Once depicted as a “blue banana” stretching from Manchester to Milan, Europe’s industrial heartland has moved eastward just as its political center of gravity has shifted to Germany.
The term was coined in 1989 — the year the Berlin Wall fell — to describe the French geographer Roger Brunet’s work identifying a manufacturing megacity, visible from space at night as a band of light curving from England to Italy via the Netherlands, Belgium, West Germany and Switzerland.
Mr. Brunet was worried that France, a highly centralized economy dominated by Paris, was fading from the map. He developed the concept to urge the government to invest in infrastructure to connect the Paris-Lyon-Marseille axis to the highly urbanized European backbone of around 110 million people.
A quarter of a century later, the Continent’s industrial geography has morphed. A more fitting image might be a golden football centered on southern Germany and reaching into Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Romania.
“We seen a huge relocation and concentration into a central European manufacturing core,” says Michael A. Landesmann, scientific director of the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies.
The former communist countries that joined the European Union in 2004 and 2007 have become the extended production line of German industry, no longer just supplying raw material and components but assembling cars and some industrial machinery.
Manufacturing employment has declined everywhere in Europe as a share of the work force but most sharply in Britain, France and Belgium. The trend, driven by the globalization of supply chains, was accelerated by the post-2008 economic crisis.