Friday, March 30, 2012

Debt crisis puts European project in jeopardy

Is this the future of Europe? When rioting broke out in Athens in previous years it was seen as a purely local phenomenon, taken as yet more evidence by foreign press that the Greeks were an unruly and undisciplined bunch who refused to see sense.

The idea propagated in much of the international press was that the the austerity measures imposed by the country's creditors were the only sensible solution for the nation and that refusal to knuckle down was was a refusal to accept reality. I remember being interviewed by the BBC and the first question was why the Greeks were so upset about being "saved". The reporter seemingly unaware of the harsh conditions of the bailout deal.

Two years on the Greek economy is in free fall beset with a disintegrating private and public sector which is shedding jobs at an unprecedented rate. If that wasn't enough, the government's attempt to balance the books by rising taxes on everything from bread to boats has just sped up the decline. At every single juncture an increase in taxation has been matched with a fall in consumption leading to even less money flowing into the coffers.

Despite two years of patent failure IMF and EU officials continue to claim that their policy recommendations have been ignored and that the Greek government has brought this disaster upon itself. Yet, in nations which have adopted troika policies more comprehensively the results are the same. In Spain and Portugal (always seen by foreign financial press as the model student) the same cycle of decline and debt is also playing out and with it a growing level of violent dissent.

Yesterday's images from Madrid and Barcelona echo those seen recently in Athens and other Greek cities as young people facing a future without hope or work work out their resentments in the streets.With youth unemployment in both country's reaching 50% a potential generation gap is opening up as young Europeans start to associate the EU with poverty and joblessness.

Even if the European ideal survives the current Eurozone crisis the damage done to its image in the eyes of the continent's youth may mean that it's future will be in doubt as young Europeans enter political life and see the union, not as a guarantor of unity and prosperity but an force for disruption and inequality.

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