As Ukraine War Hits Pocketbooks, European Discontent Grows

Strikes have been held in France and Spain for higher wages and better working conditions, while discontent in Belgium and Greece over soaring energy prices has drawn thousands into the streets. And that’s only over the past week.

As fallout from the war in Ukraine hits European energy supplies, jobs and pocketbooks, public discontent grows. Europeans have vented their frustration over rising prices and shrinking purchasing power. Analysts say that hasn’t dented European public support for Ukraine or European anger against Russia, although that could change.

“People are pretty angry right now across Europe,” said John Springford, deputy director of the London-based Center for European Reform, a policy institute. “There’s a general understanding I think that the high inflation we have been seeing is down to the war in Ukraine.”

Springford said many are pointing a finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There is a fair amount of blame placed upon Putin for that — at least according to opinion polls,” he said.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Today, Europe is reeling from soaring prices driven by the conflict, but started during the COVID-19 pandemic. Inflation in October rose to nearly 11 percent across the 19 countries using eurocurrency. Experts predict the European Union will likely fall into at least a short-term recession by year’s end.

“People blame their governments for not protecting them against inflation,” said Director Sebastien Maillard of the Paris-based Jacques Delors Institute, a research organization.

Maillard said Europeans don’t want to pay the price for backing Ukraine and sanctioning Russia. He said their governments can’t keep cushioning the shock with more spending — for example on energy subsidies — as France has been doing.

“If there is recession, if there is inflation, your public debt cannot grow forever,” Maillard said. “We saw it’s a problem for Italy, also for the UK. There’s a threshold over which you cannot go — (otherwise) the financial markets will get overuse.”

Philipp Lausberg, an analyst with the European Policy Center, said whether Europe’s autumn of discontent deepens into a winter of rage depends on many factors — including the weather and energy supplies that have shrunk under Russian cutoffs and European Union sanctions on Moscow.

“If we have an unexpected disruption of gas for Europe this winter, we’ll probably see an even further increase in civil unrest and government instability,” said Lausberg.

With EU gas supplies in good shape for now, he said, that bleak scenario is not likely in the immediate future. But if the current warm temperatures turn frosty, and energy supplies grow tight, European solidarity for Ukraine may fade — and European governments may be the first to feel the fallout.

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