Should New Zealand join the EU

The big exception is Greece

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For the countries that were admitted to the EU in the accession rounds in 1980, 1995 and 2004, the economists put together suitable counterparts from countries that do not belong to the EU and compared the development of GDP. Their results were almost always the same: after joining the EU, economic growth picked up significantly in the countries examined. According to the study, Latvia and Ireland in particular have benefited from EU membership. But also in Portugal, Poland and Estonia, EU accession gave growth a strong boost. The common internal market and open borders were primarily responsible for this, says Nauro Campos.

The economists' method is clever, but it also has its weaknesses. First, it is difficult to examine the impact of the European Union on founding states such as France and Germany. Since these countries already joined together in an economic union in the years after the Second World War, it is almost impossible to create meaningful synthetic scenarios. In order to select suitable countries for the mixture of a counterpart, economists need, at best, data from several decades before accession. This is the only way they can see whether the growth rates of the examined country and its synthetic counterpart match over a long period of time. "With France and Germany it would therefore be difficult to get meaningful results," says Nauro Campos.

The EU was not a historic mistake

The second weak point of the method: comparing EU countries like Great Britain with countries from the other end of the world like New Zealand or unstable emerging countries like Argentina, which was on the verge of national bankruptcy on several occasions, is tricky. A crisis in Latin America dragging Argentina's GDP down could seriously skew results. To mitigate this problem, the researchers always created several counterparts for each country. They recreated Great Britain not only from New Zealand and Argentina, but also from other country mixes. The results remained almost the same.

The figures from their study are therefore quite suitable as a counter-argument to the slogans of the EU-critical parties in the European election campaign. For many European countries, the EU does not seem to have been a historical mistake, but a real stroke of luck. However, the researchers found one major exception: Greece. After the country joined the EU in 1981, the Greek economy grew much more slowly than in the simulated scenario in which Greece does not belong to the EU. Without the Union, GDP per capita in Greece would have been 15 percent higher in 2008, according to economists' calculations. Even before the European debt crisis and near bankruptcy, the EU was therefore not a good environment for Greece.

And then? Unfortunately, the researchers do not say anything about this; 2008 is the end point of their study. They deliberately excluded the crisis because they wanted above all to measure the effects of the common market, the euro and political integration. Therefore, they cannot answer whether Greece would have weathered the crisis outside the euro and the EU better. The study also does not show whether the prosperity gains from EU accession for Spain and Portugal have been erased by the economic slump in recent years. "The positive effects of EU accession are so great for most countries that a single crisis, even if it is as serious as the current debt crisis, cannot undo them again," says Nauro Campos.