Economy & Business Environment Blog

Ilaria Maselli

Ilaria Maselli was appointed Senior Economist Europe of The Conference Board in April 2016. Ilaria has been affiliated with The Brussels-based think tank the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) since 2007, in her latest position as a Research Fellow.

Her main area of expertise is the analysis of labour markets, in particular their interaction with education and technological change. She is one of the authors of the recently published book Let’s Get to Work! The Future of Labour in Europe. In 2014 she also co-authored two studies on the added value of a European unemployment benefit scheme. She is also an expert in the macroeconomic performance of the Euro Area, and Europe more widely.

She has worked on a number of European Union research projects, including the NEUJOBS consortium that focused on the future of employment in Europe and included representation from 25 European institutes, including CEPS and The Conference Board.

She holds a Master Degree in from the University of Bologna and undertook further training in economics at the University of Leuven.
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Posts by Ilaria Maselli

Three Trump Actions That Could Rattle Europe’s Economy

March 29, 2017 | No Comments »
More on: Global economic outlook, Growth, Productivity & Competitiveness, Measuring social impact, Sustainability, innovation & growth

While no longer fashionable in the popular discourse, trade has been a key engine of prosperity. Relations across the Atlantic have been solid and deep but recent recommendations from the White House risk souring that economic friendship.

Admittedly, TTIP has never been really popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and the Trump Administration might well put the nail in the coffin. Today, maintaining the status quo looks like the best case scenario as a result of the following three Trump proposals. If they’re enacted, they look all but certain to keep Europe’s business and policymakers up at night.

1.  The border adjustment tax

While still under consideration, the proposed border adjustment tax calls for goods and services entering America to face a price adjustment. It would resemble a VAT but a crucial difference is that it would apply only to imports. The Trump Administration and others in Washington suggest the idea as a way of collecting revenue to accommodate for the resulting shortfall from steep tax cuts, and to promote a protectionist agenda focused on “Buy American”.

Moving from a production to a destination-based tax system in the world’s leading economy can have gigantic consequences for business worldwide. Even though economic theory suggests that the tax could be entirely offset by an equivalent appreciation of the dollar, it is difficult to imagine that this happens entirely and fast enough to avoid adaptation measures.

The border adjustment tax could force European companies to cut costs to stay competitive and to reorganise their supply chains to source locally to serve the North American market. While there may be some advantages to that, such as being more environmentally friendly, local sourcing faces constraints of various kinds: availability of natural resources as well as capabilities and know-how that goes into the production of goods and services. As a result of the adjustments that the tax would engineer, business in the US and Europe will face higher costs. That will inevitably translate into higher prices for consumers.

2.  TTIP is out; new tariffs may be in

Once upon a time, there were talks to harmonise regulations between America and the EU to strengthen trade and prepare the rules for the 21st century. Now discussions centre on complicating and increasing them. While TTIP remains in a deep freeze, talk of new fines coming out of the Trump White House are alive and well.

If the border adjustment tax does not go through, an increase in tariffs could be the other barrier to trade. One proposal under consideration – as an example – is to slap 100% tariffs on European meats and Vespa scooters. Tariffs would translate into much higher prices for American consumers and higher costs for American companies that use European products as intermediate input. Moreover, they are rarely unilateral: Since the border adjustment tax and ad-hoc tariffs are not compliant with the World Trade Organisation rules, these measures are likely to trigger retaliation.

A trade war would harm Europeans exporters that contribute to a surplus worth €100 billion with the US. This surplus derives from the export of goods divided between 11% of agricultural products and 88% manufacturers in 2016.

3.  Corporate tax wars

It may surprise Europeans that the US corporate income tax rate ranks highest among mature economies, at 35%. To put that in perspective, the Finns pay 20%, the French pay 34%, the Irish pay 13%, and the Italians pay 28%. At the same time, revenue from corporate taxes as a percentage of GDP is among the lowest, because of loops in the tax law and profit shifting.

Corporate taxation (a national competence in the EU) is a delicate issue for Europeans – just consider the irritation from the $13 billion fine the Commission issued to Apple in 2016. Well-paid lawyers have engineered dizzying tax arrangements to take advantage of the lack of harmonisation in Europe and the loopholes created by the existence of a single market without a single taxation.

The risk of new tax competition from the US will likely exacerbate this tension among EU member states that use tax rates to compete amongst each other for business. Not only that: it would blow the new attempt by the European Commission to create a common tax base for large companies that operate in the single market (i.e., firms with a global turnover of over €750 million per year).

As a result, trust in the EU is damaged, fueled by eurosceptics who use the case of taxation to argue that the EU serves the purposes of multinationals better than its citizens. In the midst of this eternal contention, proving that large companies are willing to pay their fair share of taxes is left to individual will and stewardship.

This piece originally appeared in “EurActiv.”

Italy says no, Renzi resigns, what to know about the Italian referendum

December 14, 2016 | No Comments »
More on: Economic Indicators & Forecasting, Global economic outlook, Global Value Chains, Growth, Productivity & Competitiveness, Labor Markets

This blog was written by Ilaria Maselli, Brian Schaitkin, and Klaas de Vries.

Asked whether they agree or not with a set of changes to the Constitution, 65 percent of Italians (almost 33 million voters) showed up to answer on Sunday December 4. The response was a loud no: 59.1 percent of the votes. How did this referendum become such a critical question not just in Italy but also for the global economy?

  • In the past weeks some commentators made the connection between an eventual no win and the risk for Italy to leave the Euro Area. The initial reaction from the markets was quite mild and contradicted this argument. The spread between the interest rates on Italian and German government bond (a common measure of sovereign risk in Europe) did increase initially, albeit limitedly (on December 14 is 150 base points). This is because key economic agents anticipated the risk of a no vote.
  • The no side was driven to victory by strong support from those under 35 years old, while those who were 55+ voted to support the referendum. Despite vast disparities in wealth among regions, the referendum was rejected everywhere except for Italians voting abroad. The share of no-votes was particularly high in southern regions.
  • Urgent issues on the table of the resigning government are the Budget law for 2017 and the recapitalization of the banks. Monte dei Paschi is on the top of the list, but it is not the only bank that is suffering due to a combination of bad management and large amount of non-performing loans after years of stagnant growth. As many as 360 billion euros of credit are at risk of not being paid back to banks after years of economic stagnation.
  • One way of thinking about this referendum is as “the anti-catennacio referendum,” named for the famously defensive style of generations of Italian national football teams. The aim of the referendum was to change the structure of government to make possible the more ambitious reforms former PM Matteo Renzi had in mind even when they conflicted with entrenched interests. Growth in Italy has been shallow for the past two decades. When Greece and Spain were experiencing a boom before the 2008/09 recession, Italy was struggling to achieve a 1.5 percent GDP growth. Since then, unemployment has remained stubbornly high, especially among the young.
  • The rejection of the reform is a lost chance of modernizing the economy and making product market reforms easier. As our global economic outlook model shows, the problems with the Italian economy are mostly on the supply side. Since 1999, total factor productivity – that is efficiency with which production factors, labor and capital, are being used in the productivity process – contributed negatively to growth (see chart). In other words, talents, capital, ideas, credit started to match in a less efficient way compared to the past.
  • There is no room for optimism down the road: the new Gentiloni government has a narrow mandate. This means that the lack of further reforms risks making Italy a less and less attractive place for business. This will eventually translate into even slower growth.


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Young Brit studying in Belgium? Old Brit retired to France? EU citizen working in the UK? Brexit will harm you.

June 17, 2016 | No Comments »
More on: Economic Indicators & Forecasting, Global economic outlook, Global Value Chains, Growth, Productivity & Competitiveness, Labor Markets, Looming labor shortages

With only one week to go, the June 23 vote on the UK’s membership of the European Union is important not only for UK citizens and the British economy, but for the entire EU. A Brexit vote will significantly limit the mobility of students, workers, and businesses, whether they reside in the UK or continental Europe. Doing business or simply moving across the English Channel will become far more difficult.

1. Students will pay more. If the “Leaves” win, British students will no longer be able to register for school in Belgium and the Netherlands, where they can earn their degrees for lower fees andavoid student loans. At the same time, European students who dream of a degree from Oxford may lose access to the reduced tuition UK natives pay. The London School of Economics, to name another top UK school, charges 9,000 pounds to Britons and EU students, and almost twice as much to those coming from overseas.

2. Retired workers will pay more. And shiver more. For many of the 700,000 Britons who reside in Spain and 200,000 who reside in France, a “Leave” vote could uproot them from sunny, comfortable, and affordable retirements in southern Europe. The reason: they could lose access to both the healthcare and welfare systems of their adopted homes. Such access issues also apply to Britons are still employed in EU countries. Additionally, there will be an increased administrative burden for their employers.

3. EU workers in the UK might have to go home. The “Leave” campaign is increasingly focused on those who, every year, leave Poland, Italy and Spain to escape unemployment and earn a better wage in London or Edinburgh. There are currently 2.1 million workers in the UK from other EU countries. That number is equivalent to seven percent of the British workforce, with highest concentrations around London—and includes N’Golo Kante, the French star of the Leicester City football team. A Brexit will make them foreign workers overnight, imposing compliance burdens on businesses. The migration observatory at the University of Oxford estimates that in case of Brexit, as many as 70 percent of these workers might not be eligible for the so-called “Tier 2” visa, currently the main visa category for labor migration from outside the EU.

Even British Prime Minister David Cameron, the most prominent campaigner for the “Remains,” has promised to keep net migration from the EU below 100,000 per year. But the “Leave” camp argues that he won’t be able to keep this promise. They may be right. If the UK remains part of the EU, it cannot impose such limits on the mobility of people within the EU.

There are at least two reasons, however, why the status quo—a win for the “Stronger IN”—will ultimately benefit the UK’s economy:

1) Employment rates are higher among EU nationals compared to Britons in the UK

EU nationals who live in the UK have higher employment rates than native Britons: 83.8 versus 78.6 percent, respectively. This is mainly so because EU nationals living in Britain are mostly in the working-age bracket. This also means that proportionally they contribute to the welfare system more than locals. Moreover, EU citizens who work in the UK have very high labor force participation rates, which suggests that a large proportion of these workers is highly skilled.

Ilaira chart 1

                  Source: Eurostat and The Conference Board

2) The labor market is getting tight in the UK

The unemployment rate in the UK is currently below its long-term rate of 6.3 percent. 4.9 percent is the rate recorded in February 2016. While the joblessness rate drops, job vacancies increase: according to Eurostat (European Labor Force Survey), in the third quarter of 2015 there were 756,000 job vacancies in the UK.

In times of high unemployment one can more easily expect an anti-migration rhetoric to spread easily, but in the current economic circumstances limiting the number of EU nationals will translate into stronger pressure on private sector companies to find talent. When the labor market is tight, companies face problems not only finding, but also retaining their workers.[2]

Ilaria chart 2     

          Source: Haver Analytics and The Conference Board


The combination of an aging population and low and decreasing unemployment makes the risk of labor shortages for the business sector a concrete, and, soon, an urgent issue. This is true not only for the UK but for most European countries where the slow growth of productivity does not compensate for the risk of an aging and shrinking labor force. However, the issue is particularly pressing in the UK and Germany thanks to the vitality of the labor market.

All in all, an analysis of the migration issue that is rooted in data rather than emotions suggests that any limit to the mobility of people and workers within the EU would be detrimental for the British labor market, and for all Europeans with an interest in the UK.


[1] Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: May 2016, Office for National Statistics.

[2] See: Help Wanted: What Looming Labor Shortages Mean for Your Business, The Conference Board, April 2016.


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