Europeans divided over austerity, want alternatives


This article is part of our special report Jobs and Growth.

As the European Commission is about to present proposals to strengthen the "social dimension of the economic and monetary union", a new poll shows that up to 60% of Europeans believe there are better ways of solving the economic crisis than austerity.

The results of the survey, released by pollster firm Gallup this morning (2 October), confirms that public opinion rejects the idea that the only way of fighting the crisis is by cutting costs.

In crisis-hit countries of Southern Europe, support for austerity measures is very low: as many as 94% of Greeks, 81% of Portuguese and 80% of Spaniards believe there are better alternatives.

More than half of the respondents (51%) argued austerity policies have failed to fight the crisis. Just 5% said the policies were in fact delivering results. Europeans with the most trust in austerity policies were Bulgarians (67%) and Hungarians (62%).

When asked who benefits from austerity policies, 67% of respondents said “only certain countries," with 77% of this group pointing the finger at Germany.

The poll, conducted by Gallup and for the online platform Debating Europe, surveyed a total of 6,177 European citizens across the EU. It was conducted in the margins of the yearly roundtable by the Friends of Europe think tank, called State of Europe, which will be held later today and will debate a way forward.

In search of a social union

Meanwhile Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, yesterday (1 October) reconfirmed the poor state of employment across the EU: 5.5 million Europeans under 25 years old are unemployed, 3.5 billion of them in the eurozone countries.

Compared to last year, youth unemployment remained stable – there was a marginal decrease of 123,000 young people across the 28 EU member states. Youth unemployment stands at 61.5% in Greece and, at 56% in Spain and at 52% in Croatia (a non-eurozone country).

In a response to increasing disapproval of the austerity policies – omnipresent in Europe since the start of the crisis in 2008 – the European Commission has been searching for a social answer to the crisis.

The EU executive today (2 October) will present proposals on the social dimension of the economic and monetary union (EMU). It intends to address the social aspects of the EU, which – as commissioner László Andor stressed earlier – are part of the European treaties and “must be at the core of our policy making”.

The proposals have been discussed at the highest European political level in the past year, and were highlighted in Commission president José Manuel Barroso’s 2013 state of the union speech before Parliament in September.

In a policy brief by commissioner Andor, released by the European Policy Centre (EPC), he explained that the social emergency in Europe’s south has “put under the political spotlight systemic flaws in the design of Europe’s EMU”.

EU heads of states and government said at their June 2013 meeting that “the social dimension of the EMU should be strengthened”, in an apparent breakthrough for France.

Discussions over the reinforcement of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) will conclude at the December 2013 EU summit, the statement read. The EU leaders vowed to take the first step in October by introducing statistical indicators to better monitor social and labour market conditions.

Following up on the summit calls, the European Commission is drafting proposals to deepen the social dimension of the EMU.

The announcement was made by Commission President José Manuel Barroso during his 2013 State of the Union speech in the European Parliament and the policy initiative is presented on 2 October.

  • 2 Oct.: Friends of Europe’s yearly State of Europe roundtable
  • 2 Oct.: European Commission presents its communication ‘Social Dimension of the EMU’
  • 24-25 Oct.: EU summit to look at indicators for the social dimension of the EMU
  • 19-20 Dec.: EU summit to decide on way forward to deepen EMU

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