been a difficult period but Europe works by taking a step which the politicians don’t understand, and then making the model fit again. I think we’re in that stage.”

Although he says Europe has a “deep reservoir of competence that can be called upon”, he cautions its citizens to take the multilateral call seriously, or risk being left behind. “(We) need to have a multilateral framework which has to change from the one we’re using because it failed. I think we have many, many capacities to tweak or to adjust the system so that we can go on doing the things we know -- which is compete, educate, get to the leading-edge and go on growing.”

Co-panelist Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Wendel Group, sees three pillars supporting this new architecture: globalisation, capitalism and climate change. He believes globalisation is already shaping how capitalism and the market economy are coming out of the crisis, that is, with a stronger and universal perspective.

According to Shanti Poesposoetjipto, CEO of Indonesian company PT Ngrumat Bondo Utomo, globalisation should not be accepted at face value. “Globalisation, looking into the future, would require more of a human face, where justice and equality should (take) precedence.”

Seilliere, however, remains convinced that the cornerstone of this newly-revamped “building” is climate change. “I believe that innovation and research will be at the heart of what’s going to happen in our companies and in our societies in 10, 20 years because right or wrong, there is not a government that will say ‘I am not concerned about this problem.’”

The debt issue continues to dominate, especially as, Seilliere says, “the Europeans have heaped debt upon debt to deal with debt.”

“The political and social dimension of dealing with a heavy debt at the state level is a problem, and it is all the art of policy to be able to (take) necessary steps reducing the expense, which means not allowing people to have the level of social protection they are used to, and probably wage policy to be strengthened,” Seilliere explains.

But all this, he adds, is manageable. “I don’t believe one minute that the world is going to collapse because most countries have got a 10 per cent GNP debt on their balance sheet...I don’t know why we should be protected again with inflation and against the flow of that.”

For Lord Simon, the debt issue must be swiftly dealt with. “We’ve gone through a phase of increasing debt in order to keep the system stable.”

The main role for governments will be thinking very hard about how to stimulate growth within their economies. The whole point in Europe of the Lisbon agreement was to balance education, supply side reform and solidarity into a growth package. It clearly didn’t work appropriately over the decade.