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Relaunching Growth in Europe

12/06/2010 12:00 PM Wong Auditorium
Jose Maria Aznar, Former Prime Minister, Spain

Description: Jose Maria Aznar finds it difficult to witness the calamitous decline of Spain, a nation he led to robust economic health as prime minister from 1996 to 2004. The gains during his administration have vanished following the international financial crisis. But the economic misfortunes of Spain and other European nations are actually long"standing, Aznar says, and represent a profound underlying "political, cultural and social crisis" suffered by the entire European continent.

Aznar recommends a "broad, historical perspective" to grasp this crisis. He begins after World War II, when European nations, pursuing a trio of goals -- "security, freedom and prosperity--" joined the Atlantic alliance, committed to democratic forms of government, and established the welfare state. These countries pledged to support all three "pillars" simultaneously, because "the moment we sacrifice one, the other two are bound to be lost." But over time, Aznar suggests, Europe's will to sustain these fundamental principles flagged, and now many people have come to believe "that freedom, security and progress are something like national properties, perpetually guaranteed whatever you do."

Europeans are divided between two starkly different world views, and in this division Aznar perceives the "true origin of our European crisis." One ideology he describes as "utopian," and involves a "cocktail of postmodern illusions" including the belief that societies will "just continue to improve," that "social cohesion and well"being can be preserved without any effort whatsoever," and that "one's self is an endless source of economic rights (that) the government has an obligation to fulfill in exchange for nothing and for an indefinite period of time." It is the world view of "progressive do"gooders and eternal teenagers." Aznar sums up the alternative: a "realistic and responsible approach" to governing that encourages "civilization, freedom, science, culture and enterprise."

The "European project" is also failing because member nations have not forcefully backed security and economic agreements that promote freedom and democracy as well as the competition, innovation and budget balancing that "would make welfare sustainable." 300 million Europeans sharing a single currency cannot suffice to bring security, freedom and prosperity, all of which require "an intensity of political commitments," says Aznar.

Europe can never return to its old ways of "irresponsible indebtedness," says Aznar, nor can it indulge in "raising taxes indiscriminately" lest it lose out in global competition. He calls for "new, responsible leadership" to "undertake the task of explaining to citizens why it is essential to make structural reforms," and help transform Europe into a "booming welfare society open to all, where individual responsibility, opportunity creation and social mobility" can come to the fore.

About the Speaker(s): Jos_ MarÍa Alfredo Aznar Lpez became Prime Minister of Spain in 1996, following the electoral victory of the Partido Popular (Popular Party). He was re"elected in 2000 and led the country until 2004, when he declined to run again for office.

As Prime Minister, Aznar led an important process of economic and social reform. During his tenure, almost five million jobs were created in Spain, the Spanish GDP increased 64 percent over eight years, and the public deficit decreased from an alarming 6 percent of GDP to a balanced budget.

Aznar now serves as executive president of The Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis, distinguished scholar at Georgetown University, member of the board of directors of News Corporation, and member of the Global Advisory Board and Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Latin American division of J.E. Robert Companies.

Aznar graduated in law at the Complutense University. He qualified as an inspector of state finances in 1975. He has written several books including Retratos y Perfiles: De Fraga a Bush (2005) (Portraits and Profiles: From Fraga to Bush); Ocho a_os de Gobierno (2004) (Eight Years in Government); and La Espa_a en que yo creo (1995) (The Spain I Believe In).

Aznar has been awarded honorary doctorates by universities throughout the world and is an honorary professor at Ciencias Aplicadas University in Perì (2006) as well as professor of ethics at San Antonio University in Murcia (2009).

Host(s): Sloan School of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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