Europe, eh? Good for nothing, innit? That’s the prevailing narrative you hear these days. But, as so often, this is a matter of perspective. The chart above, plundered courtesy of Anne Applebaum’s twitter feed, shows the respective growths of GDP per capita in Poland and the Ukraine since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact.
One of these countries, as you can see, has done rather better than the other. It’s the country that has made a better fist of democracy. And it’s the country that is a member of the European Union.
Which is one reason why Britain should still be in favour of expanding EU membership. There are doubtless many things that explain why Poland has done so much better than the Ukraine but it is implausible to suppose that being a part of the Brussels Club has played no part in Poland’s success.
Actually, the EU has been vital to that success. Correlation is not the same as causation except when, you know, it is. Something happened in Poland in 2004 that did not happen in the Ukraine and that something was joining the European Union.
It is a reminder that the British perspective on the problems with the EU is often – albeit unavoidably – a parochial one. The EU can be a frustrating place and it certainly does not want for shortcomings. Nevertheless, it has been a great enterprise for many millions of people across the continent, offering security and opportunities that had not previously been available. As such it has also been a great force for liberty and a means of advancing freedom for millions of individuals and, indeed, entire countries.
That does not mean reform is not required or that everything is splendid in the Brussels and Strasbourg gardens. Yet we too often ignore the EU’s very real successes and sometimes it would be useful to remember that, whatever its frustrations, the European project has many victories to its name too.
Perhaps this matters less to Britons (though Britain has shared in those triumphs too) but I fancy it matters quite a lot to the Poles and, in a different fashion, to the poor Ukrainians too.