European Union: world’s leading power

When you google ‘Europe, the world’s leading power’, what a disappointment! First you face a inquiry about perceptions of current economic leadership pusblished by Pew Resaerch centera. “More countries currently see the United States as the world’s leading economic power” . Next, Eurostat suggests an article based on renewal energy, and Wikipedia offers to know more about international relations between European counrties during the First World War,…

Nevertheless the European Union (EU) does not deserve this. It is the leading power in many fields, economic, social, political, cultural. But we do not want to see it and it feeds the discourse of the Eurosceptics. So I suggest you to make some reminders

A few points to highlight before giving you the figures:

First of all, United Kingdom or not? If I use Eurostat data, then we find the ranking of the 27 countries or 28 countries. Okay, I’ll make an effort and give you as many numbers as I can, 28 and 27.

I have compiled below the figures related to the official bodies Eurostat, IMF, the CIA World Factbook which takes into account the European Union (unlike the IMF and the World Bank) but also UNESCO, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Transparency International or The Economist, Fortune Global 500… (2) – I make the links to sources for each index cited in the article – In reality, it is quite difficult to find comparisons between Europe and the rest of the world. There are mainly statistics on European countries. For instance, you have no difficulty in finding the most unequal countries in the European Union or the countries where students learn the most languages. But when you really want comparing performance of our European Union with the rest of the world, it’s another matter! I have often added up the figures for the 27 (or 28) EU countries. But it is worth it, because the results are there!



Preliminary introductory statement

According to Euroststat, we represent about 512 million inhabitants (446 million for EU27) in 2017. We are the third most populated territory after China, with about 1400 million inhabitants and India, 1300 million and well before the United States, about 330 million inhabitants. Europe is about 4.5 million km2, about a quarter the size of Russia and more than half the size of the United States or China. Nevertheless all together, we are moving mountains.


1) The European Union : the world’s leading democracy

The EU is the most democratic region in the world

We are referring here to the Democracy Index constructed by The Economist. With 60 criteria measuring both the electoral process and civil liberties or the functioning of government, The Economist classifies countries into democracy, imperfect democracy, hybrid regime and authoritarian regime. In 2018, 11 countries out of the 28 European countries, were classified as ‘perfect’ democracies. The United States, ranked 25th, is ranked in the imperfect democracies, while China, ranked 130th, is an authoritarian regime. The European Union is therefore a democratic reference, with all countries classified as democracies or imperfect democracies. We must make efforts in the east of the region, since Hungary is ranked 57th or Romania 66th.

The EU is the region of the world that suffers the least from corruption

Corruption Perception Index is an index for measuring corruption. This index is compiled by Transparency International. It is one of the most widely used indices in the world. The country that suffers the least from corruption is Denmark, then we can notice the northern European countries like Finland, Sweden or the Netherlands. In total in 2017, there are more than 12 European countries that are placed before the United States, including Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Of course, there we still need constantly effortst, particularly in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania (ranked 61st) or Hungary (ranked 64th), but we are far ahead of India (78th), China (87th) or Brazil (105th).

The EU and respect for human rights

We are undoubtedly a world reference in terms of respect for human rights. For example, in terms of the rights of children, minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, respect for gender equality, and in particular condemnation of violence against women. In this regard, it can be seen that the figures are biased and that it is difficult to use them. For example, Denmark is the 14th country with the highest official number of victims of physical violence. Denmark is ranked between Ethiopia and Puerto Rico and well ahead of Honduras, known has the highest percentage of female homicides in the world. In fact, statistics does not reveal reality. In some countries, institutions strongly encourage women to report all violence, as in Denmark, which raises the numbers of violence against women, while in some countries women do not even dare to publicly admit to having been subjected to physical violence.

2) A genuine European defence, once organised

If we combine the figures from the 27 European countries, then together we represent a real power.

Without the United Kingdom, the European work force is about 1,350,000 according to the IISS ranking. Then we are almost equivalent to the United States Army. And if we add up the United Kingdom’s army, we are the second largest military power in the world after China.

Moreover, with a real European force, we will gain human resources through economies of scale. On the other hand, the need to unify all forces would lead us to create new organizational and command positions.

3) The European Union often leads the world in economics

European Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

After China, the European Union is the region with the highest GDP according to the World Factbook.

If we want to compare living standards more precisely, we can refer to GDPppa per capita. The IMF or the CIA provide us with figures which, as expected, rank first the micro-States which concentrate many very rich people. We then find Liechtenstein in the first place but also Monaco, Luxembourg, the Isle of Man. The European Union in 2017 ranked 45th.

Multinational firms ranked first in many fields

Fortune magazine ranks the 500 largest multinationals each year. The EU-28 includes 96 of the largest companies and without Great Britain we have 75 of the largest companies in terms of turnover. In many areas, EU companies dominate the market (3). Here are some examples below:

Agri-food and industrial production

In the beverage sector we have 4 or 5 of the 10 largest companies iof the world. With the Belgian company AB InBev, which is top ranking before Pepsi and Coca, then we have Heineken, Carlsberg and Pernod Ricard and Diageo if we include the United Kingdom.

Concerning dairy products, we are also leading the way by bringing together Danone and Lactalis, the two French groups, and Friesland Campina in the Netherlands, as well as the Swedish-Danish group Arla Foods

In the field of power generation, we trust at least 5 of the 10 largest companies in the world with the Italian group Enel, EDF and Engie in France, E.On and RWE in Germany.

In the wind energy sector, let us note the very good performance of the Danish group, Vestas, ranked first even before the Chinese group Sinovel. Imagine the marriage of the Vestas group with the Spanish company Gamesa, ranked fourth, and this European group completely dominates this renewable energy market.

In the industrial sector, out of the top ten global groups, there are the three major European brands: Volkswagen Group, Daimler for Germany and Exor for Italy

In aeronautics, aerospace and defence, the European Airbus group is the world’s leading group in terms of turnover.

Concerning insurance and banking

In insurance, if we refer to turnover, the first three groups are European: Allianz, AXA and Generali. Of the top 10 insurance companies, we have 4 or even 6 groups with the United Kingdom. If we take into account the net premiums written, then the three European insurance groups, Allianz, Axa and Generali, remain in the top 10 worldwide.

If we take into account the turnover, then we find 4 European groups in the top 10 banks. BNP and Société Générale but also ING Group or Banco Santander

In the luxury sector

It includes the major brands linked to perfumes and cosmetics, watches and jewellery, but also fashion and leather goods, wines and spirits. French and Italian companies dominate the market. In total, 5 of the largest companies are European: LVMH, Kering, Hermes for France and Luxottica and Prada for Italy.

World Trade

The European Union, with about 15% of world trade (4), is almost equal to the United States and China. We are the world’s leading power in several sectors:

The European Union is the world’s leading region for the export of agricultural products. We are also the world’s leading exporters of manufactured goods, with Germany as our driving force.

Tourism sector

The European Union is the most visited region in the world by far! It includes countries where tourist destinations are the most important, mainly France, Spain and Italy. Thus, according to the World Tourism Organization, just by adding together in 2018, tourists from Germany, Belgium, France, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic, we have more than 353.7 million tourists, far, far ahead of the United States with 76.9 million tourists or China with 60.7 million tourists. But the dice are loaded! Many European tourists are internal to Europe, while the United States does not count as tourists an American from Chicago who visits Florida! The current figures of the World Tourism Organisation or Eurostat do not allow for real international comparisons.


4) The best development indices in the world

The Human Development Index (HDI) is the most widely recognized tool for measuring the level of development. This index ranks countries from 0 to 1, according to standard of living, life expectancy and education level. Countries that are close to zero cause their populations to suffer from a lack of development, while countries that are considered highly developed are close to one. The conclusions are there! Of the top 10 countries with the highest HDI, 4 are European. Of the 189 countries ranked, all European countries, with the exception of Romania ranked 52nd, are among the 50 countries with the best HDI. 16 of the 27 countries of the European Union, or 17 of the 28 countries with the United Kingdom, are in the top 30 countries ranked with the highest HDI.

Let us look more precisely at education, life expectancy but also the happiness index or health and inequalities

Union European confirm best results in education

As you know, each country in Europe has an autonomous educational policy, and all this is done under certain European recommendations. Overall, we are achieving the best results in many areas in the world.

This will not surprise you, but UNESCO reminds us that the European Union is the region of the world where the percentage of literate people is highest, along with the United States (99%) and Russia (99.6%). Except for Portugal and Greece, which have literacy rates below 98%, all other EU countries are above. Of course, this does not protect the European population from a lack of discernment in the face of preconceived ideas, but reading allows us to have rich and fruitful debates and encourages critical analysis.

Obviously, these results are linked to the significant efforts made by all EU countries to educate. More than 13 European countries invest more than 5% of GDP in education, which puts us ahead of the United States (4.99%) well ahead of Russia and India (3.8%) and China (1.91%).

These are real strategic choices of European countries, because if we compare with military spending as a % of GDP, then most European countries spend less than 2% of GDP – except Greece (2.5%) and France (2.2%) – In comparison the United States spend 3.1% of GDP. source Yearbook

However, Europe needs to make progress in some areas. For example, we are not very present in the world rankings concerning the prestige of universities. Cross-fertilization of research and scientific work between major European universities is absolutely necessary to be able to compete with the major American universities, which are often prohibitively expensive!


Life expectancy, happiness and peace

It’s so subjective! Nevertheless, the World Happiness Report attempts to objectify happiness by calculating a Happiness Index based on criteria such as life expectancy, social assistance, generosity, etc.

Result on the first 20 countries, there are 10 European countries with Finland in first place! The United States is ranked 18th and China 86th.

The countries that promote peace are undoubtedly those that are more likely to enable people to be happy. Since 2007, The Economist has been developing the Global Peace Index. It takes into account internal country data, level of violence and delinquency, but also external data such as military spending and participation in wars. This index is based on 23 indicators. Examples include the number of violent crimes, the percentage of people incarcerated, but also exports of conventional or actual military weapons. The results are there! In 2018, out of 163 countries, 11 European Union countries were among the top 20. The lowest ranked country in the EU is Greece 73rd.

Fewer inequalities than anywhere else in the world

I will refer here to the Gini coefficient, set up by the World Bank to compare inequalities between countries. The Gini coefficient or index is a synthetic indicator used to measure the intensity of wage inequalities or living standards, particularly in a country. This synthetic indicator shows total inequality when the index is close to 100% or 1 – so the most unequal country in the world is South Africa with an index of 63% or 0.63 – . Conversely, when the index is close to 0% or 0 then the country is very egalitarian.

Virtually all European countries are doing better than China, ranked 49th, the United States ranked 54th or Russia ranked 77th. The most unequal European country is Bulgaria, ranked 82nd.

5) Discovery and innovation

If we add up all the Nobel Prizes from the beginning (Chemistry, Literature, Medicine, Peace, Physics and also the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economics) then the EU28 is first in 2018, with 493 Nobel Prizes against 377 for the United States. With the EU27 we come second because the United Kingdom is a major provider of Nobel Prizes with 130 till the beginning till 2018!

Regarding innovation, we will refer to the Global Innovation Index and we have nothing to be ashamed of! Among the top 10 most innovative countries, 6 countries are in the European Union. These are the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany and Ireland. (the United Kingdom is ranked fourth). It should be noted that Switzerland has been ranked first for many years.


6) In the environmental field

Yale and Columbia Universities publish every two years the EPI, an environmental index of the most environmentally friendly countries. This index takes into account about twenty criteria such as water consumption or greenhouse gas emissions, but also access to drinking water or infant mortality.

The European Union is the region of the world that makes the most effort. Thus 6 (or 7 with the United Kingdom) of the top 10 countries are European. Noted that the world champion country is Switzerland. Of course, some will say that it is easier to make efforts in a small country like Malta or Luxembourg than in the United States, China or India. So let’s look further! 17 (18 countries with the United Kingdom) European Union countries are ranked before the United States. Russia is ranked 52nd, China 120th and India 177th.

Europe is a model to follow, but of course we must not stop there. Time is running out.


7) Sport

Europe is crushing competition in almost all areas except… American football and polo!!

Let us imagine that for the last Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, there were European teams. We would have stand out from the rest!

1st EU to 28 114 gold medals and 315 medals in total

EU to 27 87 gold medals and 248 medals in total

2nd United States 46 gold medals and 121 medals in total

3rd China 26 gold medals and 70 medals in total

4th Russia 19 gold medals and 57 medals in total

13th Brazil 7 gold medals and 19 medals in total

67th India 0 gold medal and 2 medals in total

Of course, things are not that simple. Cooperation between all European countries would change the dynamics of sport in the EU, but at the same time we might have fewer medals because we would present fewer candidates. But despite everything, we would inevitably be the best!

For the winter games, if we take the last winter games in South Korea as an example, we pass Norway!

1st European Union with 27 countries, 48 gold medals and 128 medals in total (the English do not change much on the board because they only won one gold medal and 5 medals in total)

2nd Norway 14 gold medals and 39 medals in total.

3rd Canada 11 gold medals and 29 medals in total

4th United States 9 gold medals and 23 medals in total

In terms of performance, the Olympic Winter Games are biased because cold countries are over-represented, of course, and winter sports require expensive infrastructure, which excludes many nations from these games!

So let us look at European sporting results through other events: the second most famous world sporting event in the world: the football world cup. Of course, it makes no sense to bring all European countries together under the same sporting banner since the first football world cup in Uruguay in 1930. At that time, we were more like enemy brothers, weren’t we? But I can’t resist the pleasure of showing you the results.

1st European Union 12 world cups won and 11 cups won if England, the winner in 1966, is not taken into account

2nd Brazil 5 world cups won. Then we find two others south american countries such as Argentina and Uruguay with respectively 2 cups won.

To conclude this theme devoted to European sporting performance, let’s take a look at one of the most watched sporting events in the world: the Ryder Cup. This very special event pits the United States and Europe against each other in golf! Awesome! Finally a competition that brings together all European golfers. Since 1979, when this event brought together the best European golfers, we have won the trophy 11 times compared to 8 times for the United States.

As far as sport is concerned, we are entitled, it seems to me that we should listen to our European anthem!





As we have just shown, Europe is in many ways a powerful region, economically, socially, culturally and even militarily. It must be said loud and clear that the Fathers of Europe who launched us on this very beautiful project more than sixty years ago, were not mistaken. But we are facing new challenges: man-made climate disorders, the migration crisis facing Europe, competition from continental countries such as China, the United States, Russia, Japan and later India. Europe is strong and powerful but it must remain united and strengthen itself, particularly politically, to face these challenges.

         Philippe Herry                                                25 of march 2019

                                @ respecting Copyright laws

I am a french economic teacher who wants to defend the European Union using my qualification : search and data analysis



(1) experiment carried out in March 2019 with Mozilla.

(2) a lot of research but also valuable help thanks to extremely rich sites like atlassocio
o Visual Capitalist

(3) we are aware that with the multiple alliances and cross-shareholdings between large groups, the geographical dimension of a firm is sometimes very uncertain. So is the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi group European or Asian?

(4) intra-Community trade is excluded and the European Union of 28 Member States is taken into account

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