Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

The hazard of second best


By Mohamed A. El-Erian

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

NEWPORT BEACH – The international community risks settling for second best on two key issues to be discussed this month at global meetings in Washington, DC: the lingering (if currently somewhat dormant) European debt crisis, and the selection of the World Bank’s next president. It is not too late to change course, but doing so will require the United States and governments in Europe to resist harmful habits, and emerging countries to follow up effectively on recent initiatives.

In the last few days, European leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, have declared that the worst of the euro zone crisis is over. Others, like French Finance Minister Francois Baroin, have gone even further, claiming that Europe “has done its part,” and that it is now up to other countries to do theirs.

These announcements should come as no surprise. Having experienced prolonged turmoil, the euro zone is currently in a period of relative tranquility. The courageous reform measures implemented by Mario Monti, Italy’s technocratic prime minister, have eased immediate concerns that Greek dislocations might tip other European countries — much bigger and harder to rescue — into insolvency. Europe’s decision last week to bolster its internal financial firewalls has reinforced the resulting positive impact on market sentiment.

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