In the run-up to Maastricht and the single European market, debate focused on the possibility of a two-speed Europe - Germany, France and the Benelux states moving ahead while the UK, Spain and Italy with relatively high inflation rates and less stable currencies remained in the slow lane. The break-up of the ERM turned much of this reasoning on its head, says Schroder Economics. Following the first ERM crisis in September 1992, sterling, the lira and the peseta devalued while the German mark, French franc and Dutch guilder maintained their value within the system. Since then sterling has held its own while the peseta and lira have further devalued. As a consequence of devaluation and improved competitiveness, 'slow-track' countries have achieved better export growth than their 'fast-track' counterparts. Italy and Spain have seen substantial gains in their share of export markets, while Germany and France have suffered losses. The UK's export share has also increased although the main source of recovery has been consumer spending. Growth in the core economies has also suffered as the high real interest rates needed to keep their currencies in line with the DM have constrained domestic activity. With the Bundesbank only easing its policy slowly, the slow-track economies are set to outperform for another year.
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