Insight: how five leading EU economies are navigating Brexit
When the UK voted for Brexit last June, not only did it break the heart of nearly half of its voting population but it also threatened to fracture the whole of the EU project right down the middle.
A Webcertain report on the five leading EU economies navigates these very uncertain times for the continent. Europe is struggling to find a common strategy, whether this concerns the thousands of displaced people that reach its shores every day, or the one nation that willingly decided to leave.
Less and less commonalities can be found between the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy today than twenty years ago, despite all the talk of “forceful” European policies being imposed on the member states. The European project seemed to do the impossible nearly 60 years ago.
In 1957, countries that had been on different sides of the world war conflict were united under a common organisation. Then the EEC repeated the miracle, roughly thirty years on, when the Iberian nations, stultified by many years of living under forceful dictatorial regimes, finally joined in 1986. The fall of the Berlin wall a few years later was another big step in a unified European project. This was followed by another important stage – the integration of Former Soviet Union and SU allied states from 2004, when the EC was already known as the EU.
Italy is the odd one out of the group, with just under two-thirds of internet penetration.
Today, one must wonder whether this dove had feet of clay. The UK voted out; the French far right group Front National is increasingly popular; the Spaniards can’t form a government, Angela Markel’s generous open-door refugee policy angered fellow German citizens; and the Italians are taking on its own constitutional national reform to vote this December.
It is often said that the digital revolution has made the world smaller, and dismantled frontiers, even in controlling governments such as Xi Jinping’s, or in the countries involved in what was at the time named the Arab Spring. It is therefore paradoxical that the inverse happened in Europe, as physical barriers raised by Hungary to stop the movement of refugees across Europe resulted in a downgrading of its internet freedom status. Which begs the question, how are the strong EU5 fairing on their own digital paths?
Well, in the digital world, it’s business as usual. These countries offer brilliant ecommerce opportunities for businesses worldwide. The five strong European economies have mostly bounced back from the 2008 global crisis and are doing very well indeed. The UK is the clear leader of internet accessibility: 60 million of its 65 million total population are connected. Three out of the other four countries do nearly as well. Respectively, Germany, France and Spain go from high to the low eighties, in percentage terms. Italy is the odd one out of the group, with just under two-thirds of internet penetration, and therefore the nation that has the longest digital path to tread.
Turning to search, Europe clearly has a love-hate relationship with the US giant Google, perhaps a metonymical extension of what the continent feels for the country itself. Google reigns supreme in all five European countries, with search percentages in the mid 90s, except for Germany and the UK, countries where the size of the market makes Bing’s 6% search total a very respectable sum. On mobile, Google’s grip is even tighter. Bing, on the contrary, fares significantly better on desktop, taking home as much as 10% of these searches in the UK.
The hate bit of the Google/EU story kicks in when it comes to the all-powerful search giant filling in its tax returns and opening the strings to the purse. Turns out, no matter how heavy, large or full that purse is, its owner is always going to hold back opening it! La dolorosa, the painful one, as the Spaniards playfully call the moment to pay the bill, seems a fitting expression here. Stronger together, some European countries, such as Germany, Spain and Italy have used this weight to try and pressure Google to pay up. Its ubiquitous presence and power, however, may prove harder to overcome than even old war wounds had been.
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