Greece, Europe and an abandoned generation

4 Jun

By Chris Hansell

Photo by linmtheu, via Flickr

Photo by linmtheu, via Flickr

In April a bill passed in the Greek Parliament which will lead to a loss of 15,000 public sector jobs by the end of 2014. It’s just the latest wave of austerity measures that have crippled a country and left more than 60 per cent of its young people without work.

The bill was passed as part of an agreement with the so called ‘troika’ – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – who have in return obligingly supplied €8.8 billion to the cash strapped country. This money should be used to help Greece get back on its feet. Instead it will almost certainly be used to service an astonishing national debt burden.

In a complex but insightful analysis of the Greek debt burden Nikos Tsafos highlights a vital point. Between 2010 and 2012 the Greek government spent more than 50 per cent of the money it acquired from borrowing and privatisation on servicing its debt burden. This included €37.9 billion in interest on the debt. There is no doubt certain parts of Greek society (most specifically its government and the banks it borrowed from) have lived beyond their means. But like other countries across Europe, such as Spain and Italy, its young people are being unfairly punished for excesses they did not commit.

It does not need to be this way. The troika has already forced the Greek government into lowering the minimum wage and slashing social welfare spending. Austerity is slamming the brakes on economies across Europe, including the UK, and abandoning the youngest generation of workers to a job market that seems to fall away from under them. At the same time private companies like Google and Starbucks pay astronomically low tax thanks to shady but legal tax practices.

It’s hard to dismiss the idea that Europe is in the midst of some shock therapy a la Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. In the case of Greece it is most potent – cuts to pensions and public services, privatisations, immigration used as a spectre to divert anger away from brutal economic policy – but it’s evident across the continent.

The goal of this kind of austerity is alluded to in the IMF’s recent review of France’s economy. Among its main recommendations are less public spending and reforms to make it cheaper for businesses to hire workers. The message could not be clearer: France must become attractive to multinationals by making it easier to hire and fire workers who they are allowed to pay substantially less.

Last week figures published by the EU’s data office revealed that in the Eurozone nearly one in four young people (aged 16 to 24) were unemployed. April saw a rise in overall unemployment across the Eurozone of 95,000.

Reacting to this sort of news with anything other than a sense of cynical resignation is becoming more and more difficult. As someone who fits the age band for these statistics I cannot help but feel like the horse with the longest odds at the races. But in this case my entire generation is that horse – because we only turned up after the race had finished.


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