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European policy makers call for tough reforms

05-12-2010 10:04 BJT Special Report: Europe's Debt Crisis |

by Shang Jun

BRUSSELS, May 11 (Xinhua) -- European policy makers called on Tuesday for tough and even unpopular reforms to reinvent the continent's economic and social model in the wake of the Greek debt crisis.

"We need brave, honest national politicians who are ready to say that to protect that welfare system, we should work longer and work harder. It is either reform or decline," Vincent Van Quickenborne, Belgian minister of economy and reform, said at the closing session of the World Economic Forum on Europe here Tuesday.

Over 400 leaders of businesses, governments, academia and civil society from over 40 countries discussed the future of Europe under the theme "Renewed Leadership, New Vision" at the two-day forum.

The recent Greek debt crisis, after spreading to the eurozone, threw into question the European economic and social model, which has been marked by extravagant welfare for its citizens and criticized for being less competitive.

The events of the past week forced policy-makers, politicians and citizens to face the tough challenges Europe needs to overcome to get back on a growth trajectory.

With an annual economic growth of 1 or 1.5 percent and an aging population, Europe simply could not afford the costly welfare system and is doomed to lag behind its main competitors in the future, Quickenborne warned.

His view was echoed by a participant at the forum.

"We cannot continue in the old rhetoric. It is totally inadequate to the challenges ahead. We need to redesign the European social model and the social market economy. To do this, we need the language of blood, sweat and tears," he said.

Although leaders from both old and new Europe agreed at the forum's closing plenary session that the only way forward is reform, they conceded the reform would involve tough, unpopular choices for politicians and citizens.

Cutting social benefits or raising retirement age is hard to swallow for Europeans. Afraid to put their popularity at stake, politicians are usually reluctant to introduce radical reforms.

But the current debt crisis is an opportunity to push through the necessary but politically risky reforms since there is no other choice now.

"A decade of austerity will be necessary, but 2010 could become a new start for Europe," Quickenborne said, "Either we go to a future of being a footnote of the U.S. or become a world player with more growth."


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