Europe is often accused of many ills and failures: Failure to reform, lack of common global policy, lack of innovation, lack of sympathy with refugees, lack of solidarity with its member countries in financial difficulties, lack of leadership and all sorts of other shortages of character and policy.
The major critics of Europe, nevertheless, are the Europeans themselves. It has become a European sport to bash Europe, shoot ourselves in the foot and hit ourselves in the head, particularly when comparing ourselves with Asia and the U.S.. Europe is sorry for itself and almost apologetic about it. This is ridiculous and unfair and it will not help the continent in any way. While self-criticism is often a valid tool for improvement, constant self-destruction is certainly not.
We need to remind ourselves that Europe, quite simply, has the highest quality of life, in economic, social and security terms, in the world.
Even the poorest countries in Europe are extremely wealthy when compared to the vast majority of other countries around the world. Europe is a synonym of quality, whether the Europeans understand this or not. And quality is not only wonderful Italian pasta, Scandinavian design or a stroll through the magical streets of Lisbon, it also encompasses education, competitiveness and the emergence of leading edge global companies.
I am not talking about the re-emergence of near-shoring industries. That is certainly a reality that happened over the last few years because logistical and quality costs where too high for European brands to produce all their goods in Asia and hence these companies have restarted production and purchasing in Europe. That is a given and positive. I am talking about really ground-breaking technological companies that will capture huge global markets and cement Europe as a de facto global tech and life sciences hub.
The fact is that this is already real, happening, progressing and Europe is catching up very fast to the U.S.. Barriers to creating companies have diminished greatly over the last decade, the amount of capital needed to start a company decreasing significantly precisely because of technological progress all over the world. And Europe certainly has the brains, research facilities and capital to push for the start of these companies.
The recent crisis has actually helped. In the absence of jobs, Europeans took to their own hands and created massive amounts of companies over the last few years.
And many of these companies are no longer simple start-ups. Many have joined the ranks of the so-called unicorns, companies valued at over $1 billion. In fact, out of the current 140 global unicorns, valued above $500 billion together, 40 are European.
We are talking about companies such as Swedish Spotify, which has revolutionized on-demand access to millions of songs; Dutch Adyen, which provides an internet payment system for international merchants; French BlaBlaCar, an online community that connects drivers with empty seats with people looking for a ride; British TransferWise, a money transfer service using a peer-to-peer model to get best rates for consumers; Portuguese Farfetch, a global community of over 300 visionary fashion boutiques united in one e-commerce website; or Czech AVAST, maker of antivirus software.
In addition, Europe boasts a very robust life sciences sector with 35 initial public offerings (IPOs) happening last year. These companies represent some of the most cutting edge applied research and their products will save millions of lives all over the world for decades to come.
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So, there is no doubt that Europe means quality; there is no doubt that Europe is becoming more competitive and leading the world together with other major blocs. Europeans should be aware, be conscious about these facts, and while we should certainly not rest in our laurels, there is certainly no reason to be constantly pessimistic and downbeat about ourselves.
In fact, being positive and marketing our strengths is certainly one of the characteristic we really could learn from our American partners.
Stephan Morais is Executive Director at Caixa Capital and is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.
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