What is Europe all about? A conglomerate of different nations, partly united by a common currency? Countries presenting a tedious mixture of very different views and opinions, sometimes culminating in a clash of interests? An old and over mature region, lazy and mainly interested in vacation, working just 35 hours a week and retiring long before the age of 64? A rich area known for its outstanding achievements in the fields of technology, environment, medicine, legal affairs, trade regulations, social life and welfare? Or just an appendix to dominating US or Asia, respectively, with too high labor wages and unable to react properly to changing requirements? Of course, we can add many more theses to this catalog, and we will find that every explanation may vary depending on subject, point of view, political preference and other concepts.
A ready-made answer isn’t at hand, and in this spot I have to concentrate on trade, economy and technology. So, just a short look at the bottomline. Currently, the EU is being formed by 15 states representing a population of about 370m. Three of them (UK, Denmark and Sweden) are not participating in the euro system, and Switzerland, Norway and Iceland haven’t become part of the EU yet, as well as all countries extending from the eastern borders of Germany and Austria (with the exception of Greece). The common currency system has been in effect for approximately 300m of the population, but started at the worst time possible for such a huge project.
Europe has been hit hard by a recession, but to different degrees. It seems that European countries not participating in the euro system are not having such a difficult time now, and the figures in electronics business from France, Italy and Spain are apparently not as bad as those from Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Scandinavia. In this vista, Germany, with a population of 23% of the entire EU, plays a role as a driving force in trade, business and industry. The economy in this country has been in turbulence as a result of insufficient administration efforts for a very long time, leading to lacking trade and business figures. But these aren’t only German troubles, all neighboring countries can feel the effect when a driving force degenerates to a lame duck. Especially when these countries have formed a common trade and currency region.
Then we have this study on world competitiveness from the IMD (Institute of Management Development) located in Lausanne/Switzerland, producing a list every year of countries and their position. The other organization generating such a survey is the World Economic Forum (WEF), also located in Lausanne, und supplying similar results. They try to give an order of competitiveness, based on hundreds of single criteria, such as export strength, gross domestic product, efficiency of administration and industry, etc. According to IMD, the US is in number-one position, second is Finland, third Luxemburg, fourth Netherlands. Ireland, Sweden, Austria, Germany, UK, Norway and Belgium are ranging between position 10 and 18. Then follows France with 22 and Italy with 32. Other interesting countries are listed as follows: Singapore 5, Hong Kong 10 and Japan with 30.
From this it can be seen that especially small European countries must apparently be better economical players than their larger neighbors are. Can this really be a true description? Take for example Luxemburg, almost invisible on high-scale maps (0.45m inhabitants), or huge Finland (the so-called Nokia Oy), with its mere 5m people. It is understood that geographical size or number of population alone can never be a measure for the performance of a national economy. But it needs an asset of domestic markets, capital to invest in many different projects and a wealth of different industries, small and big, to develop innovations further and provide a steady ground flow of trade and business. For example, the City of London, mecca of the financiers of the world, ranges with Great Britain under position 16. Such studies on competitiveness will or can probably not take into account all aspects of the performance of national economies, but do provide pointers to possible scenarios. Used intelligently, they can be helpful in some ways but they don’t represent the only truth.
Gerhard B. Wolski