Italy is overtaking Germany as Europe’s financial powerhouse – DW – 04/03/2024 | EUROtoday

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Mauro Congedo has been discovering and renovating small architectural treasures together with his brother and father for 25 years in Salento — a peninsula within the southeast of Italy that makes up the “heel” of the nation.

The residences and homes that Congedo restores on this quite distant area at the moment are all of a sudden discovering patrons from Germany and England. “Things are going well again,” mentioned the 50-year-old architect.

During the coronavirus pandemic, enterprise nearly got here to a standstill. But what occurred afterward in Italy within the business was “crazy” he says, dragging out the “a” for a very long time. But look deeper and Congedo is not the one one enthusiastic in regards to the financial restoration in Italy.

A view of the coast, sea and rock formations in the Salento region of Italy
Architect Mauro Congedo works within the Salento area, which provides lots of shorelineImage: Yuriy Brykaylo/Pond5 Images/Imago Images

Italy goes from downside little one to go of the category

While governments in Rome have been used to saying miserable development forecasts and poor debt rankings within the years earlier than the pandemic, the nation is now rapidly changing into Europe’s development engine.

In the final quarter, the Italian financial system grew by 0.6%, whereas the German financial system shrunk by 0.3% in the identical interval. Beyond this brief three-month snapshot, different figures for Europe’s third-largest financial system are spectacular.

“The Italian economy has grown by 3.8% since 2019,” mentioned Jörg Krämer, chief economist at Commerzbank. That is “twice as much as the French economy and five times more than the German economy,” he informed DW.

In Germany, the prospects are certainly trying bleak. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts development of 0.3% this yr for Germany. Leading German specialists are solely anticipating development of 0.1%. Italy, then again, is predicted to develop by 0.7% this yr, in line with the OECD.

The Italian inventory market can be benefiting from the optimistic temper. The FTSE MIB benchmark index, which is made up of 40 massive firms, rose by round 28% final yr, greater than some other European inventory market indices. Italy is on observe for extra development.

Trust within the Italian authorities is returning

It did not at all times look so encouraging. Economists initially reacted very cautiously when Giorgia Meloni turned prime minister in October 2022. During the election marketing campaign, Meloni and her Brothers of Italy get together introduced a nationalist “Made in Italy” financial course, agitated in opposition to migrants and didn’t clearly distance herself from Russia.

After her election, the German weekly Stern described her because the “most dangerous woman in Europe.” But when it comes to financial coverage, Meloni has to this point largely remained on the identical course as her predecessor Mario Draghi. This course is paying off for Italy, no less than on the bond market. The rate of interest at which the county borrows cash is again to the extent earlier than she took workplace.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni walking and talking to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz among a group of people
Things are presently going higher economically for Giorgia Meloni than for German Chancellor Olaf ScholzImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/image alliance

At a press convention earlier this yr, Meloni tried to take credit score for the financial upswing. Above all, the dearth of political stability up to now had slowed the financial system she mentioned, talking from a place firmly within the saddle.

But how a lot of the expansion is all the way down to Meloni’s success?

“Not much,” mentioned Krämer from Commerzbank. “The strong growth can be explained by Italy’s loose fiscal policy.” That means Italy’s development relies totally on new debt. While the Italian state’s new debt earlier than COVID-19 was 1.5% of gross home product (GDP), it has shot up lately and was 8.3% of GDP within the first half of 2023.

The nation’s general mountain of debt is rising, too. In January, the EU Commission estimated that it will exceed 140% of GDP this yr and proceed to rise in 2025. For comparability, in Germany the debt ratio is 66%, in France it’s nearly 100%.

Huge building subsidies inject the financial system

To assist the financial system, the Italian state has been funding numerous dwelling renovation measures for the reason that finish of 2020. For some measures they pay round 50% of the associated fee, others get much more. The hottest is known as the “Superbonus 110” for energy-efficient renovations.

Through this program anybody who renovates their home or residence to make it extra energy-efficient will get the whole bills plus a ten% refund on prime by means of a tax discount scheme.

“You can imagine that construction investments have skyrocketed,” mentioned economist and Italy knowledgeable Krämer. “This effect explains two-thirds of the strong growth we are seeing.”

Italy: A village on the finish of the world

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The architect Mauro Congedo is just not overly enthusiastic in regards to the Superbonus 110 program. Everything has change into dearer. On prime of inflation, this system drove up the prices of supplies and staff.

“If the state pays for everything, then people don’t care how much it costs,” mentioned Congedo. In addition, nobody controls the costs. Construction firms from Naples, Bari and the provincial capital Lecce requested him a number of instances to regulate his prices upward. “They wanted me to charge twice as much. I didn’t do it. It feels like stealing,” he mentioned.

He thinks a bonus for the energy-efficient renovation of buildings is an effective factor basically. However, homeowners ought to must contribute to the prices and never simply get all of it from the federal government. Congedo would not suppose a lot about Giorgia Meloni both. The solely good factor she did was get the Superbonus 110 program below management, he says.

Money from the European Union

In truth, the ultra-right head of presidency has slowed down the Superbonus program launched by the left-wing Five Star Movement. In 2023, it lined a most 70% of prices and this yr as much as 65% of the renovation prices.

Nevertheless, the tax credit ensuing from this system will considerably scale back authorities income within the subsequent few years. For the federal government in Rome it’s most likely very handy that billions are nonetheless flowing — primarily from Brussels. Italy is among the greatest recipients of the EU’s COVID restoration fund.

By 2026, nearly €200 billion ($216 billion) shall be paid out to Italy within the type of subsidies and loans. “The Italian state must reduce its very high budget deficit by this time at the latest,” ​​mentioned Krämer. “If they only start saving then, then this Italian growth miracle will probably end because they didn’t use the time for structural reforms.”

Mauro Congedo is anxious that remnants of the Superbonus 110 program will stay for a very long time. “The prices are very high, and we have incurred a lot of debt.”

Luckily, he will not run out of labor anytime quickly. He’s presently engaged on eight tasks on the similar time.

This article was initially written in German.

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