Why NI’s future must lie in Europe

It is no surprise that the referendum campaign has been uninspiring, negative and often ludicrous. They generally are.

What about some positivity?

I think one case for Northern Ireland’s place in Europe is simply this:


The photo is important, because it shows clearly something often referred to, would you believe, as the “Blue Banana” (no laughing at the back, Boris!)

The colours on the map broadly indicate rising population density (red), falling (blue) and stable (gold) over the turn of the century, and the “Blue Banana” matches the latter.

The “Blue Banana” is a corridor which runs northward from the Milan-Turin area in Italy, past Munich, through Frankfurt, up to the Ruhrgebiet (Dortmund-Essen-Duisburg etc, also touching Cologne and Düsseldorf), on to Holland (Amsterdam-Rotterdam) via the Channel Ports to London and arguably now further to Dublin.

In this corridor, income (no matter how defined) is considerably above even the Western European average (often double); thus, economic opportunities in Europe are concentrated within it; transport flows are planned to go along it; investment is attracted to it; and it is therefore a magnet for skilled labour (and ambitious people generally).

The corridor explains why London has advanced so quickly economically compared to Paris or Berlin (which fall outside it); why relatively conservative Bavaria has become Germany’s richest state; why northern Italy is so much more prosperous than the south; and so on. It is an upwards spiral – skills are attracted to the corridor which means governments invest in it which means skills are attracted to it which means…

At the very northwestern tip of the corridor, assuming (as I would) that you know include the Dublin Region within it, lies Greater Belfast.

I have written before about how the focus of all efforts on our island, North and South, should be in the Eastern Corridor. In terms of ground transport, we should be planning higher density road and rail structures even than we have (and certainly no more gap junctions); in terms of aviation, Dublin and Belfast Airports should be cooperating perhaps under a single authority; in terms of investment hubs each jurisdiction should deliberately harmonise tax arrangements to maximise investment flow into and along the Belfast-Dublin axis; in terms of planning, a jobs creation and skills strategy focus aimed at growing global industries should apply across the area regardless of jurisdiction; noting all the time that investors may in fact be attracted by a choice of jurisdictions in which to locate (other Euroregions, such as Copenhagen-Malmo or Vienna-Bratislava, already do this). Externally, it means both Dublin and Belfast have an interest in encouraging the English “Northern Powerhouse” to ensure the “Blue Banana” extends through Manchester-Merseyside via Birkenhead Port and Manchester Airport to Ireland’s East Coast.

Ultimately the point is this: the “Blue Banana” corridor has nothing to do with sovereignty and everything to do with cities cooperating for maximum mutual benefit to attract skilled labour and attract new jobs to deliver perhaps the highest standard of living in the world. It is a cooperative as much as a competitive thing.

Far from making ourselves peripheral to that reality, we should be embracing it and becoming more and more part of it. Remaining in the EU to maximise cross-border potential in all our interests is just the start.

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