The OECD called on EU leaders on Tuesday to ease the pace of austerity, saying aggressive budget cuts to curtail the euro zone’s debts threaten to suck the currency area into a downward spiral that could spill over into the global economy.
German-led fiscal austerity policies have so far dominated the European Union’s approach to solving Europe’s devastating public debt crisis as leaders try to win back investors’ confidence. But efforts to reduce deficits have caused the euro zone’s economy to stagnate, making it harder to reach EU-mandated targets.
“The risk is increasing of a vicious circle, involving high and rising sovereign indebtedness, weak banking systems, excessive fiscal consolidation and lower growth,” said Pier Carlo Padoan, the chief economist of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The drag on growth was evident in the Paris-based think tank’s forecast for the 17-nation euro zone, which sees the bloc’s economy shrinking 0.1 percent this year and only growing 0.9 percent in 2013 - less than half the United States’ projected growth next year.
Unemployment is likely to reach a new record of 11.1 percent of the working population, it said.
“There is scope for easing the pace (of debt reduction in some countries),” Padoan said in the OECD’s economic outlook.
“For Spain and other countries, if there are unforeseen drops in economic activity then the fiscal necessary adjustment which ensues should only be done very gradually,” he told Reuters in an interview before the report’s official release.
Spain, France and the Netherlands will miss their 2013 deadline to cut to 3 percent or less of gross domestic product unless they take action, the European Commission said this month, which could lead to financial sanctions under EU rules.
But Spain’s economy, already in recession, is likely to shrink more this year as Madrid tries to implement the deficit cuts, adding to doubts over the country’s ability to manage its finances without emergency aid.
According to OECD calculations, efforts to reduce deficits during a downturn are self-defeating because about a third of the planned cuts are erased by the contraction in the economy.
Italian premier Mario Monti has won an ally in new French President Francois Hollande in trying to shift Europe’s focus to growth, as well as reining in debts, and Hollande aims to push measures to boost the economy at an EU summit on Wednesday.
Hollande will meet Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Paris hours before the summit in Brussels and the two are likely to discuss steps to stimulate growth and create jobs.
The OECD signaled its support for the kind of growth measures backed by Hollande, Monti and Rajoy.
They include issuing bonds jointly underwritten by all euro zone countries to recapitalise banks, increasing the resources of the European Investment Bank to fund infrastructure projects and redirecting EU development funds to create jobs.
“Given the likely slow growth of private demand during the prolonged period of adjustment... actions at the European level could help to speed up the process and generate a more propitious environment in which to undertake structural reforms,” the report said.
“EU-wide measures would strengthen activity... by boosting confidence and making it easier to achieve the intra euro rebalancing effort,” the OECD said.
Meanwhile, the IMF on Tuesday warned the British Government it should ease its austerity program if the eurozone crisis triggers a fresh “shock” and pushes the economy deeper into recession.
The warning came after British finance minister George Osborne announced that the Treasury is planning for a Greek exit from euro.
“It’s clear we’re now reaching a critical point for the eurozone. Eurozone countries need to stand behind their currency or face up to the prospect of a Greek exit with all the risks that that would involve,” Osborne said in a news conference with IMF chief Christine Lagarde.
“The British government is doing contingency planning for all potential outcomes. It’s our responsibility to ensure that while we work for the best, we prepare for something worse.”
Lagarde noted concerns over Britain experiencing low growth levels.
“Growth is too slow and unemployment, including youth unemployment, is too high. Policies to bolster to demand before low growth becomes entrenched are needed,” she said.
“The UK authorities’ policy approach has reinforced credibility at a time of intensified global uncertainty,” Lagarde added.