Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 09:15:40 AM EST
Crossposted from DKos. I am sure my European based readers will be much more critical than the Kossacks, but I welcome the additional information.
You want to know what the funny thing about Europe is?
Its the little differences
When I published a photo diary last week on a small town in Germany, I received a suggestion that I should do a follow up diary on what makes Europe different from the US, and how we Europeans differ from Americans.
I was initially thinking of a photo diary, but the more I thought about it, the bigger the topic became. So I thought that I might make an ongoing diary stream on the subject, some photo diaries, other text based.
This is the first, with the object of defining what is Europe. Hop over the orange line.
promoted by whataboutbob
Over the years of lurking, and sometimes contributing to DKos, I have often encountered comments about Europe and Europeans that bare no resemblance to reality. In diaries about gas taxes, fuel efficiency etc, it is often repeated that
Europe is much smaller than the US
Europe's population density is much higher than the US
But first of all we need to define what Europe is.
There are many different definitions of Europe, geographic, political, ethnic etc, so we can start with Geographic.
Europe by Geography
The standard definition of Europe is the North West part of Eurasia, bordered by the Atlantic, the Meditterranean, The Caspian and Black Seas, and the Urals.
This of course includes a large chunk of Russia, and a part of Kazahkstan - from which the name Cossack is derived - hat tip to Borat. The total area of this is 10 million square kilometres, whic compares to the area of the US which is 9.8 million square kilometres ( including Alaska which accounts for 1.7 million square km.)
As an aside I once was invited to a dinner in Orenberg, where the Vodka flowed so freely, that I was obliged to take a nap in our bus, only to be rudely awakend twenty minutes later to be informed we were now in Asia.
The population density of geographic Europe is 70/sq km, which compares to the US density of 31/sq km in However, this again includes Alaska, which represents 17% of the land mass and 0.2% of the population. Taking Alaska out of the calculation brings US density to 37/ sq km. In addition the non coastal Western states have huge amounts of land, and very small populations. For example, Nebraska, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, the Dakotas and Idaho all have densities of less than 10 per sq km, with Kansas coming in at 11. Source infoplease Note densities in the table are people/sq mile, and need to be converted.
To be even handed, a significant part of Russia included in this definition is also sparsely populated.
What this means is that while the US overall has a much lower density than Europe, in the more populated areas, the coasts and around the lakes, there is a much less significant difference.
When it comes to travelling, it is often said that distances are shorter in Europe. To go from San Diego to Burlington Vermont is 3300 miles - a trip that many people take weekly. To go from Seville in Spain to Tromso in Norway is - 3300 miles. If you wanted to go from Lisbon to Orenburg, it would be around 5000 miles.
As opposed to the geographic definition, Europe is often considered to be defined by its political grouping - primarily the European Union. Starting out as 6 countries in 1957 (Belgium, France, Germany, Holland,Italy and Luxemburg), it was expanded over the years to include the UK,Ireland, Denmark (1973) Greece (1981)Portugal and Spain (1986), Austria Sweden and Finland 1995. Noticeably absent from this list are Norway, whose request to join was defeated by a referendum, and Switzerland. These countries formed the base on which the single currency ( Euro) was launched (excluding UK and Denmark)and the Schenghen agreement, which did away with internal border controls for 13 countries. It is now possible to drive from Sweden to Portugal without showing your passport or id card.
With the advent of the demise of the USSR and Eastern bloc, membership has now been expanded to 27 countries including Poland, Czech, Slovakia, Roumania and others (including the baltic states.
The total area of the current EU is 4.8 million sq km, with a population density of 114 per sq km. Adding back Switzerland and Norway brings the area to 5.2 million sq km.
How the EU works.
The EU does not function like the federal government in the US.
The EU, either through its commissions or parliament can make laws and regulations which must then be confirmed by the member countries through their own legislative processes. At this point they can modify the regulation to meet local requirements, as long as the law meets the minimum standard laid out in the EU legislation. In case of a conflict, the EU law prevails, and the issue can be taken through first local courts, and up to the European court on appeal.
The EU does not set taxes. In order to be a member of the EU, a country must have a value added tax, and a small part of that revenue is used to finance the EU's activities. However due to historic politics (Thatcher's handbag), each country's contribution is not always based on a constant factor.
Each country sets its own VAT rate, or rates according to its budgetary requirements, but are generally in the 15-20% range, with some products (e.g food, children's clothing) either lower rated or zero rated.
There is no EU income tax, corporation tax, inheritance tax, which could be compared to US federal taxes. Each country sets its own policies and rates, and retains control of the receipts. Similarly with Social security contributions, each country has a unique system.
This last point is very important as international US corporations systematically underestimate the complexity of fiscal issues in Europe, erroneously believing that they can just ship US programs and systems to Europe. To paraphrase one senior US manager.
"The French payroll system is very complicated, Can't we change it?"
A lot of the advantages for Europeans of the EU are linked to reciprosity and standardisation. For example, driving licenses have been standardised, which means that when one moves from one country to another, there is no need to exchange your license. ( an exception to this is if you commit a traffic offense which includes penalty points, then you must exchange so that the points are applied).
The introduction of the Euro has made travel much easier, and also allows easy comparison of costs between the countries. As there is no restriction on buying goods on other EU countries, this has had over time the effect of driving down price differentials. With the exception of alcohol and tobacco products, there is no smuggling of legally available products (drugs/guns etc are a different issue). Due to the very significant differences in tobacco duties (UK around 8 per pack, Spain around 3 per pack) a certain amount of smuggling occurs, and Ryanair for example sells a very high number of its UK/Spain seats to tobacco tourists, as the savings on the legally acceptable amount can cover the discount air ticket several times.
Another advantage of the Euro is a very substantial reduction in the cost of making international transfers within the Eurozone, and the elimination of FX margins.
I hope some of you find this interesting/useful/informative and I'll stick around a while to be corrected for errors, and answer questions.
And to finish this first Royale Cheese, some more Vincent Vega
Apologies, I can't seem to embed youtube videos here. So here is a link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srrsjDWCHTU