Europe's current crisis is more than economic. Between the German government advocating a dangerous austerity policy and European authorities lacking any other suggestions, it is clear that the 2008 financial crisis is no longer solely responsible for the downward spiral of Europe.
The GDP for countries in Europe has fallen by a considerable amount: 5.3% for Greece, 3.9% for Portugal, 4.1% for Cyprus, 2.3% for Italy, and 2% for Spain. This is without even mentioning the recession into which France is entering. In the first quarter of this year, the European Union economy contracted by 0.7%, or one percent when only taking into consideration the eurozone.
If it was only the 2008 economic crisis that was responsible for all this, Europe would not be one of the only ones to suffer so much. For example, the United States, the birthplace of this crisis, registered a 1.9% increase in their economy in 2013 [fr] while their unemployment rate was at its lowest in four years.
Europe, which for a long time has aimed to maintain growth that compares favorably with the United States, now finds itself completely lost among incoherent policies and disputes between countries [fr].
One of the main reasons for this current instability in Europe is the evident failure of the European policy authorities when their proposals seem more than enigmatic. Restricting interchange fees as proposed by Michel Barnier, the European Union Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, is a perfect example of the Commission taking measures that will not have any concrete impact.
Capping interchange fees, bank charges paid by retailers when they make a card payment, would not only increase personal bank charges [fr], as the banks would want to recuperate the money lost by this cap, but the retailers profit margin will also increase, as they rarely lower their prices just because their costs have decreased.
The other significant issue which has notably accelerated the decline of Europe is the restricted austerity policy that the majority of EU countries have undertaken. It would be more logical for Europe to take inspiration from the countries that have pulled through, i.e. the United States, in order to stimulate the market rather than only focusing on reducing the deficit.
The most frustrating aspect about this issue is that the majority of the European leaders agree on this point, but no one dares to confront the life-long defenders of austerity, also known as « Sparkurs » [de] in Germany and its strict chancellor, Angela Merkel [fr]. But there are also critics of austerity on the German side. Last week, Gilles Moëc, head economist at Deutsche Bank, admitted to the news outlet Agence France-Presse that “there were some errors” [fr] in the selected strategy.
However, it's not as if the Merkel method was fully tried and tested, in fact, it was far from it. Portugal, for example, had never been in such a terrible state until it was subjected to the European austerity policy. In two years, its unemployment rate increased by 5.3%, its budget deficit by 1.1%. As for its public debt, it's now 123% higher than its GDP.
According to the online newspaper Público, Julio Salazar Moreno, Secretary-General of Spanish worker's trade union, USO, believes that the countries within the European Union need to stop with the austerity policy [pt]:
Os países da União Europeia (UE) têm de parar “de uma vez por todas” com a aplicação de medidas recessivas, porque os cidadãos, alerta, estão a viver no limite dos sacrifícios
The countries within the European Union (EU) must refrain from enforcing austerity policies “once and for all” because the alert citizens are living at the very limits of their possible sacrifices.
The sledgehammer approach is just as inefficient for Greece, claims Gregor Gyzi, a president from a left-wing parliamentary group in Germany, Bundestag, by addressing the Greek readers [el] of news247:
οι επιβληθείσες, κυρίως από την γερμανική κυβέρνηση, περικοπές σε μισθούς και συντάξεις, οι απολύσεις και οι ιδιωτικοποιήσεις, όχι μόνο ώθησαν την Ελλάδα σε βαθιά ύφεση και κοινωνικά προβλήματα, αλλά κατέστησαν και αδύνατη την επιστροφή των δανείων στο εγγύς μέλλον
Imposed primarily by the German government, salary and retirement cuts, redundancies and privatisations, are not only going to push Greece into a major recession and cause social problems, but its also going to make loan repayments equally impossible.
Emigration figures for Europe are also far from surprising. In two years, 2.5% of the Portuguese population left the country. Who would have said ten years ago that today many Europeans would leave the continent to work in countries like Angola or Brazil?
Facing this alarming development, it is even more depressing to hear the responses of others, like that of the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, also the former minister of the Eurogroup, who recently gave his thoughts on the European crisis [fr] and concluded that what Europe needs is some “TLC”: a statement which speaks for itself.