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With Britain Leaving, European Union Looks For New Financial Hub


Samuel Johnson famously observed when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. But if the man in question works in the city of London, the financial center of Europe, and the U.K. is actually going to quit the European Union and doing business with Europe gets really complicated, in that case, early onset London fatigue may become a common problem.

If so, where do London businesspeople go? What city might pick up the business that London could lose? Well, James Stewart of The New York Times has written a column about the European cities most likely to succeed London and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

JAMES STEWART: Thank you nice to be here.

SIEGEL: Let's assume there is an exodus of Global Business from London. You've ranked major European cities on how well-positioned they would be to take over first. What are the criteria used?

STEWART: Well, I interviewed bankers and financial services executives for what they were looking for, and the number one criteria was English language facility because you need that to attract a global workforce; secondly, a hospitable regulatory climate - they want to be able to fire people and hire them at will; third, a good school system that's accessible to a non-native population preferably with some English language speaking schools; forth, good cultural offerings restaurants, entertainment; fifth, luxury housing - they don't want to live in hovels or crowded apartments and finally an intangible quality which includes a certain energy level of hospitality towards a kind of hard-charging executive who works in the city of London and a willingness to embrace these people and make them feel at home.

SIEGEL: So six criteria if you score 10 on each of them, you have a perfect score of 60. How well did London do?

STEWART: It scored a near perfect 58. It would have gotten 60 except the cost of living there is so high. It's a great score primarily because everybody loves London. I mean, that's some of the tragedy of this. Everyone I talked to said we wish we could stay, but we're not going to be able to if they leave the EU.

SIEGEL: Well, there's one other English-speaking capital in the EU. That's Dublin.

STEWART: Yes. Dublin fares quite well by many of these measures. Where it falls down is it's just not that big. It's only about 1.7 million people in the metropolitan area. It doesn't have the cultural offerings. It's a charming place, but there's a lot of question of how many of these people they can absorb. But I will say several banks told me that absolutely they are moving some operations to Dublin, so they will get an influx.

SIEGEL: OK. Give it to us. Who - not counting London - who would score the best of all of the contending cities of Europe?

STEWART: Well, the top two contenders were Frankfurt which many people think is the obvious choice. It's the site of the European Central Bank. It's the financial capital of Germany, the largest economy. But that kind of works against it in the intangible category. Almost everybody I talked to was unenthusiastic about Frankfurt because they think Germany is already too powerful. So the winner was Amsterdam.

So much to my surprise 90 percent of the Dutch speak English, and, by the way. They speak it very well. The school system there is ranked the best in Europe. It's a very charming place to live. There's excellent housing. It really does extremely well in everything except the regulatory environment, and that's the main problem there.

The question, I guess, really is do the Dutch want the city of London people? And there is some question about that they are more egalitarian, I think, than English generally. But all else being equal, everyone said they would be delighted to move to Amsterdam.

SIEGEL: Could crowd the canals a lot to have all those extra people...

STEWART: (Laughter) I picture them ice skating in the winter, a Hans Brinker or something like that.

SIEGEL: What do you think of the possibility that the virtues of London are just so great that even if there are new legal complexities or market complexities that essentially the city of London is going to remain the city of London?

STEWART: They do have many great advantages, and it's not going to stop being a financial capital. And I think it probably always will be. But people pointed out to me that 20 years ago, London was not the London that we know today. London wasn't chock full of luxury housing. London didn't have all these great restaurants. So in 10, 15, 20 years, I think that is the question - will London then retain its supremacy? And I do think it's at risk.

SIEGEL: James Stewart, a business columnist for The New York Times, thanks for talking with us.

STEWART: It's a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.