Monday, May 24, 2004

Central European economies surge ahead

An Austrian report suggests that the new members of the EU will see something like 4.2% GDP growth this year and 4.4% next, which implies a rapid catching-up process between them and the rich EU. (What of those migrant hordes now? If you're reading this and you spotted a horde, can you make yourself known? There's a good chap.) Not only that, but they should benefit further as the growth rate in the rich EU picks up (2% this year, 2.4% next. Which isn't going to set the Rhine alight, but it's a sight better than media-popular belief would suggest). And, I suppose, the rest of the EU ought to feel the benefit too as investment there pays off. There is, to be sure, a distinction between small and large - Lithuania will see 6.9% growth, the Czech Republic 3.0% this year. But I suspect this is bearable. The figures for the Czechs, for example, show an uptick to 3.5% next year. Can anyone say they would not have settled for 3.5% GDP growth in practically any year post-war in the UK?

Whatever the unevennesses, it is worth noting that even Macedonia is seeing 4% annual growth. I remember thinking when I lived in Vienna that the Austrians weren't so much worried about immigrants and "welfare tourists" as the poisoned political discourse suggested - in fact, as many were worried about the competition. Enlargement may yet turn out to be the best decision the EU ever made.

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