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European Union Mobility Success

Article from Simon Kuper in the FT Financial Times:


Why Europe works.  Mobility is everything in a region where nations live in fruitful proximity… 

Nowadays some Europeans change their country faster than their socks, especially in the “Eurostar triangle” of London-Paris-Brussels. This connectivity is most common among the elite but is spreading wider. Western Europe today is surely the most interlinked region in global history. That explains why – contrary to popular opinion – it remains the most successful region on earth…



… Mobile Europeans have been exchanging ideas for centuries. The “scientific revolution” of the 16th and 17th centuries happened here because our scientists were near each other, debating with each other in their shared language: Latin….

The proximity of so many nations also brought frequent wars. Eventually, in 1945, the continent was separated. After 1989, when I began crossing the Iron Curtain, I had a series of shocks: the people on the other side weren’t exotic at all. Despite communism, they seemed distinctly European…

From the 1950s – and especially after 1989 – Europe converted its unique proximity from a threat into an opportunity. On January 1 1993, the EU legally became a single market. By 1996, Ryanair, EasyJet and the Eurostar were carrying people around Europe. From Frankfurt airport today, you can fly within three hours to dozens of countries, containing more than 500 million people. That is the world’s densest network. For comparison: the only foreign capital you can reach from Tokyo within that time is Seoul, and from New York even Ottawa is further away…..


Crossing European borders keeps getting easier….

… Admittedly, one form of interconnection still barely exists in Europe: labour mobility. Of the EU’s 506 million citizens, only 14 million (or 2.8 per cent) live in another EU state to their own. Very few southern Europeans have emigrated during the crisis….

And when Europeans do emigrate, they often go outside the EU. Ireland dispatches its many migrants chiefly within the Anglosphere: to the UK, US, Australia and Canada. Shared language still trumps shared European passports. Free movement of labour is a European reality only in London, Luxembourg and Brussels….

Foreign observers need apocalypse narratives to make Europe’s tame politics interesting. But most Europeans have been vaccinated against utopianism by their continent’s past. They don’t believe that armies goose-stepping to the national anthem will usher in Valhalla. Anyway, most Europeans – excluding young people in Mediterranean countries – still enjoy the safest, fairest and most comfortable daily life on earth. A few statistics:


• Most countries where people can expect to live to 82 or longer are European, according to the World Health Organisation.

• On the UN’s human development index, Estonia, Slovakia and even Greece still outrank Qatar, despite its wealth.

• Most “emerging economies” lag Europe by decades. Greek income per capita is double Brazil’s, more than three times China’s and 15 times India’s, according to the World Bank.

• Europe accounts for seven of the top nine countries on the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index, six of the top eight in Transparency International’s corruption perception index and the 17 countries with most income equality, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency’s ranking. 


In short, Europe still spreads its gains pretty well.  All this adds up to a European dream: dozens of nations living together in harmony and freedom, with unmatched exchanges across borders and with the world’s highest quality of life if not highest incomes.

The European dream appears quite stable. China may be heading for a bump in the road if its population ever demands democracy. Russia had a period of fast growth (with precious little benefit for most Russians) but what happens if Vladimir Putin is becoming a military adventurer? Europe looks to have those traumas behind it. Nor has it become an American-style plutocracy.

Europe still has lots to learn. A French friend recently attended a Californian reception packed with brilliant French engineers working in Silicon Valley. He came home thinking: “What would it take to bring those people back to France?” That’s the sort of question Europeans need to ask: how to convert their wonderful idea networks into Apples and Googles? London, Europe’s de facto business capital, with its budding tech sector, may be finding an answer. If it does, the rest of the continent will try to copy it, because nonstop cross-border learning is still the secret of Europe’s success.’



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