European economy on a path of steady, but moderate growth

Winter forecast points at many challenges posed to the EU by the external environment

The European economy is set to continue on a path of steady, moderate growth, according to the Winter 2020 Economic Forecast published last Thursday by the Commission. The euro area has now enjoyed its longest period of sustained growth since the euro was introduced in 1999. The forecast projects that Eurozone gross domestic product (GDP) growth will remain stable at 1.2% in 2020 and 2021. For the EU as a whole, growth is forecast to ease marginally to 1.4% in 2020 and 2021, down from 1.5% in 2019.

“Despite a challenging environment, the European economy remains on a steady path, with continued job creation and wage growth. But we should be mindful of potential risks on the horizon: a more volatile geopolitical landscape coupled with trade uncertainties. So Member States should use this weather window to pursue structural reforms to boost growth and productivity. Countries with high public debt should also shore up their defences by pursuing prudent fiscal policies,” Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said.

The forecast points out that overall the external environment remains challenging. However, continued employment creation, robust wage growth and a supportive policy mix should help the European economy maintain a path of moderate growth. Private consumption and investment, particularly in the construction sector, will continue to fuel economic growth. Public investment, especially in transport and digital infrastructure, is expected to increase significantly in a number of Member States. Together with tentative signs of stabilisation in the manufacturing sector, and a possible bottoming out of the decline in global trade flows, this should allow the European economy to continue expanding. At the same time, these factors appear insufficient to shift growth into a higher gear.

The outlook for Europe's economy is for stable, albeit subdued growth over the coming two years. This will prolong the longest period of expansion since the launch of the euro in 1999, with corresponding good news on the jobs front. We've also seen encouraging developments in terms of reduced trade tensions and the avoidance of a no-deal Brexit. But we still face significant policy uncertainty, which casts a shadow over manufacturing, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said.

The forecast for inflation in the Eurozone has been raised to 1.3% in 2020 and 1.4% in 2021, an increase of 0.1 percentage points for both years compared to the Autumn 2019 Economic Forecast. This reflects tentative signs that higher wages may start passing through to core prices and slightly higher assumptions about oil prices. In the EU, the forecast for inflation in 2020 has also been raised by 0.1 percentage points to 1.5%. The forecast for 2021 remains unchanged at 1.6%.

While some downside risks have faded, new ones have emerged. Overall the balance of risks continues to remain tilted to the downside. The ‘Phase One' trade deal between the US and China has helped to reduce downside risks to some extent, but the high degree of uncertainty surrounding US trade policy remains a barrier to a more widespread recovery in business sentiment. Social unrest in Latin America risks derailing the region's economic recovery. Heightened geopolitical tensions in the Middle East have raised the risk of conflict in the region.

While there is now clarity on trading relations between the EU and the UK during the transition period, there remains considerable uncertainty over the future partnership with the UK. The outbreak of the ‘2019-nCoV' coronavirus, with its implications for public health, economic activity and trade, especially in China, is a new downside risk, but it is still too early to assess its overall impacts. The longer it lasts, however, the higher the likelihood of knock-on effects on economic sentiment and global financing conditions.

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