Ambassadors visiting Atlanta say that Europe is on the economic rebound

By Maria Saporta

Europe may be down, but it’s certainly not out.

That was the essence of the message that two European ambassadors to the United States shared Thursday with the World Affairs Council of Atlanta during a luncheon program at the Commerce Club.

The program was titled: “How Will Europe Restore Growth?”

In listening to the ambassadors, Europe already is taking the steps to solidify its economy and position it for growth.

Joao Vale de Almeida, the European Union ambassador to the United States, said a year ago, people would ask him how he still had a job.

“It was a nice way to ask me about the crisis in Europe…about the survival of the European Union,” Vale de Almeida said.

Today the situation has turned around. The euro has survived. No country has left the European Union. One country — Croatia — will join the EU on Monday increasing it to 28 countries. The EU has received the Nobel Peace Prize for more than 50 years of bring stability and peace to the region. And it is adopting the largest free trade area in the world — the Transatlantic free trade agreement between Europe and America — a move that is expected to boost both economies.

“My job is not at risk, at least for the moment,” Vale de Almeida said. “More important, the EU is coming back. It is more robust today than it was a year ago. We have been faced with incredibly challenging conditions, but we are coming back.”

Michael Collins, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States who is about to be transferred to Germany, said Europe has been enacting several banking and financial reforms. “Europe is getting its act together,” Collins said. “It’s unconceivable that our currency could not survive. We are growing again in Ireland.”

Cedric Suzman, executive vice president and director of programming for the World Affairs Council, asked the ambassadors them to comment about their views on the debate of austerity versus stimulus of the economy.

Vale de Almeida said that when several European countries were bordering on bankruptcy, they had no choice but to adopt austerity measures. But countries also need to have policies that promote growth because people will not support just austerity measures. The danger is that they will revolt and try to bring down the government. Europe has been able to return to economic stability, but it is taking longer to get the economy growing and to create new jobs. “People are in the tunnel, and they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Collins said it’s not a matter of either or. European countries have to adopt both austerity and stimulus measures.

Suzman asked the ambassadors about the role of Germany in the European Union. It is the largest economy among the various countries.

“Germany is central to the process,” Vale de Almeida said. “Germany is one of the most committed and the one that most benefits from being part of the EU.”

German is a leading exporter today partly because it has been able to work from the unified market of Europe, which he called a “bedrock for external competitiveness.”

“Germany see its future inside Europe and sees its interest in strengthening Europe,” Vale de Almeida said.

While they were in Atlanta, the ambassadors did stop by to call on Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed..

“I do like having Georgia and Atlanta as our partner,” Vale de Almeida. “I’m impressed by how internationally-minded this city and this state is. We talked to the governor and the mayor,, who want better conditions for trade and investment.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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