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O'Neill: Euro may not exist by 2020

By Anna Stewart and Nina dos Santos, CNN
March 15, 2013 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
  • Roubini believes eurozone break-up risk has been reduced, in large part, by ECB measures
  • European Union faces a "political backlash" with austerity fatigue, says Nouriel Roubini
  • Political cohesion around a drive for austerity was common to many delegates' views

(CNN) -- Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist who famously captured the globe's shifting economic power when he coined the "BRIC" acronym, now says the euro may not exist by 2020.

O'Neill's views were aired at the Spring Ambrosetti Forum, where delegates gathered by the peaceful Lake Como. But unlike its serene waters, many delegates felt the future of the European Union -- which has been destabilized by economic crisis and political infighting -- remained murky.

O'Neill, speaking to CNN at the forum, said: "If we carry on the same way as we are, by 2020 the euro might not exist."

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According to O'Neill, "Germany will be exporting twice as much to China as it does to France by the end of 2020."

He added, "I have joked to some of the European policy makers that in such an environment, Germany would want to be in a monetary union with China, not with France."

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Villa d'Este plays host to the Ambrosetti forum twice a year. It is an elite gathering of European economists and business leaders, and for two days they have just one item on the agenda: The state of the global economy.

Some have compared the Ambrosetti Forum to Davos; albeit a much smaller version. With serene views of Lake Como, a warmer climate and fine-dining, it's certainly a deluxe version.

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Light from chandeliers dance over the delegates as they sit in their four closed-door sessions a day, which are broken up with coffee breaks and three course meals.

Nouriel Roubini, the economist also known by the name "Dr Doom" for predicting the credit crunch, was a little less gloomy about the eurozone than O'Neill when he spoke to CNN.

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"Compared to a year ago, when there was a risk that Greece would exit the eurozone, that the eurozone would break up, that Italy and Spain would lose market access, those tail risks have been reduced," he said.

Roubini believes these risks have been reduced, in large part, by the European Central Bank's commitment to purchase sovereign bonds in the secondary markets.

Now, Roubini told CNN, the European Union faces a "political backlash" with austerity fatigue from the likes of Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Greece, and bailout fatigue from Germany.

"There is a toxic nexus between a lack of competitiveness, unsustainability, low potential growth and an ongoing recession," he said.

The need for political cohesion around a drive for austerity was common to many delegates' views, as was a desire for closer fiscal union.

"Europe is in the middle," Andrea Canino, the chairman at MC Partners, told CNN. "We don't know where the power is, it is not any more in the national state and it is not in Brussels."

Such uncertainty would kill Europe, he added.

Guiseppe Recche, the chairman of Eni, the Italian multinational oil and gas company, said his business continues to struggle in its European market. "Wherever we do business, and we work in over 80 countries, we do well, except for Italy and Europe," he said.

"Is that because Europe is not competitive? Is that because Europe doesn't have technology to sell? Probably not.

"It needs to manage its expenses, austerity needs to be spoken of, and of not just in negative terms, a fiscal balance of expenses is needed."

The Ambrosetti Forum will reconvene in the autumn, the mist will have lifted over the lake, and, for the delegates, perhaps the future for the European Union will be looking clearer too.

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