Tony Byrne voiced what is probably the view of the majority in his criticism of Europe. I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to put a contrary view.
It is not so much that life outside the EU would be that much worse but inside it we have the chance to be so much better. If you do not like something it can only effectively be changed from within.
Compared with our immediate European neighbours,we work longer hours, have fewer holidays and on average live in smaller dwellings. In 2000, the average hours worked per day in the UK was 8.7 compared with 7.7 in Italy and 7.9 in France. Spain was nearest at 8.1.
We had 28 days holiday per year compared with France with 47 and Germany (with the least) at 41.
As far as cost of living is concerned, France was 7 per cent lower, Germany 8 per cent, Spain 26 per cent less and Italy 23 per cent lower.
In 2001, by standard measure of wealth (GDP in PPS per inhabitant), we came in at eighth place out of 15.
Our stockmarket was the poorest performer between 2000 and 2004. When taking indexation into account, the stockmarket actually went backwards. Success?
Compared with our immediate neighbours, our quality of life still lags well behind.I would rather use the French health service or the German railways.
We are 11th out of the 15 in terms of spending on social protection per head – not much to be proud of.
Set that against income and wealth taxes, social contributions and other transfers in the UK are 32 per cent of total household income (2002 figure – probably more now). In France, it is 25 per cent, in Germany 33 per cent, in Spain and Italy 29 per cent. We have the second-highest loss of total gross income. What do we get for our money?
But we are European champions in spending. We spend 95 per cent of disposable household income. In France it is 84.2 per cent, Germany 84.9 per cent, Spain 88.4 per cent and Italy 89.8 per cent.
These are savings ratios of between double and triple ours. They have a better standard of living and still manage to save. I'll have a piece of that.
Over the past 25 years, the UK has had a lower economic growth than any of its major competitors. (purchasing power income per head). One of the most startling statistics from the OECD was that at the current rate of growth Poland will overtake us in 15 years time. How sad.
A change in political, economic and constitutional power cannot be any worse than the clots we have got.
Pro-Europeans are obviously men of vision who look further forward than the next election. It is nothing to do with empire building, just economic survival. And it is working. The EU's share of the world's total trade in services is ahead of the US by some 20 per cent in 2001 and only slightly behind in goods.
What is the immediate advantage to financial services and the public at large?
I agree with Tony Byrne that the UK financial services industry is more advanced than that of our EU partners. But that is a case for opting in. Unit trusts have been converted into OEICs and ICVCs. This is wasted effort with a currency differential. Who wants to buy term insurance denominated in sterling if you live in Belgium? Then, of course, there is the complete wiping out of currency risk – that has to be a worthwhile goal.
I also have sympathy with the matter concerning interpreters. I propose that the official EU language is Italian.It will stop all the squabbling with France. Italian is the most mellifluous and beautiful language in the world. It was the original European language (in its older form). Learning a language is a good discipline and Italian is the least spoken of the five principal tongues. Best of all, we will all be able to follow the opera.
Remember, we have a German Queen and Austrian Prince, born in Greece. Our history abounds with our European links from Caesar to Albert of Saxe Coburg.
History tells us we are European. We are denying our heritage as well as our future by not embracing the opportunities that await us.
Harry Katz is managing director of Norwest Consulting