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ECB's Lagarde highlights critical need for private capital to boost innovation in Europe

ECB President Christine Lagarde (file photo)
ECB President Christine Lagarde (file photo) Copyright Michael Probst/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Michael Probst/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Piero Cingari
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At a Council on Foreign Relations meeting on Wednesday, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde stressed the importance of private investments in catalysing Europe's green transition and fostering innovation.

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Discussing the state of the European economy and geopolitical challenges, she emphasised the need for about €600 billion annually to support climate change mitigation efforts, underlining the critical role of private financial support for these initiatives.

Lagarde also provided insight into the current state of the European economy, the ongoing efforts in US-EU economic cooperation, and the broader implications of geopolitical challenges.

Inflation dynamics and Eurozone economic outlook

Addressing the query on why Europe has managed inflation better than the United States, despite facing higher energy price shocks, Lagarde pointed out, "It's not over yet. We're dealing with two different kinds of inflation.

"The employment and the unemployment rates in Europe are as good as they have ever been," Lagarde stated, pointing to a robust job market as a silver lining amidst economic uncertainties.

Looking ahead, she expressed cautious optimism about the eurozone’s recovery trajectory, predicting gradual improvements through 2024.

Eurozone's growth compared to the United States

Lagarde addressed the significant disparity in economic growth between the eurozone and the United States. Since 2008, the US economy has grown 75% larger than that of the eurozone.

She attributed this to several factors, including the "second wave of crisis" in Europe, such as the sovereign debt crisis, and the lack of a fiscal union to complement its monetary framework.

A stark productivity gap was also underscored, with United States' productivity growth markedly outpacing Europe's.

"It's just mind-boggling; productivity in the United States between 2019 and now has been 6%, in Europe 0.6%," Lagarde remarked, calling for comprehensive structural reforms and better integration of the single market to bridge this divide.

European economic independence and global geopolitical challenges

Considering the ongoing economic and geopolitical crises, Lagarde sees potential for Europe to forge a more autonomous economic path.

She emphasised the importance of developing a robust, internally-focused financial infrastructure to support innovation and entrepreneurship within the continent, suggesting that such initiatives could act as catalysts for significant economic reform, particularly in adapting to and mitigating climate change.

"We are at the cusp of that needed transformation," she affirmed, highlighting the necessity of private investment in Europe’s green transition, which she estimates requires about €600 billion annually.

Lagarde reiterated that European political commitment to addressing the climate change issue is unwavering and urgently requires financial support.

"That will require private money, private capital savings to be invested in that transformation."

The dialogue also turned towards a broader discussion on global economic relations, particularly concerning China and the implications of its evolving economic strategy.

Lagarde underscored the importance of continued collaboration between trusted global partners, rather than pursuing protectionist policies or competitive subsidisation, which she described as a "race to the bottom".

As for the controversial topic of utilising frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine, Lagarde emphasised that "there is not a single doubt anywhere in Europe" in Europe that Russia should financially compensate for the damages inflicted on Ukraine.

However, she cautioned against moving from freezing assets to confiscating them without careful consideration. She explained that, while there is consensus on the principle of using these assets for reconstruction, precipitating their availability due to lack of alternative financing raises complex legal and financial stability issues.

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Monetary policy amidst market challenges

On the topic of potentially changing ECB's 2% inflation target, President Lagarde reaffirmed her commitment to price stability, resisting any immediate changes to the existing frameworks.

"You don't change the rules of the game in the middle of the game," she stated, advocating for a steady approach to managing Europe's inflation rates.

The role of AI in shaping Europe’s future

When assessing the impact of artificial intelligence on productivity and labour markets, Lagarde commented: "I think that it's a time in our life when a massive innovation with potential significant transformative power is accelerating its development, its launch, its applications in a way that I don't think could have been expected or that we have seen in the past.

"For the moment, I'm not risk averse. I'm not risk averse, but I'm cognisant of the fact that it can create probably as many benefits as it will create risks," she said.

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