Which of Europe's capitals has the most to gain from Brexit-fearing businesses fleeing London?

A rogue option, perhaps, but Estonia's capital Tallinn may have a lot to offer for businesses in a post-Brexit world. Image: Maigi via Wikimedia Commons.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data to crunch some of the numbers on Europe’s cities.

It has begun.

A few days ago, HSBC announced that it plans to pack up at least 1,000 jobs and ship them over to the Continent. The plan is Paris, enabling the international banking giant to continue a strong presence within the EU as the UK slithers out of the back door with a shrug and a small wave from the rest of the bloc.

With Theresa May’s ‘ye startin, m8?’ hardball speech indicating a harder – if not entirely hard – Brexit, severing us from the Single Market and the Customs Union, there can be no doubt in any sensible mind that many employers will be forced to pack up thousands of jobs and move them to cities that are staying in the EU.

Any assumption that all of these will be Londoners optimistically packing up and moving abroad should be put to rest; much of the pain will come from good old-fashioned redundancies, and we’ll soon know about it.

Of course, the chorus of ‘stop talking down Britain’ begins; if you are one of its sirens, or swayed by its song, I would suggest ceasing reading at this point. Remoaners, realists, and savoir-faire types only from now on, please.

So. If you’re a well-to-do, HR-minded, managing director type, at the helms of operations at some reasonably large firm with a strong presence in Britain, what are you to do at this point? You know that a vast swathe of your business relies on the easiest trade possible with other countries in the EU.

And you’re a cosmopolitan type.

Brussels. You love it, you metropolitan elite, you. Image: Amanito via Wikimedia Commons.

You buy Fairtrade, read the Guardian (still!), occasionally pick up Le Monde because everyone loves a Berliner, and you sing Italian opera while you rustle up paella – even though you know it’s totally inappropriate and very naughty.

Work-wise, the company has a lot of needs. It’s a modern, 21st–century, global operation after all. So what are you after? Perhaps you’re into passporting, or maybe sending stuff across the Channel without 10-hour lorry queues is your thing. Either way – you’re looking at the situation post-Mayday, and thinking of various four letter words that your mother wouldn’t like.

You want a capital; your firm has a lobbying arm that would do well closely shadowing suggestible lawmakers over a glass of wine and a large déjeuner.  

The instinct is Paris, but what of the other options? What is worth bearing in mind?

Looking at the options by population size – livelier cities will keep your bullish employees happy at the weekend – there are clear winners.

London comes out in front, with Paris a little way behind, and Berlin leading the pack of Madrid, Rome, and Athens a way back. It does seem a little surprising that only six European capital cities would have populations over two million, but then the ways of measuring populations in cities are so infinite that it’s probably not worth dwelling on.

Next metric: high-skilled population. You know that you won’t be able to, and won’t want to bring all your current employees over with you on le Grand Départ. And if you are going to be recruiting locally, you’ll want people who know what they’re doing; high-skilled types who’ll fit in well, hopefully speak a barrel-load of languages, and know how to do all the clever things you don’t have a clue about because you breezed in from public school. Probably.

And this is where things get more interesting.

Vilnius comes out on top. Vilni-who? Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, clocks in 56 per cent of the population as high-skilled. Nearby Tallinn, in Estonia, comes next with 49 per cent. Perhaps most surprisingly, Bulgaria’s Sofia is third with 48.9 per cent, and it’s not until fourth place that Europe west of the Iron Curtain makes an appearance. Madrid offers 48.5 per cent, Amsterdam holds 47.9 per cent, and Paris dribbles in sixth with 46.2.

This makes things more complicated.

What about the unemployment rate? If the labour market’s too healthy, you don’t want to be bringing in a load of high-skilled jobs that you’ll struggle to recruit for, or that you’ll only be able to recruit high-pay-demanding twerps in for.

Unsurprisingly, Bern, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Stockholm huddle in a Germanic clump at the bottom of the heap. But Brussels has the highest unemployment rate of all the European capitals, at 18.4 per cent. Athens is second with 17.6, and Madrid clocks 15.8. Bizarrely – as judged by the norms of all right-thinking Anglophile prejudices, Warsaw has the second lowest rate of unemployment, at five per cent. Sofia has the sixth-lowest, with 8.5 per cent unemployed.

Spanner in the works.

As an economic measure, Gross Value Added (GVA) pretty much does what it says on the tin. It measures the value of what gets produced in an area, industry, or sector of an economy – whether in goods or in services.

By that measure, Paris makes a lot of sense as a choice, coming in second behind London – and not all that far behind, on £305billion to London’s £343billion. The other big European capitals follow – Madrid, Rome, and Berlin take third, fourth, and fifth, and bottom of the heap come our friends Vilnius and Tallinn.

But GVA on its own isn’t a perfect measure. GVA per worker divides, as you might guess, that GVA figure by the number of people in the workforce; linking the stuff made with the number of people making it, essentially working out how productive a place is.

London does less well here, coming in fifth with £68,900 per worker. The surprise lead is Dublin, at £86,100, pushing ahead of Paris at £80,400. Brussels and Amsterdam come in behind, and the bottom of the list is Sofia, in Bulgaria.

And what does all this mean?

Essentially, the chatter of post-Brexit commercial migration is all about Paris. Despite the odd bit of dribbling about Frankfurt am Main, in Germany, Paris is dominating all talk about where banks and businesses might move if they choose or need to leave the UK after Brexit cuts our links to crucial economic benefits.

That narrative will play into Paris’s hands very well – as well as, no doubt, suiting the agenda of Paris’s popular left-wing mayor Anne Hidalgo. But there are other options.

You definitely knew where Vilnius was before you read this. Image: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons.

Dublin is an incredibly productive city with the advantage of being English-speaking, for the most part, while cities in the Baltics, such as Vilnius and Tallinn, have the dual advantage of being populated by highly-skilled workforces and sending a message to the looming Russian bear that the European project takes the fortunes of all its members seriously. And if you wanted to do something about unemployment as well as giving Theresa May the middle finger, why not just pack up and move to Brussels?


But to take a hard realpolitik line about this, Donald Trump just became US president so there’s really not much point worrying. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.