Signs of Slowdown Warn Us to Avoid Europe's Quack Remedies

Daily Mail (London), October 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Signs of Slowdown Warn Us to Avoid Europe's Quack Remedies


Byline: ANDREW ALEXANDER

ACCURATE economic predictors are not all that easy to come by - especially those on two legs. But the Confederation of British Industry's quarterly survey of industrial trends, with its balance of optimists over pessimists, has provided some remarkably accurate forecasts over the years (see graph).

So today's new figures from the CBI will be keenly scrutinised to observe the latest omens. The indications provided so far have been ominous.

They have been suggesting that gross domestic product could plunge to something like 2pc next year - a figure not seen since the sharp recessions of 1991/92 and 1980/81.

We must all hope the new survey will be more cheerful. The weakening pound may have improved industrialists' expectations. But the figures will have to improve a lot to imply any growth at all next year.

In yesterday's Commons debate, Chief Secretary Stephen Byers revealed little about Treasury expectations but offered several meteorological metaphors about the present world crisis or 'weather' as he put it.

What we need to know is whether the Government will let itself be dragged along in the slipstream of the rest of the EU, which is now ruled by Socialist governments stuck in a time warp of the Sixties and Seventies.

The German, French and Italian governments want to combat 'unfair' tax competition, continue with minimum social standards at work and have big public spending programmes to tackle unemployment. The Maastricht treaty's rules for limited budget deficits are in obvious jeopardy.

Such ideas are already bringing these governments into collision with the European Central Bank which they have openly told to plan for lower interest rates.

The euro now seems set for a very unharmonious start in January. ECB chairman Wim Duisen-berg has made it plain where he stands.

He argues that employment policy must involve sticking to budget restraint and making labour markets more flexible - when the new German government has already announced plans to reverse the limited reforms of its predecessor. …

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