Thursday 18 December 2014

Editor's Choice

Austerity and inequality undermine EU

The numerous geopolitical tensions in 2014 in Ukraine, Syria or Iraq could not obscure the fact that the most worrying problems in the world today are economic, and not geopolitical, in nature.

The total failure of austerity policies within the EU is by now the most pressing concern of governments from the North to the South of the continent. Hailed a few years back by European conservatives as a miracle cure to the sovereign debt crisis, austerity policies have not succeeded in reducing the public debt of Spain and Greece or their 25+ percent unemployment rates. Moreover, the much-touted “golden rule” enforced by Germany via Brussels has only made matters worse, bringing the EU-wide economy to a standstill. The spectres of stagnation and deflation are haunting the chancelleries of most EU countries, as is a Japanese-style extended period of economic malaise.

Another major concern for EU policymakers is the widening inequality in incomes, favouring the rich and severely punishing the European middle classes and the poor. According to the German Office of Statistics, even a seemingly successful country like Germany has 20.5 percent of its population in danger of falling into poverty, whilst the EU-wide average figure stands even higher at 24.5 percent.  The bleak economic situation experienced by nearly all EU members has recently generated huge street protests and general strikes, from Belgium to Italy and from Greece to Spain. The reduction in the standards of living of the middle classes – whose existence is endangered by  the past few years’ myopic austerity policies – combined with the spectre of rising poverty, have motivated students, union members and pensioners to come together in record numbers in an effort to block or even reverse such misguided policies.

In countries like Greece and Spain, radical political parties of the left such as Syriza and Podemos are in the process of undermining political support for traditional parties of the right or of the left, which stand discredited by years of enforcing economic policies that had not produced the expected results. In countries like France, the UK or Hungary, voters’ preferences are also deserting traditional parties in favour of nationalist political parties such as the Front National, UKIP or Fidesz. To add insult to injury, a deal between the EU’s social democrats and conservatives has resulted in the appointment as Commission President of Jean-Claude Juncker , ex-prime  minister of Luxemburg, which is the EU’s capital of the tax-avoidance industry.

The failure of austerity policies and the growth of inequalities have not, however, made a lasting  impression on German politicians or determined them to rethink their approach to solving economic stagnation and high unemployment in the EU. Quite on the contrary, the conservative leadership of Germany keeps insisting that the bitter medicine that failed to revive the EU’s economy has to be swallowed even more rigorously in the future. This is an approach that can only lead to more economic stagnation, more poverty and more social upheavals on the continent.

 

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