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Nicolas Berggruen Headshot

After Years of Austerity, It's Time for Germany to Push Growth in Europe

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Though the combined votes of the SPD, the Greens and the Left were greater than the votes for the CDU and its allies in the recent election, Angela Merkel for all intents and purposes has been given a mandate to continue her European policy that prioritizes austerity.

It remains unclear whether that mandate will be tweaked or altered in any significant way as she forms a governing coalition in the coming days or weeks.

What is clear is that Europe will remain at risk of being divided anew between creditors and debtors until the northern and southern countries are reconciled to a common policy that is both fiscally disciplined and pro-growth.

Time is of the essence. Unless a consensus can be found, the European Parliamentary elections a year away could well turn into an anti-EU referendum. Rather than stabilizing the political environment so that a nascent economic recovery can take hold, Europe will fall back into crisis and the eurozone may well break up.

What is needed in Europe today are leaders of stature who can seek to reconcile north and south.

Mario Monti, the former prime minister of Italy, is a self-described "man of the Alps." As he puts it, "I serve as a translator of the virtues of discipline into Mediterranean languages. At the same time, I also serve as an interpreter of difficulties justly felt by southern Europe vis-à-vis the northern countries.

The learning process that is now key for Europe's future is that southern Europe, as it becomes more attuned to the merits of the social market economy, appreciate the benefits of public sector discipline.

It is likewise important that the northern part of Europe, and Germany in particular, evolve as well. They have to abandon some simplistic views."

In revising the simplistic views Monti refers to, Germany might well take into account the current experience of another great exporting country with an aging population: Japan.

No one has dared look at Japan for lessons in the last two decades as it's once robust economy stalled in stagnation. But the new approach of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is yielding results.

Early signs are that "Abenomics" -- monetary easing and stimulus combined with fiscal consolidation -- is pulling the world's third largest economy out of doldrums that seemed nearly permanent.

In Europe, the harsh consequences of fiscal consolidation, which has been underway for three years, have already put the debtor countries on a sounder footing than Japan to resume growth. The people of Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal have paid the price of austerity and now deserve the opportunity to get back to growth and employment.