News / Economy

Faltering Germany Casts Cloud Over Fragile Eurozone

Traders are seen at their desks in front of the DAX board at the Frankfurt stock exchange, Germany, July 10, 2014.
Traders are seen at their desks in front of the DAX board at the Frankfurt stock exchange, Germany, July 10, 2014.
Reuters

Germany's faltering economy has cast further doubt over the eurozone's prospects for recovery this year, with no other big country strong enough to pick up the slack.

Since late last year, the 18 countries using the euro have been climbing steadily out of a two-year recession. But just as the bloc appeared to be turning the corner, its star economy, Germany, has fumbled the ball.

To make matters worse, other big states, including the eurozone's second-largest economy France, show little prospect of a strong rebound.

French industrial production plunged unexpectedly in May, and inflation fell to its lowest level since the financial crisis in 2009. Adding to the gloom, Italy's factories also saw a 1.2 percent drop in output in May, the steepest fall in more than a year-and-a-half.

And while Spain is expecting growth to accelerate to near 2 percent in 2015, one in four of Spain's workforce are out of work after the collapse of a property price bubble.

“Europe is getting more and more Japanese,” said Carsten Brzeski, an economist with ING, echoing concerns of others that the region faces permanent slow growth and no price inflation.

“The eurozone is flat lining. I don't see substantial growth for another year.”

Choking exports

At the start of 2014, the picture looked different.

Throughout the first three months, the German economy grew at its strongest rate in three years - 0.8 percent - thanks in part to mild weather lifting construction work.

That made up for stagnation or slowdown in France, Italy and the Netherlands and prevented the bloc's overall recovery from stalling.

While Britain, outside the bloc, underlined its robust recovery with the strongest quarterly growth in four years - to end June - the mood is turning in continental Europe's industrial powerhouse. German exports, imports, industrial orders, output and retail sales all fell in May compared with a month earlier.

On Thursday, Germany's economy ministry cautioned about the impact of the crisis in Ukraine on confidence in Germany as it painted a bleak picture of the second quarter.

“After a growth-strong start to the year, the development of the German economy in the second quarter is subdued,” the report said.

Across the whole eurozone, analysts expect growth in the second quarter at around 0.2 percent, quarter on quarter, as seen in the three months to March.

In the boardrooms of Germany's Mittelstand, the small and medium-sized companies that employ about 70 percent of its workforce, the sense of nervousness is palpable.

“The mood has deteriorated after the strong start to the year,” Mario Ohoven, head of the BVMW Mittelstand association, told Reuters. He blamed the 'smoldering' eurozone crisis and Ukraine for crimping companies' export forecasts.

Martin Wansleben, Managing Director of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, made a similar assessment.

“The ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis, the conflicts in the Middle East and the ropy economic activity in emerging markets are clearly choking the export business,” he said.

Both expect an improvement later in the year, as do economists, but few believe Germany's economic muscle can this time pull its neighbors from the trough.

“The numbers are bumpy,” said Jonathan Loynes, Chief European Economist at Capital Economics. “I think the economy is growing, but ... not strongly enough to sustain a strong economic recovery across the eurozone as a whole.”

Stubborn

There is a wider debate across Europe about whether to shift the policy focus towards spending to lift the economy and away from spending cuts and austerity.

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is leading a drive for greater flexibility in the way European budget rules are applied, whereas Germany wants to keep the focus on thrift.

But for some, that debate glosses over a deeper problem that holds back the eurozone economy - a reluctance to change.

Germany, they say, is stubbornly wedded to its model of manufacturing, while others, including France, are resisting social and economic reforms needed to boost industry.

“Germany should be the locomotive of Europe,” said Guntram Wolff of Brussels-based think-tank Bruegel.

“But the feeling in Germany is that we want to rely on the strength of the last 10 years in manufacturing, and we don't accept change in the economy. The services sector, for example, is still quite regulated.”

In neighboring France, the government has struggled to reform its social welfare system and labor model.

President Francois Hollande is pinning his recovery hopes on plans for nearly 40 billion euros in corporate tax breaks to be phased in over the coming three years.

But the announcement has done little so far to lift business confidence, which has ebbed ever lower in France. The country's central bank estimates growth of only 0.2 percent in the second quarter after stalling in the first three months.

Weak business confidence in turn weighs on company investment, which the government is counting on to underpin growth even though consumer spending, currently weak amidst high unemployment, is traditionally the main driver.

For captains of industry, such as Christophe de Margerie, the chief executive of French oil major Total, this reluctance to reform is one of the chief problems.

“Why doesn't it [the economy] take off as fast as we would like?” he recently told reporters.

“Probably first of all because we were hit by the crisis later than others so there is a delayed impact, but also because our welfare system ... sometimes hides how tough times are.”

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8050
JPY
USD
117.90
GBP
USD
0.6376
CAD
USD
1.1259
INR
USD
61.655

Rates may not be current.