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Benetton boss: Germany needs Europe

From Juliet Mann, CNN
January 5, 2012 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The head of Benetton says Europe's southern economies should not be discounted
  • Alessandro Benetton says Germany needs Europe just as much as Europe needs Germany
  • He thinks southern countries should be encouraged to behave better

(CNN) -- As fears rise around emergence of a "two-speed" eurozone, the head of Italian clothing giant Benetton says the region's southern economies should not be discounted.

The eurozone's debt crisis has exacerbated a split between the strong economies, led by Germany, and those which are struggling, such as Italy.

However Alessandro Benetton, deputy executive chairman of the retailer -- which has 6,400 stores across 120 countries -- told CNN: "Germany needs Europe just as much as Europe needs Germany."

While Benetton acknowledges southern Europe is not producing as much as its northern counterparts, he said they should not be ignored. "If Germany thinks it can do it by itself without Europe, I think it's wrong because in a global market the critical mass is important," he said.

Political tensions between Germany and countries such as Italy, and Greece, which triggered the crisis, have intensified as the crisis continues to roll on. But Benetton said countries including his homeland still have a role to play in the eurozone. "Rather than throwing them out of the boat, I think you should encourage them to behave better," he said.

Benetton is talking from experience -- the former investment banker was brought into the family business when the clothing chain was being challenged by cheaper, fast-fashion brands. The brand also faced down controversy last year with its "unhate" campaign featuring international leaders kissing each other. The campaign was cut after doctored images of the pope kissing a male Muslim cleric which were labeled by some as offensive.

Controversies aside, the company remains a family business with Benetton's father, Luciano, chairman of the group. And it is this family structure which remains the backbone of Italian business, with 90% of the country's economy based on SMEs.

Benetton acknowledges there are problems associated with that. "If the cost of the money is too high for the bank, it will not be accessible to small entrepreneurs and that can be very dangerous," he said.

Benetton said Italy's major problems are its aging population and high youth unemployment, rather than its ability to repay debt. "It's not whether we will be able to pay, a company that grows with a business model that is successful always pays it debts," he said. "It is just a matter of time."

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