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Europe is Finished and Only Remainers Haven’t Noticed

Tying ourselves to the failing bloc will only condemn Britain to the same cycle of decline

The vice-chancellors must have been purring with satisfaction, the “creative industries” celebrating. Many scientists expressed their support, many lobby groups, industry confederations and trade unions would have been similarly overjoyed.

When Rishi Sunak announced earlier this week that the UK was re-joining the EU’s mammoth Horizon research programme, it was widely regarded as a return to sanity. But where are the great scientific breakthroughs it has funded, and where are the fast-growing start-ups and university spin-offs to rival the tech giants emerging in San Francisco and Shanghai?

In reality, for all the money spent, Horizon has failed to live up to expectations, while more broadly the whole of Europe is falling behind in a global economy dominated by America, China and increasingly India. Yet Britain’s blinkered, Remainer elite has failed to notice.

With funding of £81bn, Horizon is one of the biggest science and research projects in the world, handing out money to thousands of university departments, research units, and spin-off companies. There will be a “unanimous sigh of colossal relief”, according to the Universities UK chief executive Vivienne Stern, while Sue Ferns, of the Prospect union, said it was “welcome but long overdue”.

But there are two big problems with rejoining Horizon. The first is that its success has been limited. Throw tens of billions of pounds at any research collaboration programme and it is likely many papers will later be published in academic journals. It is great for skilled networkers; it hands out generous grants to people with the right credentials, inquiring into the right subjects.

It is a stretch, however, to suggest that for the €2.6bn (£2.2bn) that Britain will be contributing every year, it represents good value. The UK is the research powerhouse of the Continent, with many of the top universities, and far more Nobel Prize winners than any other country in Europe (138 compared with 111 for Germany and 71 for France).

In fairness, Horizon does some good work, and on huge projects it makes a lot of sense to collaborate across borders. And yet, where are the real breakthroughs, or the technology spin-offs that are transforming entire industries?

It is the US and China that are leading the way on artificial intelligence, while Britain hopes to lead the way on AI regulation. It is India and Japan that are sending relatively low-cost spacecraft to land on the moon. Europe still has huge depths of scientific brilliance – two of the major Covid vaccines, for example, came from the Continent – but no one could seriously claim this is a golden age of European technological excellence.

And the bureaucratic, top-down Horizon approach to science may reward virtue-signaling groupthink, while stifling mavericks and offbeat geniuses. The UK would surely have been better off handing this funding to our own universities and scientists.

The second, bigger problem is this. The UK is drifting back towards closer cooperation with Europe at the precise moment when the bloc’s failings are becoming increasingly apparent. The evidence is ample.

With the recent revision of the UK’s growth figures, Germany, the traditional engine of the European economy, is now the slowest-growing member of the G7. Its heavy industries have been fatally undermined by losing access to cheap Russian gas, while the EU’s obsession with electric vehicles could be about to destroy its auto industry as cheap Chinese imports batter it into submission.

The hapless Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, left to clear up Angela Merkel’s dismal legacy, has been reduced to calling for the country to pull together to overcome the “mildew of red tape, risk averseness and despondency” that may see it in a full-blown recession by the end of the year. But is anyone listening?

It is little better anywhere else. The roughly €200bn that Italy was awarded through the EU’s Coronavirus Recovery Fund, much of it borrowed money, was meant to finally reboot its economy and set it on a path to stronger growth. Somewhat predictably, it has been wasted by grandstanding politicians, while Giorgia Meloni’s creeping expansion of state control, such as price caps on air travel, or banning AI, will only condemn it to permanent stagnation.

After a few meaningful reforms, France’s President Macron has been left a lame duck for the rest of his term, having squandered all his remaining political capital on a minor tweak to the pension system. His likely heirs show no desire to tackle a welfare model that means the state consumes a vast 57pc of GDP. It has one of the biggest structural deficits, as well as one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios, in the developed world.

Meanwhile, the EU faces major demographic decline, with 27.3 million fewer people by 2100. And divisions within the bloc mean it will never complete monetary union.

There is nothing wrong with Horizon itself. It will fund some excellent projects. And yet, in reality, the UK should be cutting itself free from a stagnant, declining Europe. Instead it should be doubling down in its tilt towards the Pacific, deeping our trade with the United States, and building our trading relationships with the younger, more dynamic economies of the Gulf, of Africa, of the Americas, and of Asia.

Tying ourselves closer to a failing Europe will only condemn us to the same cycle of decline – no matter how many vice-chancellors or union leaders may view it as something to celebrate.

Source: Telegraph