EEAG Report 2017: Jan-Egbert Sturm

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The Director of KOF Swiss Economic Institute, ETH Zurich, spoke at the EEAG Report 2017: Populism and Economic Policy, hosted by the Swiss Re Institute.

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The election results of the Netherlands give us hope that indeed there are ways in which we can make society understand what's at stake, that there are pros and cons. Nevertheless we also do have to realize that the populist party in the Netherlands did gain further seats. It's not like in the sense that you can call it the battle is over, it's just a step in this process. We are learning as a society how to bring this better across, thereby also taking into account what these populist members have to say, because of course there is always a situation of truth in there. There is an element of truth in the empty statements, and we just have to make sure that these elements of truth are being put into the right environment.

The question is how does all these kind of political uncertainty, these populism statements, how does that result in everyday's life? That's already difficult to grasp, how the business cycle in general is effecting someone personally. The easiest thing is do you have a job or do you not have a job? Maybe that due to the business cycle, and in that sense, this is effecting here as well. We see that firms, if they don't understand in what direction politics will move, and that might be the case because of populism which is creating uncertainty, that might lead to different behavior for instance. That might lead to under-investment, and that might have consequences for job creation, for instance. So there are medium and longer-terms effects of these kind of elements, but it's very difficult to really bring that to a micro level and have people understand what the consequences are for the person, him or herself.

The Swiss economy is being effected by populism at the moment at least mostly indirectly. We see the Brexit effect, we see Trump being elected in the United States, which is creating a world economy which doesn't really know where the political environment is going to move to. That is creating certain kinds of uncertainty which might have consequences for, for instance, investment decisions and thereby for demand for Swiss products, for instance machines and equipment which are being produced in Switzerland. That's the way in which Switzerland, to a large extent, is being effected from today's perspective.

The European situation is of course one in which we have to learn how this political union or this political process, European Union, is going to reform further. As we see the Brexit which is triggering all kinds of events and we don't really see yet whether this is going to result in a European Union which is stronger in the sense that there is a will to further politically unite, or actually the opposite, that we see that this is with hindsight going to be the first stone towards a dissolvement of the European Union. That's very difficult now to see, creating uncertainty on everyone's side, but it's very important of course that these questions are being answered and we do see at some stage in what direction we will further move.