Germany's 'wise men' see risks as economy swells
Germany's council of economic experts on Wednesday sharply lifted growth forecasts for 2017 and 2018, but warned that an incoming government has much to do to future-proof the economy.
Europe's largest economy should expand by 2.0 percent this year and 2.2 percent in 2018, the five so-called "wise men" -- who number one woman among them -- predicted in a 460-page report.
That was a substantial increase from their March forecast of 1.4-percent growth this year and 1.6 percent next year.
"The German economy is in a powerful upturn," they wrote, so much so that it could be in danger of "overheating", or growing at a pace faster than it will be able to maintain for the long term.
But strong growth for now offers plenty of options for an incoming government to modernise Europe's powerhouse, they added.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are locked in talks with the liberal Free Democrats and the ecologist Greens, hoping to seal an untested three-way coalition following elections in September.
The economists advised leaders to reduce public debt, dismantle some taxes and create an "innovation-friendly" environment for the digital economy.
They also warned that "one can already identify a shortage of skilled workers in some areas of the economy," a risk that will grow for Germany as its baby-boomer generation heads for retirement in the coming years.
Politicians can partly fend off the problem by making it easier to combine work and family life, improving education and training and making it easier for companies to hire people from abroad with urgently-needed skills, the experts said.
Meanwhile, the report called for leaders to "decisively confront" calls for increased protectionism in international trade that have taken centre stage since the election of Donald Trump.
"Exhausting the remaining potential of liberalising trade could bring further increases in prosperity," the experts argued, urging Washington and Brussels to resume stalled talks for a transatlantic trade deal known as TTIP.
Within the European Union, the report called for leaders to buttress the bloc's internal market, especially so-called "banking union" and "capital markets union" rules designed to create a more stable financial system.
The experts still hope Britain's departure from the EU can be stopped, but pressed for an agreement "that would minimise damage for both sides" if it goes ahead.
"Negotiating such a deal would likely take longer than the two years provided for in Article 50" of the EU treaty, they noted, suggesting a "one-off extension" of the deadline to ease talks.
Nevertheless, the EU's so-called "four freedoms" -- of movement of capital, people, goods and services -- are "essential", they added, ruling out "cherry-picking" from London.