Interview with the Spanish Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs’ Associations (CEAJE)
Interview with Luis de Guindos, Vice-President of the ECB, conducted on 16 December 2022
27 December 2022
How do you see Spain in terms of entrepreneurship at European level? What’s the situation at present?
The situation we find ourselves in is truly unique owing to the huge uncertainty it brings. When the economy seemed to be reopening after two years of the pandemic and severe supply chain issues – which are still ongoing – war broke out in Europe, triggering another major crisis. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not only a human tragedy that we all hope can be brought to an end as soon as possible, but it is also having a clear impact on the economy and, by extension, on investment and entrepreneurship.
However, the euro area, including the Spanish corporate sector, has recovered well from the impact of the pandemic, especially the services sector, and has shown resilience in the face of the current higher energy and financing costs.
The measures taken during the pandemic, such as the Next Generation EU funds currently being paid out, have supported this recovery. Spain is one of the main beneficiaries of the programme. And as I have said before, I think Spain always provides a positive surprise. The results published in the latest RED GEM España report, which measures Spain’s entrepreneurial activity, confirm that entrepreneurship has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels and that female entrepreneurship is also on the rise.
What would you say are the future challenges facing companies in Spain? What should their main objective be?
The current economic environment of high inflation, low growth and tighter financing conditions poses considerable challenges for firms across the euro area and is affecting their overall competitiveness.
Moreover, the European economy faces two major tests in the coming years: digitalisation and the transition to a greener and more sustainable economy, which will be key to mitigating the effects of climate change.
The energy crisis is likely to have accelerated shifts in relative prices, which are here to stay. These price signals are crucial to incentivise energy saving and foster green investment, which could also create new opportunities.
In addition, it is also vital that, throughout this process, businesses do not lose sight of the importance of diversity and inclusion at all levels.
How do you see Spain in terms of business internationalisation in the short/medium term?
Spain is one of the four largest economies in the euro area. Its business landscape and international competitiveness are very important and beneficial for Europe as a whole.
I think that the future and success of European and Spanish firms will depend on the extent to which they can adapt and identify opportunities in the current environment and respond to current challenges like, as I said before, digitalisation and the transition to a more sustainable economy.
It seemed that businesses were starting to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel when the war broke out in Ukraine. How is it affecting our economy and, more specifically, young people starting their own businesses?
We are currently in a very difficult economic situation. The high inflation rates that we are seeing across Europe are coinciding with an economic slowdown and low growth. This situation undoubtedly presents a challenge for businesses and their sustainability. With a recession on the horizon, the current high uncertainty makes it all the more difficult for businesses and entrepreneurs to distribute their capital. So, against this backdrop, it is very important to be prudent.
Has inflation already peaked or is a colder than expected winter on the cards for Spanish firms and households?
Our latest macroeconomic projections, which we published on 15 December, show that the euro area economic outlook has deteriorated, with more persistent inflation than envisaged. Moreover, the ongoing energy crisis, elevated uncertainty, the global slowdown and tighter financing conditions are dragging down economic activity and have already led to a sharp slowdown in real GDP growth in the third quarter of 2022.
Based on our calculations, we expect inflation to fall to our 2% target in the second half of 2025.
The ECB is now planning to raise interest rates further, which will make it difficult to access credit, and yet prices continue to increase. How high are interest rates going to go?
That is something we will decide meeting by meeting and on the basis of incoming data, given the current high uncertainty. As we announced this month, there will be further, necessary, rate hikes until inflation is on a path back to close to our 2% target.
The United Kingdom has already said that it is in recession. Is Spain heading the same way?
Our macroeconomic projections foresee a short-lived and shallow recession in the euro area at the end of the year. However, we expect the economy to return to positive growth rates from the second quarter of 2023 and for these to remain in 2024 and 2025.
What main actions would you advise Spanish people to take to cope with this situation? And what would your advice be for businesses?
In my view, in this current period of uncertainty and economic slowdown it is very important that individuals and businesses alike are prudent and focus on the long term.
Lastly, what would you say to all those young people who want to change the world but are still afraid to take a chance on their plans, even more so now with the instability that Spain and the rest of Europe are experiencing?
My advice for all young entrepreneurs is to persevere, and to always do so with caution, despite the challenges. And I would encourage all young people to study, learn languages and get to grips with new technology so as to be prepared for the future and able to better manage situations of uncertainty or instability.