Saturday, January 15, 2011

15/01/2011: EU's claim to fame in 2010

I promised some time ago to post on EU's marvelous youtube video (here) which talks about all the things that the EU allegedly did for its citizens in 2010 (hat tip to the OpenEurope.org).

As you would notice - watching the official video - there some pretty good things that the EU delivered in 2010, although many of these, such as the EU work in the areas of justice are long running themes. But one cannot avoid several absolutely ludicrous claims.

Here's the biggest whooper:
One doesn't need a PhD in Finance or Economics to understand that 2010 was the year of:
  • Jobless and anemic recoveries across a number of EU states;
  • Continued recession across a number of other EU states;
  • Acute and still ongoing crisis in sovereign debt markets; and
  • Virtually EU-wide austerity marking the unsustainable nature of European economic model
Actually, one only needs to read through EU-own flagship policy document from 2010 - Europe 2020 (here) - to see that (quoting from the preamble):
"2010 must mark a new beginning... The last two years have left millions unemployed. It has brought a burden of debt that will last for many years. It has brought new pressures on our social cohesion. It has also exposed some fundamental truths about the challenges that the European economy faces. And in the meantime, the global economy is moving forward... The crisis is a wake-up call, the moment where we recognise that "business as usual" would consign us to a gradual decline, to the second rank of the new global order. This is Europe's moment of truth."

So if anything, per EU own admission, the crisis is not over and for EU, the wake-up call from the crisis is yet to arrive. Note that what Europe 2020 refers to the 'moment we recognize the business as usual would consign us to a gradual decline' as timed beyond June 2011 when the Commission expects European Parliament's and Member States approval of its agenda.

But here's EU Commission own assessment of EU's progression toward 'securing a sound economy' - quoting directly from Europe 2020:

  • Europe's average growth rate has been structurally lower than that of our main economic partners, largely due to a productivity gap that has widened over the last decade. Much of this is due to differences in business structures combined with lower levels of investment in R&D and innovation, insufficient use of information and communications technologies, reluctance in some parts of our societies to embrace innovation, barriers to market access and a less dynamic business environment.
  • In spite of progress, Europe's employment rates – at 69% on average for those aged 20-64 – are still significantly lower than in other parts of the world. Only 63% of women are in work compared to 76% of men. Only 46% of older workers (55-64) are employed compared to over 62% in the US and Japan. Moreover, on average Europeans work 10% fewer hours than their US or Japanese counterparts.
  • Demographic ageing is accelerating. As the baby-boom generation retires, the EU's active population will start to shrink as from 2013/2014. The number of people aged over 60 is now increasing twice as fast as it did before 2007 – by about two million every year compared to one million previously. The combination of a smaller working population and a higher share of retired people will place additional strains on our welfare systems.
So no sight of 'secured sound economy' in sight here. And as far as financial markets go, here is an article summarizing the four scenarios for the Euro that FT Deutschland published last month. You judge if having any one of the four outlined by the FT:
  • Continued crisis, or
  • A de jure and de facto two speed Europe, or
  • A break up of the EU into two blocks precipitated by a Lehmans-like event in European sovereign debt markets, or
  • A total collapse of the Euro
constitute a 'secured stronger financial market'.

Now on to the second most outlandish claim made in the video:
The very same - yet to be fully approved and implemented - Europe 2020 agenda is focused heavily on the need to:
  • create new jobs and
  • boost small businesses
If this was already achieved by the EU in 2010 as Commission video claims, why, may I ask, should the EU worry enough about these objectives to plan to deliver on them by 2020?

Here's what Europe 2020 says: "Europe must act:
  • Employment: Due to demographic change, our workforce is about to shrink. Only two-thirds of our working age population is currently employed, compared to over 70% in the US and Japan. The employment rate of women and older workers are particularly low. Young people have been severely hit by the crisis, with an unemployment rate over 21%. There is a strong risk that people away or poorly attached to the world of work lose ground from the labour market.
  • Skills: About 80 million people have low or basic skills, but lifelong learning benefits mostly the more educated. By 2020, 16 million more jobs will require high qualifications, while the demand for low skills will drop by 12 million jobs. Achieving longer working lives will also require the possibility to acquire and develop new skills throughout the lifetime
Does the above quote suggest that in 2010 the EU has 'created new jobs'? Not really.

Here's Eurostat's latest data release: "The euro area (EA16) seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate3 was 10.1% in November 2010, unchanged compared with October. It was 9.9% in November 2009. The EU27 unemployment rate was 9.6% in November 2010, unchanged compared with October. It was 9.4% in November 2009." So recap - through November, 2010 marked a yar of rising unemployment across the EU and the Euro zone. What 'new jobs created'?

Eurostat puts some more real numbers on the EU claim: "Eurostat estimates that 23.248 million men and women in the EU27, of whom 15.924 million were in the euro area, were unemployed in November 2010. Compared with November 2009, unemployment rose by 606 000 in the EU27 and by 347 000 in the euro area." So year on year, some 606,000 jobs were destroyed on the net across Europe, not 'new jobs created'.

Here's the chart:
But may be, just may be the EU did deliver on some other economic performance indicator in 2010?

How about inflation? Eurostat again: "Euro area annual inflation was 2.2% in December 20102, up from 1.9% in November. A year earlier the rate was 0.9%. EU annual inflation was 2.6% in December 2010, up from 2.3% in November. A year earlier the rate was 1.5%." Oops.

External trade? Eurostat nails it: "The first estimate for the November 2010 extra-EU27 trade balance was a €14.7 bn deficit, compared with -7.3 bn in November 2009 [worsening deficit on trade account year on year]. [and also worsening trade account month on month] In October 2010 the balance was -7.9 bn, compared with -6.4 bn in October 2009. In November 2010 compared with October 2010, seasonally adjusted exports rose by 0.3% and imports by 6.1%."

But wait - what about growth? Eurostat: "In comparison with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose in the third quarter 2010 by 1.9% in the euro area and by 2.2% in the EU27, after +2.0% in both zones in the second quarter." So yes, growth returned, but it was extremely anemic and what's worse - in the Euro area it has deteriorated in Q3 2010 relative to Q2 2010. At any rate, the Commission can't relaly make any claims about 2010 growth because the numbers for Q4 are not in yet and Q3 numbers are still provisional.

"Stop", you shout - "they made a claim about small businesses boost - address that!" Can't and neither can the EU Commission, since
Notice that the database for SMEs page was last updated by the Eurostat on 14.10.2010. And that's despite EU Commission setting strategic priority in early 2010 to significantly increase growth amongst SMEs in 2011-2020.

In other words, the EU's claim of boosting small business in 2010 is, folks, non-falsifiable, or translated from the philosophy of science language - pure fiction.

As an indicator strongly instrumental for SMEs, let's take a look at entrepreneurship. Here is a useful link to OECD analysis, conducted jointly with Eurostat.

Couple of charts from November 2010 OECD publication on the topic (notice these cover data through Q2 2010):
Clearly, with exception of the UK and Denmark, no EU country posted an increase in entrepreneurship rates in 2010.

And for the laughs, here's No Comment claim to EU fame
Now, we are truly saved!
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