The state of Europe’s health can be measured from a brief review of its real estate market. In the United Kingdom the market is the best that it has been for many years, with even shortages of houses to sell in some areas; the inflation rate is 2.5%. The market is also excellent in Holland and promises to remain so; inflation is 2.4%. The Republic of Ireland is enjoying an unprecedented boom, with new buildings going up everywhere in Dublin and with numerous restructuring sites open. Foreign firms obviously are confident of the local economy and are opening up new offices there, also taking advantage of the tax incentives, specially devised to encourage foreign investment. Inflation is 1%.

In Germany the economy has been suffering from the enormous financial efforts that they have had to make after unification, in order to bring the infrastructure up to standard in Eastern Germany. Inflation however, is quite low, 1.7%. In the rest of Europe the real estate market is still rather slow, though it appears to be improving.

My personal impression is that the efforts that all the European countries are making, to respect the undertakings of Maastrict in order to enter the European single monetary club, by limiting the public deficit, reducing public spending and keeping inflation down, is having beneficial effects on the various economies.

In fact foreign investors, many from Asia, are thus being enticed to invest in Europe, with the consequence that real estate markets are becoming more buoyant. Furthermore, the imminent restitution this year of Hong Kong to China is provoking the flight of billions of dollars, many towards Europe, in view of its increased economical stability. Moreover, the breaking up of the Soviet Union has permitted a certain movement of capital towards Western Europe, also contributing to the health of the general economy. But beware, the economical development of the Asian block has proceeded at an almost incredible pace over the last 15 years, making it become a serious competitor of European countries in many fields.

However, the "Old Continent" could do much more to solicit foreign investment, by curing its various infirmities brought on by its encroaching senescence: stubbornness, short-sightedness, slow reactions and low muscle tone. A rejuvenating cure was in fact begun in 1992, with the definitive opening up of the large, single, internal market, with the elimination of all barriers to the free movement of persons, goods and capital, originally foreseen in the Treaty of Rome in distant 1957. The new cure that we are all going through at the moment, having to swallow the bitter pill of economic reforms, will prepare us for the decisive operation in 1999, of the single European currency, the Euro.

The venerable old age of Europe, has actually brought it to a very special maturity, on the cultural, historical and artistic plane, unique in the Western World. In fact Europe is leader in many sectors, such as fashion, industrial design, engineering, architecture, precision mechanics, luxury automobile production, universities, management formation etc. However many of these European technicians, scientists and managers, educated at high costs to the community, flee to other countries, where they find more lucrative employ. (A research by an English newspaper, for example, has shown that a very high percentage of top managers in multinational companies in the world, is Italian).

However, Europe's main problem, which is actually brought on by its greater age, is the very heavy bureaucratic burden that it carries, accumulated over 500 years, of laws, by-laws, decrees, rules and regulations, which impose complex procedures and require innumerable rubber stamps for obtaining any sort of authorisation. Life is thus unduly complicated for the industrialists and business-men, the producers of jobs and wealth for their country, with the risk that they be left uncompetitive on world markets, which are becoming more and more aggressive.

Just a couple of examples; the reader will surely recall many others: the renewal of a driving license in Australia requires a mere 15 minutes, whereas in Italy it may take months; the request for a company credit card in this country, requires eight signatures and eight rubber stamps on a single sheet of paper.

The hundreds of thousands of laws, often redundant and in conflict with each other, supply fertile grounds for the virus of corruption to flourish - of which we have seen far too many examples recently. Our citizens on the other hand must have clarity; they must know what their rights and duties are, without having to seek professional advice at every turn and also without having to resort to illicit "short-cuts", through a complacent public servant, in order to help their dossier through its tortuous passage for approval.

If all European countries therefore make an effort to modernise their public administration and simplify the bureaucratic process, they could better exploit their inherent cultural advantage over other western nations and become more competitive on world markets and economically stronger.

Europe should also try to overcome the prejudices brought on by its grave recent past, with its two World Wars, which have left painful scars, that even today keep influencing political relations between the various Member Countries. Let us take example of the United States and of Australia, both federally structured countries, multi-racial, but with a European origin, and with a population having a very strong national identity and pride in its nation.

I advocate that all European citizens fully appreciate their common origin and the necessity of proceeding with the unification of Europe, without unduly wasting time over quibbles, so that it may rightly take its place as a true world power, both politically and economically.

C.E.I., the European Confederation of Estate Agents, with its 22,000 members in nine countries, has shown that by breaking down the traditional communication barriers that exist between the Member Countries and by cooperating internationally on a common front, it has been beneficial to all parties, as well as providing a further step on the road towards European unity.

Laurence Camillo

President CEI

April 1997

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    Copyright L. Camillo 2000