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Meet the winners of MGI’s Opportunity for Europe prize

This week, McKinsey Global Institute proudly announced the winners of its first-ever MGI Opportunity for Europe essay prize. Out of 401 submissions from as far away as New Zealand, a blind judging panel helmed by Pascal Lamy, former secretary general of the World Trade Organization and a former European commissioner, chose the three winners. MGI gathered the winners on Tuesday night in Brussels to celebrate.

Dan Ciuriak
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Dan Ciuriak, director of Ciuriak Consulting in Ottawa, Canada, and Volker Brühl, managing director of the Center for Financial Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany, split the top prize of €60,000. The €25,000 prize for best essay by an author under 30 went to Antoine Levy, a French national and PhD candidate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The winners focused on different aspects of Europe’s political economy. Dan drew on his wide-ranging 31-year-long career as a public servant in Canada—most recently as the deputy chief economist in the Department of Foreign Affairs—to propose a variety of policies. “When you’re a deputy economist in a trade department, you do everything,” he explained. “There’s a lot of room for the cross-fertilization of ideas.”

“We’ve been having jobless recoveries, and it’s because the use of low interest rates has been pricing labor out of the market.” Thus, he calls for a debt jubilee, wherein the European Central Bank could buy up public debt and then cancel it. This, according to Dan, would “allow fiscal policy to get back into the game of macroeconomic stabilization.” He is eager for policy makers to get away from the supply side and back into the demand side of economics.

“When I retired,” Dan recalled, “my objective was to take up the cello, but the world came calling, and one thing lead to another.” His consulting company grew, involved him heavily in European issues, and took him to the European conference circuit, where discussions about growth and innovation swirled, in particular, examining how the European Union could replicate the successes of the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Dan devotes a portion of his essay to addressing this question.

As he explains it, “if my computer were operating as poorly as the European economy is, I would shut down and reboot it.” 

Volker Bruhl
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Volker Brühl, meanwhile, focuses on the importance of reforming the Stability and Growth Pact to provide more leeway for public investments. “In my view, it’s crucial to distinguish between government-raised debt for public consumption and for public investments, which is currently not the case.” According to him, that kind of reform could help promote investments in growth without detracting from the fiscal-consolidation process in Europe.

Volker is grateful that the contest is drawing much-needed attention to the future of the European economy. “I am convinced of the European idea, and my interest in the topic is both personal and professional.” He plans to continue refining and researching the issues raised in his essay.

Antoine Levy
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Antoine Levy argues that the prospect of a robust European economy means little without reforms to how decisions are made in the European Union. “The general idea is that we need reforms in Europe to take into account not only the end product, but also the process how we get there. Saying there’s [economic] light at the end of the tunnel isn’t enough.” And not only that, he continues, but growth in and of itself “doesn’t ensure the well-being of people.” He makes policy suggestions about how to distribute growth equitably and adaptively.

As a 23-year-old French national, Antoine understands the ambivalence that many in his generation feel toward those in power. “There’s a tension between the daily benefits of living in the EU, like the ability to travel and study abroad, and then feeling excluded from decision making. In some sense, we feel taken hostage by others who have kicked the can down the road and avoided making the hard decisions.”

Are the three winners hopeful for the future?

“I am always optimistic,” Volker said. He believes that leaders in Brussels and at the national level can find a way forward to more growth. He adds, however, “This is certainly not an easy task given the heterogeneous economic landscape in Europe.”

According to Dan, Europe is kept at disequilibrium “because we have policy blinkers on that lead us to rule out the path to a better equilibrium. But we know what that better equilibrium looks like—the dynamic European economy of the early 2000s. We need a policy paradigm shift to get there, but we have seen such policy paradigm shifts before, and I see no reason why we can't engineer another one.”

For Antoine, it’s not a question of hope. “I think hope is not a sufficient condition—we need to stop with wishful thinking and hoping for the end result—and start working on the processes for how to get there.”

You can download a booklet containing a discussion of the context and objectives of the prize, the report from judging-panel chair Pascal Lamy, a summary of key themes in the essays, and the full text of the three winning entries. Jyrki Katainen, vice president of the European Commission, wrote a foreword. The prizes were awarded on October 12 at a dinner in Brussels hosted by Friends of Europe, MGI’s think-tank partner for the contest.