David Cameron has made his big speech on the economy and the eurozone, focusing on the “three challenges” which Britain faces:
First, the struggle to recover from a long and deep recession at home.Second, the turbulence coming from the Eurozone. And third, the uncertainty over whether the world is on the right economic path, with debates about trade policy and how to support growth.
On the recession, the recent switch in emphasis from getting spending under control to building a sustainable plan for growth was in evidence. Cameron highlighted the reform to the planning regulations, which scrapped over 1000 pages of rules, the creation of 24 enterprise zones, and the regional growth fund. The latter has been panned as a costly mistake, but the Prime Minister suggested that it is on track to create 324,000 jobs – almost ten times as many as the National Audit Office predicted.
Internationally, Cameron was intent on offering advice which he doesn’t seem to be particularly qualified to give, and which none of the recipients really want. He highlighted three things which the euro countries should do to keep the currency functioning properly:
First, the high deficit, low competitiveness countries in the periphery of the Eurozone do need to confront their problems head on. They need to continue taking difficult steps to cut their spending, increase their revenues and undergo structural reform to become competitive. The idea that high deficit countries can borrow and spend their way to recovery is a dangerous delusion.
Yes, point one: austerity! Of course, Italy and Spain are actually textbook practitioners of austerity already, and it hasn’t done them a lot of good. But Cameron does also echo our leader today in calling for Germany to loosen monetary policy to make up for the absence of fiscal expansion, saying:
Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble is right to recognise rising wages in his country can play a part in correcting these imbalances but monetary policy in the Eurozone must also do more.
Cameron’s second point calls for “governance arrangements that create confidence for the future”:
As the British Government has been arguing for a year now that means following the logic of monetary union towards solutions that deliver greater forms of collective support and collective responsibility of which Eurobonds are one possible example. Steps such as these are needed to put an end to speculation about the future of the euro.
More collective support will irritate the already fuming Andrew Lilico, who wrote on Conservative Home today that Osborne and Brown should face criminal charges for the help already extended to Greece. Lilico wrote:
It cannot be acceptable for UK bureaucrats and ministers to act in clear defiance of the law, and then lose billions of pounds as a consequence of their nakedly illegal acts. That isn’t just “one of those things”. It is, in principle, actionable in much the same way as if the chief executive of your council acted clearly against the law and lost money by doing so. Ministers are not above the law, and are not entitled to defy Treaties, losing billions of pounds in the process, just because it seemed convenient to do so at the time.
Thirdly, Cameron argues that “we all need to address Europe’s overall low productivity and lack of economic dynamism”:
Most EU member states are becoming less competitive compared to the rest of the world, not more. The Single Market is incomplete and competition throughout Europe is too constrained. Indeed, Britain has long been arguing for a pro-business, pro-growth agenda in Europe.
Cameron claiming a pro-growth agenda in Europe could be seen as faintly ironic. Lest we forget, Britain contracted last quarter while the eurozone merely stagnated. Perhaps this could be the government’s new excuse for Britain’s economic woes: we’re pushing so hard for growth in Europe that we forgot to get any back home.
One line from Cameron was particularly welcome, however. Speaking about the right economic path to take post recession, he announced:
I’ve asked the Treasury to examine what more we can do to boost credit for business, housing and infrastructure.
We’ve taken the tough decisions to earn those low interest rates – so let’s make sure we’re putting them to good use. Building recovery is hard work because we are not reinflating the bubble but building a new model of growth. Some people asked why we didn’t have more economy Bills in the Queen’s Speech. If you could legislate your way to growth, obviously we would. The truth is you can’t.
Despite the fact that many would argue that our low interest rates aren’t “earned” at all, but merely a fortunate outcome of our low growth expectations, if we have them, we certainly should be using them. Let’s see how the Prime Minister intends to do that.