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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Europe 'losing competitive edge'
French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Europe's old guard are losing out to their younger, livelier rivals
Europe's major economies are continuing to lose their competitive edge, according to a global business survey.

Britain, Germany, Spain and France all dropped in the rankings of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) latest global competitiveness report.

Nordic countries again dominated the survey in 2005, with Finland remaining the most competitive country for the third year running, the WEF said.

It was followed in the rankings by the US, Sweden, Denmark and Taiwan.

Iceland and Norway are also in the top ten, while Australia has reached that rank for the first time.

Finland praised

The WEF competitiveness index of 117 economies was drawn from a poll of nearly 11,000 business leaders worldwide.

Its Global Competitiveness Report aims to reflect a broad range of factors affecting the status of a country's economy, including a stable macroeconomic environment, the quality of public institutions and the level of technological development.

Of the major European economies, Britain's was the most competitive, coming in at 13th place.

However, its position in the WEF's latest competitiveness report was three places lower than in the previous year, taking the world's fourth-biggest economy out of the top 10 rankings.

Germany fell to 15th place in 2005, compared to 13th in 2004, while Spain came in at 29th place from 23rd last year.

France was in 30th place, from 27th last year, while Italy remained at number 47 in the rankings.

Commenting on Finland's top ranking, the WEF said the country was well managed at a macroeconomic level and continued to have quality public institutions.

'Fiscal problems'

Car at a Volkswagen production plant
Germany is among the major economies falling in the rankings

"The Nordic countries have consolidated their position at the top of the league," said WEF chief economist Augusto Lopez-Claros.

"The main reason is these countries enjoy very good (budget) management. They do not have fiscal problems like France, Germany or Italy."

Among other states, Estonia was the highest ranking former communist country in the index, at number 20.

Japan dropped to 12th place from ninth place last year, largely because of poor management of its public finances, the WEF said. China slipped three places from 46th to 49th place.

Chad was the least competitive state, dropping to 117th place from 104th last year, reflecting a generally poor showing for many sub-Saharan countries. Tunisia was the highest ranked African state, at 40th place, just ahead of South Africa which came 42nd.

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