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Derek Coleman: Economic problems in Europe affect everyone in world

Nov. 25, 2012 @ 06:55 PM

Those of you who watched the debates in the recent presidential campaigns will know that much of the discussion focused on jobs, the economy and what each candidate planned to do about these.

Over the next few months, we shall no doubt see whether the promises and the plans that were outlined will come to fruition or whether, like Europe, we are about to plunge into another economic crisis.

Most of the countries in Europe belong to the European Economic Community, and many of them share the same currency, the Euro. For several months now, some European countries, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal have been struggling with mounting debt, inflation and unemployment.

Indeed, the Greek government actually collapsed because of the crisis and another had to be elected. The new government is doing what it can, but the country is still teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Not far behind Greece are Portugal, Italy and Spain, where the cash flow crisis is so bad that the unemployment rate has risen to 25 percent. That is the highest in Europe, but the average for the EEC is still a massive 17 percent.

Things are now coming to a head. This week, all over Europe, workers are taking part in an organized series of mass rallies and strikes to protest about rising unemployment and the austerity measures governments are introducing to try to combat the crisis.

The European Trade Union Confederation, which organized the protests, urged workers in the three worse off countries — Spain, Greece and Portugal — to stay away from work and to march, but they are also asking that action be taken in Italy, Belgium, Germany, France and some of the east European states that have only recently joined the EEC.

In Greece, a student leader was quoted as saying that this series of actions is only the beginning and that it could escalate and become a revolution because the ordinary people have nothing left to lose.

Many airlines across the continent had to cancel or reschedule flights in anticipation of the chaos that resulted from the strikes and much of the rest of Europe’s transportation system and government departments were at a standstill.

By the time you read this, the action will be over for the time being, but at this moment the number of arrests in Madrid, Spain’s capital, have passed 100. Greece is at a standstill and Rome is in chaos as several protest marches merge into one huge rally.

Will the strikes and protests achieve anything? It is doubtful.

People were voicing their anger and frustration at high taxes and lack of jobs, but the day after the strikes, the European parliament announced that the EEC as a whole has slipped into recession.

Even the normally sound economies of France and Germany experienced little growth over the past few months and are expected to fall back next quarter.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands joined those countries having to take measures to curb spending and in northern Greece protesters stormed a meeting between Greek and German officials who were discussing the laying off of up to 2,000 local government officers and a curb on spending.

Britain, while still a member of the EEC, is not affected as much as the rest of Europe at the moment.

They elected not to join the Euro some years ago and so are not being dragged into recession by the tottering economies of some of their neighbors, even though they are feeling some of the fallout and they are introducing large-scale public spending and benefits cuts to try to stay solvent.

Europe and its economic crisis are a long way from here.

While we may sympathize with the people who have been driven by circumstances to protest to their own governments, they are still 5,000 miles and more away and we have our own economic problems to solve.

What we need to remember, though, is that we live in a time of a global economy. The problems in Europe can and probably will become our problems.

If Greece or Spain become bankrupt and the Euro collapses or the EEC breaks up, European imports will be much cheaper and that could affect our domestic manufacturing, exports, sales and consequently employment here. This is just the beginning of the European monetary struggles and we can only hope that the coming months will enable them to recover so that we are not affected.

Derek Coleman is a part-time writer who is a native of England and who now lives in Hurricane, W.Va. He can be reached at tallderek@hotmail.com.