It seems that not only the shrinking UK economy, but most of Europe’s, has been stood out in the rain too long. Speaking at last week’s conference of the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE), the Editor of The Economist, Daniel Franklin, referred to Chambers as being where the future of the business community lays, and in present company he felt close to the engine room of the economy.
This, up to a point, was reassuring, as he was taking a longer-term view to the middle of this century.
Although there is a sense, he believes, that Europe’s economy is getting back on the right track, he warned against complacency and the self-congratulatory glow of “crisis averted”.
But with the relative decline of Europe’s share of global trade, and of population, his was not a wholly uplifting overview of things to come. Europe, he believes, will remain a leader in cultural, social, environmental and educational matters.
But with Europe’s ageing population, pensions and healthcare will be the source of many more headaches, and the “demographic dividend” that Asia and Africa have enjoyed – the benefit derived from the ratio of working-age to non-working-age people – will be conspicuously lacking in his view of Europe in 2050.
At the same conference, Trade & Investment Minister Lord Green regaled his audience with a series of success stories. These included British businesses exporting ice cream to Italy, chocolate to Belgium, sausages to Germany and eight out of ten cars produced in the UK being sold overseas. More Scotch whisky is being consumed in France in just one month, than the total amount of cognac they consume in a year.
So while there may be some very merry French people around, before the dossier on Europe’s economy can be stamped “Done, sorted” there will be many more mini-dramas in store.
On this side of the channel, the latest retail UK retail sales figures suggest that consumers are tiptoeing through the bluebells on their way back to the shops (and stopping to fill their tanks on the way), but with the recent large-scale redundancies that were announced across the South, it may be a while before we’re all singing “Return to spender”.