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National governments, too, are benefiting, as private-sector gains in efficiency and productivity raise the pressure to overhaul restrictive or anticompetitive policies. The French Parliament this month finally buried the 35-hour workweek, and Germany has overhauled its unemployment-insurance system. Elected officials may well fear the political fallout from such dramatic moves, but in the medium- and long-term their economies and maybe even their voters will thank them. Financial markets are also feeling the impact as central banks in places like Russia are shifting more of their reserves into euros. After all, who wants to keep buying assets that lose value?
Yes, there's a downside. A strengthening euro leaves little margin for error. When profits are being squeezed, bad investment or strategy decisions can be fatal. European bankruptcies are still on the rise. And Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan this month warned that European firms won't be able to swallow their profits indefinitely they'll have to raise prices or pull out of the market altogether. But perhaps the biggest loser is the European consumer. Because of restrictive pricing laws in most of Continental Europe and the reluctance of retailers to sacrifice profits savings from imported goods priced in dollars have not been passed on. Many of the hottest American items, from the Apple iPod to Gap jeans, still cost far more in Europe than they do in the U.S. That's a shame, since what's hurting Europe's economy most is weak consumer demand. Some well-hyped price cuts these savings are brought to you courtesy of the strong euro could be just what the Continent needs to get truly back into shape and stay there.