Fratto: Europe Striking Out

(It's spring training here in the States, so I hope my friends on the continent will forgive the baseball metaphor.)

In baseball parlance, we would say that what Europe needs today is better bat speed.

Over the past year, European economic officials have swung late at a series of pitches. And this past week Europe stood at the plate, and rather than swing, they've decided to keep their bats on their shoulders.

Last year, the ECB kept policy rates for the eurozone stubbornly high, declining to coordinate action with the Fed's shift to monetary stimulus. The ECB, unable to anticipate the global slowdown, had actually RAISED rates in July of last year. With energy prices skyrocketing in 2008, the ECB got caught looking for the curveball.

On the next pitch, European officials were fooled again — this time by the knuckle ball of a financial crisis. Believing their highly-regulated banks to be safe from the afflictions of U.S. banks, European officials were slow to recognize the vulnerability of their banking systems and let the floater go by for another strike.

Having whiffed on both monetary policy and in addressing their banking system, European economic officials are looking weak-kneed in the batter's box.


Western European leaders last week, with a feeble check-swing, fouled off their shin a sweeping slider in the form of an eastern European emerging market crisis. (That's going to leave a mark.). The instead took the politically safer — if likely insufficient — choice of deferring action to the IMF rather than providing direct support.

And today, with heavy bat in hand, it appears that European leaders stood by and watched strike three. By rebuffing the obvious need for further fiscal stimulus in the midst of a global slowdown, they let go a fat mistake down the middle that should have been driven deep.

It's true that Europe benefits from the impact of more robust automatic stabilizers than in the U.S., but European economic officials are dreaming if they think they have no further need to stimulate growth. Global demand is anemic, and with financial institutions unable to fully able to transmit liquidity to the real economy, a greater fiscal response is most needed now.

But this has been a wasted at-bat for Europe. With the most severe recession in generations, it's not time for small ball — all economies need to swing for the fences. _________________________

Tony Fratto is a CNBC on-air contributor and most recently served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary for the Bush Administration.