Europe’s Economic Powerhouse Drifts East read a headline in the New York Times last year, referring to the shifting economies not only within the European Union as shown in a series of cartograms on this website, but also in a wider sense. As the NYT states: “Last year [i.e. 2010], the euro area’s share of German exports fell to 41 percent from 43 percent in 2008, while Asia’s share rose to 16 percent from 12 percent, according to Bundesbank figures. During the same period, exports to Asia rose by €28 billion, while exports to the euro area fell by the same amount.“ This trend is interesting when reflecting on the implications of Germany’s continuing strength amid a continent of economic woes: With its economic strength, the country is doomed to take over some leadership in Europe, while its past makes it struggle to do so. The Guardian recently stated that “Germany, Europe’s reluctant Goliath, is hiding its true strength“.
The European Economic Area has always been the centre of German exports. However, against some perceptions that the creation of the Eurozone led to a manifestation Germany’s dependence on the European trade, the opposite seems to be the case when looking at the changes in German exports that are also described in the above mentioned NYT article. A comparison of the exports in 1991, when the freshly unified country still traded in its own beloved – and quite strong – currency (the Deutsche Mark), and 20 years on in 2011 shows the changing trends that also reflect the shifting economic powers on a global stage. In 1991 the ties to Germany’s European neighbours were particularly strong, while in Asia only Japan played an important role. Twenty years later, and 10 years after the introduction of the Euro currency, German exports (as shown in the recently released trade figures from the Federal Statistical Office) are still concentrated in Europe, with 59% of exports going to member states of the European Union. At the same time, that share is in decline. Inner-European trade has shifted eastwards to the new member states of the European Union (shown in blue in the following map), reflecting the growth of the Easter European economies. The share of France as Germany’s main trading partner fell from 13.2 to 9.6 percent (but still is the main consumer of German exports). At the same time, exports to Asia has gained some significant boost: China received exports 30 times as high as in 1991, and bought German exports worth 65 billion Euro, making it the fifth largest receiver of German exports. The USA are now the second largest importer of German goods, while seven out of the ten largest importers of German exports are countries of the EU.
For geographical but also political reasons, the success of German exports has always been rooted in Europe – long before the Euro has arrived as a currency, but a more detailed look into the trade structure also shows that these patterns are changing. As the economic centre of the global economy changes eastwards – within Europe as well as beyond the continent – so does the trade of the German economy shift eastwards and beyond Europe which made it an ongoing success story of its manufacturing sector to date. It is hard to use these figures to make a case about Germany merely benefitting from the Eurozone crisis when taking a historic view of the German economy into account. Some of the recent interpretations in the media can be proven wrong with a wider perspective on these long-term developments in the past. But it also shows how important the European trade still is for the country’s economy, and thus how important a sustainable solution for Europe’s economic future is needed to retain that prosperity.
The following two maps show the described trends from 1991 and 2011 in form of Worldmapper-style density equalising-cartograms in which the countries of the world are resized according to their shares of German exports in the two respective years:
The maps have been created for the German Wirtschaftszeitung AKTIV magazine. The article is available online at http://www.aktiv-online.info and as a pdf download.