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EU Economy: A daunting task for the EU’s economic liberals

As the Brexit process grinds on, attention elsewhere in Europe is turning to the political dynamics of the EU without one of its most reliably free-market member states.

For many years, the UK, both because of its economic heft and the often under-appreciated skills of its civil servants, has led an informal economic bloc pushing for liberalisation in the single market and external trade. Some members, usually including the Nordic nations, have frequently relied on the UK to persuade other states.

A new counterweight to economic mercantilism is sorely needed. EU member states have, regrettably, been moving in a more protectionist direction in recent years. They have, for example, rewritten their laws on antidumping and antisubsidy duties, giving themselves more leeway to impose emergency blocks on imports.

Germany, traditionally the swing voter in the EU, has shifted more towards the protectionist end of the spectrum, dominated by France and Italy. In theory, the accession of Emmanuel Macron as France’s president, with his talk of freeing up markets to boost growth, should shift the centre of gravity back towards the liberal side.

In practice, Mr Macron’s commitments to liberalisation tend to stop at the French frontier. In order to buy some political space for his changes to labour law, Mr Macron has taken restrictive positions on cross-border issues including migration, foreign direct investment and signing trade deals that will endanger France’s perennially vocal farmers.

Read more: A daunting task for the EU’s economic liberals

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