Greece Is To Blame, But The Eurozone Is The Problem

Athens must make some painful changes to survive and preserve its Eurozone membership. But the monetary pact needs to be fundamentally changed.

Greece Is To Blame, But The Eurozone Is The Problem
Christian Saint-Etienne*


PARIS â€" It is important to distinguish between the situation in Greece, a country that must be saved from itself and its internal contradictions, and that of the Eurozone, which faces a crisis of its own after seven years of economic stagnation.

Greece is largely to blame for its dire economic situation, as the country’s leaders have taken in 200 billion euros in structural funds since its entry into the European Union, and were still unable to build a competitive economy.

The Greek state is structurally weak and tax evasion is widespread. Since the 2009-2010 debt crisis, Athens obtained a reduction of its debt by 105 billion euros from the banks in 2012 and decreases in interest rates that brought total aid to around 175 billion euros. If we add the 200 billion euros from the structural funds to the pot, then Greece has already received 375 billion euros in aid from the EU, more than double its GDP!

We must stop saying that Greece is being crushed by Europe when it is actually buckling under the weight of its own oligarchic regime and a refusal to pay taxes. Greece's current debt burden of 320 billion euros would be 495 billion if not for the massive amounts of aid already received.

The key question is whether Greece has the capacity to establish a viable economy and maintain sound public finances. This rests on a host of structural reforms, from reducing the number of civil servants â€" who make up more than a third of the workforce, compared to an average of less than 20% in other developed countries â€" to fighting vested interests (shipping magnates, construction and telecom industries) and clientelism.

But independently of the situation in Greece, the Eurozone has its own crisis to contend with. Seven years of weak growth have kept unemployment from falling, even if some economies have fared comparatively better. The monetary alliance was never given the tools to succeed when it was founded in 1991 by then French President Francois Mitterand and then European Commission President Jacques Delors, and is now facing a long overdue institutional crisis. In a number of interviews between 2010 and 2012, Delors recognized this fundamental flaw.

“In 1991 we hoped that the political will to provide the euro with the necessary institutions would come within three years,” he said.

Fiscal unity

Unfortunately, this would not turn out to be the case. The union of different countries in a single monetary zone stimulates, for reasons of efficiency, a process of economic specialization in each country, where specialization is meant to lead to maximum efficiency of productivity.

But for the good of the whole, a single “economic government” with an investment budget for infrastructure is needed to limit the effect of these forces and preserve the internal equilibrium of the Eurozone. There is also need for fiscal and social unity in the bloc to avoid internal fiscal and social conflict. In the United States, for example, the major fiscal and social institutions are federal, rather than at the state level.

In 35 centuries of monetary history, there has never been a case of enduring separation between monetary and political sovereignty.

France must play a leading role in the unavoidable evolution of the Eurozone’s institutions. But the country’s economic weakness and the crushing weight of the fiscal reforms of the last three years preclude Paris from taking the lead in the fundamental transformations the Eurozone needs. France must urgently adopt more ambitious policies and launch its economic recovery to return to its role as a beacon for Europe.

*Christian Saint-Etienne​ is the head of the economics department at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, a doctoral university in Paris, France.

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How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.

Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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