Price Level Convergence and Inflation in Europe

Working Paper
01-1
January 2001

Consumer price inflation in the euro area declined steadily during most of the 1990s. However, in the last two years, both headline and core inflation have risen throughout the area, and sizable cross-country differences in inflation have re-emerged. This is illustrated by Figure 1, which shows the headline consumer price inflation rate for the euro area as a whole and for select member countries. As of October 2000, all euro area countries had headline inflation rates above the European Central Bank’s 2 percent medium-term ceiling, with rates ranging from 2.1 percent in France and Austria to 6 percent in Ireland. In Greece, which will join the euro area on 1 January 2001, inflation was 3.8 percent.

One factor, discussed prominently in policymaking circles, that may be contributing to crosscountry differences in inflation is price level convergence or “inflation catch-up”. According to the argument, if prices expressed in a common currency are initially different across countries, convergence to a common level of prices implies higher inflation in countries where prices are initially low. There are several reasons to expect at least some price convergence in Europe. Progress toward a single market, including already completed trade liberalization and adoption of the single currency, should narrow differences in common-currency prices across countries, at least for traded goods. To the extent that the currency conversion rates chosen at the launch of the euro did not equate price levels across the euro area, scope remained for further price convergence after January 1999.