The EU, though, isn’t puny and insignificant. It’s quite the opposite – a giant that plays a decisive role in shaping life on this planet.
There are numerous metrics that are used to describe economic strength and they are all controversial. But given the lack of alternatives, they are still in use. We talk about total economic output (gross domestic product or GDP) and about GDP per capita. You can also calculate current account balances from imports and exports of goods and services to determine a country’s success or attractiveness. In terms of the EU and its 27 members, it doesn’t really matter which metric you apply: It always ranks among the top three in the world by all criteria. It is even ahead of the United States in many fields and will be able to outperform China in many respects for decades to come.
The EU is the most important export market for the U.S., India, South Africa and Russia. It is the second-largest market for China and Brazil and the third largest for Japan and South Korea. Three-quarters of South African exports of fruits and nuts go to the EU, 87 percent of U.S. pharmaceutical exports, 51 percent of Brazilian coffee traded on the global market, 45 percent of Indian textile exports and 40 percent of toys made in China for the world market. These figures speak of a European market and purchasing power that is mind-bogglingly big.
Europe - not China - is the largest partner of the emerging African continent. By far. A third of all African exports go to the EU, and 40 percent of the foreign investment in Africa comes from the EU. Investors from the 27 EU member states were active in Africa with 222 billion euros in 2017, while the Americans had only 42 billion invested and the Chinese 38 billion.
The idea - promoted by all manner of florid media features - that China is the biggest player in Africa is simply wrong. Moreover, the EU and its member states provide more than half of all development aid funding worldwide. EU member states are also the largest donors to the organizations of the United Nations…
China is already having to defer to Europe’s ideas and regulations in many areas. For not only is the EU an economic superpower, it is now also the No. 1 global regulator.
Every day, miraculous things are happening around the globe of which most Europeans take no notice. Technology companies in California build their devices according to EU regulations. Cocoa producers in Ghana and Ecuador are transforming their operations to meet European standards. In Argentina, Israel and Russia, plaintiffs are suing internet companies and invoking the “right to be forgotten” that was formulated in the EU. Regional blocs of countries in South America are organizing themselves along the lines of the EU. Laws drafted in Europe are adopted almost verbatim into national law in countries around the world.
Fast food chains like McDonald’s, Subway and Wendy’s are taking chemical additives out of their products because the EU doesn’t allow them. The Brazilian company Citrosuco, the world’s largest producer of orange juice, strictly adheres to European regulations, even in countries where they do not apply. Adidas, Nike, and Zara are changing the composition of the plastic in sneakers around the world to make less toxic, EU-compliant goods. It’s a tremendous list, and it is very long.
When Microsoft, Google, Apple, Intel or other big companies sue each other for competition offenses, they don’t just take their case to San Francisco or New York – they call on the European Commission to arbitrate and then fight it out in Europe’s high courts. Mergers of large American corporations are approved or prohibited by European authorities.
Europe’s view of data protection, as laid out in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), has quickly become a global standard that no company and no country can ignore. Google alone claims it was forced to spend “hundreds of years of human time” to comply with the Brussels regulations, but it did so nonetheless. America’s 500 largest companies are continually spending billions of dollars to implement EU rules, and the situation is no different for the largest Asian, African and South American companies. The smartest among them are already working to reduce their carbon emissions, with an eye on the “carbon tax,” that the EU has been working on for years.
These examples lead to the equally unbelievable and correct conclusion that globalization today is actually a “Europeanization” – and this was not written in EU advertising brochures, but in Britain’s Economist, the must-read newspaper of laissez-faire capitalists.
A global player like today’s Europe has never existed in this form in the history of the world. By regulating the affairs of its internal market step by step, the EU is formulating globally effective standards along the way. Whether it’s chemicals, hazardous waste, hormone-treated meat, electronic waste, emissions standards, animal testing, antitrust, privacy, crop protection, competition or air pollution control – the EU is always somehow already there.