Strikes a barometer of Europe's austerity tolerance

A worker stands at a picket line at Mitrena shipyard, south of Lisbon A picket line at a shipyard in Portugal as the country observes a strike in protest at austerity measures

Across Europe people are taking to the streets to express their anger and frustration with austerity.

There will be disruption and protests. General strikes have been called in Spain and Portugal, and there will be action in Greece, Italy, Belgium and France.

The day will serve as a barometer of the mood in Europe.

Is it increasingly angry? Or just resigned?

The question that worries many of Europe's leaders is when will patience run out? When will tolerance of high unemployment and declining living standards snap?

The eurozone's strategy still holds. Deficits must be reduced. Structural reforms - such as the opening up of labour markets - are the key to future growth.

Countries must regain their competitiveness with Germany by slashing wages and pensions.

The European Commission believes that austerity may hurt growth in the short term, but in the longer term it will revive confidence in Europe.

It remains a hugely controversial policy. There are those who say it has failed in Greece.

There, the economy has shrunk by 23% in five years. Many economists insist it is madness to continue with austerity when so many southern European countries are already in recession.

Spain has an unemployment rate of 25% and is in recession. In five of its 19 regions, unemployment stands at more than 30%.

Yet the government in Madrid is embarking on another round of spending cuts that will only further weaken demand.

The human cost of those policies has been underlined in the past two weeks by two suicides linked to the repossession of homes.

Unemployment rates

  • Spain 25.8%
  • Greece 25.4%
  • Portugal15.7%
  • Eurozone 11.6%
  • France 10.8%
  • US 7.8%
  • Belgium 7.4%
  • Germany 5.4%
  • Japan 4.2%


The protesters will march behind the slogan, "They are taking away our future".

The Greek prime minister, while pushing austerity measures through parliament in recent days, has also said he accepts his country is facing the equivalent of the Great Depression.


Recently, the IMF conceded it had underestimated the impact of austerity on living standards and there are signs of greater flexibility in the eurozone.

Deficit-cutting targets for Spain, Greece and Portugal have been eased.

Brussels is said to have moved towards an "austerity-lite" policy, but the fundamentals stand. Southern Europe has to reduce its deficits and debts.

The key question remains; how will growth be restored?

Without it, Europe faces a future of hardship. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the eurozone crisis may last five years.

She has just visited Portugal, where she praised the sacrifices being made and promised that one day the "painful" changes would be positive, but she was booed during her visit.

A youthful generation may not be prepared to accept unemployment at more than 50% for five years or longer.

In the past three months the eurozone crisis - as reflected by the markets - has eased. The economic outlook, however, has worsened.

Wednesday's day of action will be watched closely to gauge Europe's mood.

Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I'm more curious to know who the BEEB work for now. I stupidly believed it was for the fee payer, not the politicians!

    I'm disgusted that such little coverage was given to the upcoming strikes until it was too late for Joe Public to gather a universal response.

    Stinks of political involvement!

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I see a basic geographic reality in all this.

    If the country borders on the North Sea, it has a relatively stong economy and pay in to the EU.

    If the country borders on the Mediterranian Sea there will be miss management of the economy and the country will need aid from the EU.

    France borders both so is undecided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    We have had all this before, depression, political unrest, government not listening to the public, then a dictator, sounds familiar?

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Never a truer word has been spoken "EU-administration shows too much complacency". If you were employed by the big blue machine you would not want it to be derailed. Just look at the Kinnocks to see what can be achieved;

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    We were told that the EU was intended to secure peace and harmony in Europe. Now chaos and hostility within and across borders indicates that it's having the opposite effect. The EU will inevitably break up, either by politicians conceding that it's a failure and dismantling it, or eventually by conflict and war. The longer it takes, the poorer most EU nations will become. End the suffering now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    There's never been a better time to start a business!
    Me, I'm going to open shops across Europe that specialize in selling Blond Wigs, Blue Contact Lenses and Marching Drums!
    Should make a fortune within the next 5 years!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    #57 chip

    " some crazy sexist woman in Brussels imposes yet another rule on us so that we must have 40% females on company boards.

    The lunatics have really taken over."

    -- So you want more than 60% domination of your wife at home ?

    -even if she has proven over many years that she is more capable ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    @ Emzdad (#59) Exactly wrong! The EU was an idea to shackle the growing might of the German economy. The idea was to free up cheap capital for other countries, guaranteed by the Germans. In return Germany got guaranteed export customers. Now if the EU folds, there will be a period of tough re-adjustment, after which there will be nothing to hold an unshackled Germany back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Quite true, resent reports in Brussels show that "all" members have either broken or ignored EU directives. Funnily the two worst offenders weren't Greece or the UK, not even the other PIIGS. You guessed it it was France and Germany. Another strange fact is that the UK had the best record. "slavishly followed Directives"

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Chris London
    "Perhaps a step too far too quickly. The Euro and EU have not demonstrated enough benefits for this"

    I agree that
    further integration needs the consent of the people
    it will need a very long time
    some EU-members will leave
    EU-administration shows too much complacency
    van Rompuy cannot sell his product
    and so on and so forth.

    But I am still for the basic idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    @41. lochraven

    The U.S. and Japan are not part of the EU, but the UK is. So why aren't the unemployment stats shown for the UK ? Hiding something?


    Maybe because the elephant in the room is that the UK unemployment, when compared to it's European neighbours (especially France who are a similar sized economy), are not as bad.

    It is also why Labour always compares us to the US and Germany.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    The best solution would be for Germany to leave the Eurozone. The Euro would plummit, and the countries therein regain thier competivness. The plummiting currency would effectively reduce the debt - problem solved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Just now
    54 Chris London
    Colonies and protectorates lose sovereignty. Federations are fully sovereign, by any agreed and accepted definition of the word.

    Are you kidding me. The Germans had to doctor their own books so that they could join the Euro. EU states treat treaties with contempt.
    Only the idiotic UK follows them like fools

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Perhaps one stumbling block to this may be that the constitutions of the majority of members would have to be changed. I for one can't see the German courts rubber stamping this one. Turkeys voting for Christmas comes to mind. Not too mention Joe public, who may have a view on this. Perhaps a step too far too quickly. The Euro and EU have not demonstrated enough benefits for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    #54 Chris London

    " This would mean the loss if not all then a significant amount of sovereignty."

    --most (if not all) international agreements imply a ´Loss of Sovereignty´

    -- The problems usually begin when the contracts are broken, denied or constantly questioned.

    --UK is a good example of this behavior --along with Greece.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    54 Chris London
    20 minutes ago

    They are already publicizing the plan here in Brussels, there is no secret

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    54 Chris London
    "Thus the creation of the United States of Europe. This would mean the loss if not all then a significant amount of sovereignty"

    Colonies and protectorates lose sovereignty. Federations are fully sovereign, by any agreed and accepted definition of the word.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    If European integration fails, European countries will vanish rapidly from the participants' lists of all important meetings on the global scene.

    Kissinger asked for one phone number. If there are 5 ( to leave out the smaller countries ), none of them will be called.

    Do we want to become an international irrelevance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    "Did you know" a german colleague told me today, "that some people in Greece were buying goods on credit without knowing if they could afford them?". Shocked faces around the lunch table. The idea of buying something you have not budgeted for is so anathma to my friends here in Germany that the mere idea is met first with hilarity, and then with incredulity bordering on utter disgust.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Now even the BBC has said it.
    "Countries must regain their competitiveness with Germany by slashing wages and pensions."
    The realists told you long ago that the EU was concieved with Germany at the control Europe through peaceful/fiscal means.
    Proving right?


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