March 1, 2012
The eurozone’s unemployment rate has reached 10.7 percent in January, meaning 16.9 million people out of work, of which 5.5 million young people under 25. If we add to these figures the 2.7 million people unemployed in the UK as well as another few million jobless in the other EU member-states, we can understand why the European Union is now being viewed as the biggest recessionary threat to the world economy. Countries in the eurozone’s southern periphery, like Greece or Spain, are afflicted by 19.9 percent and 23.3 percent unemployment rates respectively. By contrast, Austria, Luxemburg and the Netherlands enjoy a jobless rate of 4 to 5.1 percent according to Eurostat. Even more alarming, the eurozone’s manufacturing sector has entered its seventh month of contraction, pointing to an EU-wide recession for 2012 and possibly beyond.
In denial about the economic consequences of their actions, the eurozone’s leaders will meet in Brussels this weekend for the signing of a new fiscal pact, whose stringent conditions are at the root of the current economic problems. Nobody that’s anybody in the economic profession still supports the view that the austerity measures – as implemented unwisely over the last two to three years – could improve the economy. Draconian austerity measures could only lead to negative growth, mass unemployment and a wave of unprecedented social unrest across Europe.
Aloof German politicians and bankers, however, are currently attacking the ECB for lowering interest rates and for providing fresh liquidities to the banks in order to spur economic activity, even as the German export engine itself is showing signs of sputtering.
Ideologically motivated national leaders from most other European countries are towing the austerity line and cutting expenses in health, education and essential social services to the bone, further depressing aggregate demand in their own countries.
Together, all these policies will in time provide the fuel for social revolutions, as stressed-out wage earners and the working poor can barely tolerate the harshness of the measures aimed at reducing private and public debt in eurozone countries. Meanwhile, labour union leaders have all but given up hope of making politicians gauge the gravity of the mega social crisis unfolding under our own eyes. One thing is certain, however. Brussels’ summitry is not expected to make a significant contribution to improving Europe’s growth prospects or to reducing unemployment anytime soon. (sources: The Guardian, Reuters, Deutsche Welle, Le Monde)Florian Pantazi