One of the EU’s principal goals and proudest achievements, indeed the achievement it won its controversial nobel peace prize for, the ending of the possibility of another European war of the likes we saw between 1914 and 1945. However, it appears that this huge achievement has been soured, and conflict rages across the continent once more. On one side stand the previously invincible forces of austerity, and on the other, the battered rebels fighting to end austerity’s cruel reign. Recently, however, there has been a significant paradigm shift, and the anti-austerity forces have begun to make a come-back against the once unbeatable armies of austerity.
The south of the continent is where this conflict has seen the majority of its victims. The mayday marches this week were a clear demonstration of this. The predominant issue was unemployment, a direct result in the south of a rapidly receding state with no private sector jobs to take the slack. Since the bailouts that came in to save ailing economies like such as Greece, harsh regimes of austerity have been imposed by the EU and the IMF, and in many places such as Spain and Portugal this has led to the complete dismantlement of their respective welfare states. The results have been cataclysmic for the individual citizen. In Spain youth unemployment currently runs at 55% and with an economy shrinking by 2% for this year’s first quarter. There is plenty of reason for young Spaniards to be angry, and much of this bitterness has been directed at the EU which is seen, quite unfairly, simply as an extension of German power abroad.
This growing resentment is starting to reach its zenith, with flag burning protests and far-right, anti-EU parties gaining popularity, and party leaders, such as Italy’s Letta, abandoning their commitments to deficit reduction and the doctrine of austerity, opting instead for some much sort after growth to offset the devastation of the austere invasion. Hollande, president of France and Commander in Chief of the allied anti-austerity faction has himself become vocal in his opposition to German insistence on austerity and the champion of a pro-growth alternative. However, his plummeting popularity and inability to tackle the countries systemic unemployment coupled with frequent gaffes and scandals, have left him looking worlds apart from les General, who he so often invokes.
However, the anti-austerity ideology has managed to find its voice within the EU itself, supposedly a bastion of austerity Europe. The president of the European Commission, perhaps in a bout of sympathy for his fellow countrymen, recently states in regards to austerity that “I think it has reached its limits,” Strong words from the head of the EU’s executive, but understandable, as it seems in large parts of the continent, austerity is no longer a politically viable option, and the democratic nature of the EU member states makes it neigh on impossible to enforce an economic ideology so unpopular for so many. Barrosso’s words have been shadowed by other forces who have switched sides from the austerity camp, including the IMF who recently advised the UK rethink its austerity measures and attempt to inject some growth in the economy. Also Pimco, a heavy weight in the financial world, switched sides by declaring that austerity was often detrimental to short term growth.
Thus the pro-austerity side has lost a few valuable allies, yet they are still comfortably on top in this conflict of ideologies. Germany, the central pillar that has held together the European project with its powerful economy since the crisis began, shows no signs of moving from this position, and though a growing number of economists seem to have some sympathies with the other-side, they are a small minority in Europe’s economic engine room. The UK also holds the line stubbornly, despite many of its closest allies and biggest influencers changing minds, and seem almost suicidal in their commitment to the cause of the austerity, despite record unemployment, lack of any real growth and the bomb that was the downgrading of the UK’s credit rating.
Thus both sides are beleaguered by serious blows to its war-effort, but there does seem to be a seismic shift in the battlefield of Europe’s latest tussle. As the rest of the world manages to put the credit crunch behind it, with the US now having been able to attain consistent growth with a reduction in unemployment, many in Europe are believing it is time to end the conflict, remove the enforced austerity governments and pursue a growth based economic campaign and defer the war on debt for the future. As it stands however, Germany holds the key to this future, with austerity and its advocates seemingly unwilling the relinquish it, but the southern rebels are certainly starting to be heard.