Graffiti in Greece reflects the unemployment rate: a quarter of workers are jobless. Photo: Getty.
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Across Europe, those born abroad are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed

The UK’s foreign-born unemployment rate is comparatively low, and its unemployment rate is one of Europe’s lowest.

You can read this piece in full on May2015.com – our election site.

To understand the endless Eurozone crisis, a useful fact to grasp is this: the unemployment rate in Germany, the continent’s biggest and richest country, is a fifth of the rate in Greece, its most indebted and crisis-ridden.

Looking at European unemployment rates also helps to make sense of this year’s election, now little more than 100 days away. Debates over policy in this election have so far been familiar, formulaic and vapid. But ever day a battle quietly rages over the economy.

May2015’s Drilldown shows how the Tories lead Labour on the issue. But why are they ascendant? Part of the reason is unemployment. George Osborne presided over more than two years of anemic growth in 2011 and 2012, but the UK’s unemployment rate is now among the lowest in Europe.

5.9 per cent of British job-seekers were unemployed as of November 2014 (per FT.com, where you can track this data in impressive detail). That compares to 10.0 per cent across the European Union (EU-28).

Only two countries have a significantly lower unemployment rate – Germany and Austria – and the UK is still within a percentage point of both of them.

These are the statistics Osborne can use to preface his election Budget. Two years ago he had little to offer. Unemployment had only just fallen below 8 per cent and growth had been either negative or negligible in five of the previous nine quarters.

As the economy improved, its importance fell in voters’ minds. In April 2013 nearly 80 per cent of us thought it one of the three most important issues facing the country. Now only half do.

In turn, immigration gradually succeeded it as the greatest issue facing the country (although there is now some evidence voters are tiring of the subject).

One of the subjects which unites both issues is foreign-born workers. How do first-generation immigrants fare in the job market?

In the UK, as in almost every European country, the foreign-born are considerably more likely to be unemployed. The unemployment rate among foreign-born Brits is 8.5 per cent – around 30 per cent higher than the national rate. [1]

That is good compared to most of Europe: foreign-born unemployment is, on average, nearly 80 per cent higher.

The foreign-born are less likely to be employed in the UK, but the differences are nowhere near as stark as in places like Sweden or Belgium.

Both countries have similar unemployment rates to the UK, but foreign-born unemployment is at, or near, 20 per cent. It is less than 9 per cent in the UK.

The graph below maps the national rate (blue line) and foreign-born rate (red bars) on the same graph. [2]

The EU is the barometer for the UK. As the Guardian reported yesterday, the number of EU migrants claiming benefits in the UK pales in comparison to the number of Britons claiming benefits in wealthier EU countries.

Those numbers were a reminder of how the EU is a great benefit to some Britons. Comparing unemployment rates is a reminder of how the UK is now outperforming many European countries – and could hand the Tories the election.

[1] These numbers are for 2013, the most recent year for which EU-wide data is available, and are for unemployment among 20-64 year olds.

[2] Foreign-born data isn’t, as you can see, available for every country.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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