Criticize all you want, but the European Union has been a boon for Europe. Yes, the faceless bureaucrats of Brussels with their obscure pronouncements about how the citizens of the continent should live every moment of their waking lives, is an annoying fact of life, especially in a place where cultural differences are literally thousands of years old.
But although the taciturn Finns would find little common ground with the vivacious Sicilians, they all benefit from having a common market…far more than they realize.
Just a few decades ago, doing business on the Continent meant different currencies, different borders, even different train tracks, and most of all, a bewildering array of different regulations about who could sell what to whom, and where.
Whenever I ask Americans to appreciate the value of a common market I simply have them imagine what our country would be like with Alabama dollars, Texas pesos and New York greenbacks as units of exchange. It quickly becomes apparent that United States would never have achieved its economic power if we had not centralized many of our monetary and fiscal functions.
Although Americans love to play up their regional differences, it is actually remarkable at how similar we all are. America is a land of friction-free commerce that is unimaginable elsewhere. There are few places in the world where a stranger from one end of the country could order goods from a person at the other end; not to mention the fact that an exchange could take place on nothing more than a handshake.
America is truly unique in its ability to be such a large, disparate and generally honest society. Which brings me to Britain. Britain of course is our cultural birthplace… regardless of where you come from.
Whether you are Russian like me or Chinese like my partner, we are all Anglo-Saxon in our outlook. All Americans irrespective of their place of origin believe in the rule of law, in property rights and in civil liberties.
These are quintessentially Anglo Saxon values on which all modern capitalist societies are built…for which Britain deserves all the credit.
But Britain is a unique country in the family of nations. While located in Europe, it has never been quite part of Europe. Its island status has always given UK a streak of independence, far stronger than its continental neighbors. It was, after all, the ONLY Western European country left to fight the Nazis until Americans joined the cause.
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And while the British streak for independence is often admirable, it now threatens to undermine the country’s future. The Brits are chafing at the bit under the capricious rules of bureaucrats in Brussels and are seriously considering leaving the Union as whole. UK already has its own independent monetary policy, having never joined the euro, so this break would be even more serious. Prime Minister Cameron has set the referendum vote for June 23rd to decide if Britain will depart from the European Union (AKA, the “Brexit”).
As of now, the “Leave” vs. the “Remain” factions are running neck and neck.
Although the political impulse of the Brits may be understandable, the economic consequences of rupture are immense. Some economists have estimated that under the best case scenario, the UK would gain about 0.7% growth in GDP; but under the worst case possibility – where it is locked out from European markets altogether – its GDP could contract by as much as 8%.
The EUR/GBP cross (which is always a barometer of cross channel sentiment) recently hit multi-year highs of 7900 cents and some analysts believe that it could go all the way to parity should Britain chose Brexit. The pound itself has been under relentless assault for the better part of this year, and it’s not inconceivable to imagine that the currency could go to parity against the buck as well. That’s fully 50% less than what Sterling was worth in 2008 and would be a huge hit to wealth of an average UK citizen.
The one country that is silently smiling about all of this – is Ireland. As the only English speaking country within the EU, Ireland stands to benefit tremendously from any fallout due to Brexit. The irony of Europe is that while no major country on the continent speaks English as its native language, English is the official language of the Euro zone.
As such all documents, treaties, business contracts are done in English and therefore provide Ireland with tremendous advantage as springboard for American and Asian companies to do business in Europe. Dublin is already a hub of activity with Apple and Google having a big presence in the country; but if Britain were to withdraw, the Irish would likely fill the void…possibly hosting many American healthcare and finance corporations on its shores. So while the Brits are deciding their fate, they may inadvertently be also affecting the future of the Emerald Isle.
Until next time,
Mr. Schlossberg is the managing partner at BKForex. He is also a weekly contributor to CNBC’s Squawk Box and a regular commentator for CNBC Asia and CNBC Europe. His daily currency research is quoted by Reuters, Dow Jones, Bloomberg and Agence France Presse newswires and appears in numerous business publications and newspapers worldwide. Mr. Schlossberg has written articles on trading for SFO magazine, Active Trader and Technical Analysis of Stocks and Commodities. He is the author of Technical Analysis of the Currency Market and Millionaire Traders: How Everyday People Beat Wall Street at its Own Game, both of which are published by Wiley. Boris’ extensive experience in trading and developing momentum based techniques provide the foundation for BKForex strategies.