Rising costs of living and falling purchasing power of salaries is a worrying phenomenon that already occurs in many European countries, including the largest ones such as Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy. “We are asking for nothing more than to buy food at the end of the month,” Céline, 39, who protested at the Place de la Nation in Paris, told the Spanish daily El Mundo a week ago. Along with her, around 100,000 people demonstrated in the French capital against the “costly life”. “When I pay the rent, the phone and the loan installment, I’m fine. How am I supposed to live? ” thought Cathy, mother of two daughters and former hospital worker. The march was supported by left-wing parties (socialists, environmentalists and radical left), but several trade unions, NGOs and cultural figures also joined, including Anna Ernaux, winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. As in many other European countries, the French are feeling the effects of the crisis more and more. In recent days, there are repeated views of long queues at gas stations, because there is a shortage of fuel. The energy sector has been on strike for weeks, demanding a pay rise. Everything – from gasoline to basic necessities – costs much more. This has a direct impact on increasing frustration. According to a poll conducted less than a week ago by Ifop (the Institute for Public Opinion Research), three out of four French believe there may be a “social explosion” in the country. And half admit that they are “indignant” or “preoccupied” with the social and economic situation. Annual inflation in the euro area stood at 9.9% in September, an all-time high. Even wealthy Germans are feeling the rising cost of living. At the beginning of the month – October 8, around 10,000 people demonstrated in Berlin against the energy policy of the Olaf Scholz government, demanding protection against inflation. A little earlier – on September 28 – tens of thousands of Czechs protested against high energy prices: “The government has two responsibilities: to guarantee our security and economic prosperity. This government does not meet any of them “ The demonstrators thundered. Similar protests have also taken place in Italy, where in desperation people burned energy bills that they cannot pay. Even in Austria or Great Britain, people go out into the streets, although the scale of protests there is much smaller than on the Apennine Peninsula. In turn, in Moldova, candidate for the European Union, the rising prices of everything triggered a wave of protests, and desperate citizens demanded – and are still demanding – the resignation of pro-European President Mai Sandu (who had won a crushing victory just two years ago), accusing her of not having negotiated a good deal gas with borderland Russia.
The end of optimism and the beginning of social unrest
“Now there’s a lot more fear. To the energy crisis and its consequences, we must add the polarization of societies and the growing distrust of politicians. This helps to explain the recent protests, ”says Ernesto Ganuza, PhD in sociology at Complutense University in Madrid and researcher at the CSIC Institute for Politics and Public Goods (Spanish government agency for scientific and technical research). Yves Sintomer, professor of political science at the University of Paris VIII, thinks in the same vein: “People are very concerned, especially the middle classes as well as small and medium-sized companies. There is a general feeling that the future will be very difficult. The optimism of the past decades is over, ”he says. They are protesting in the West, but what are the citizens of Europe to say, who are additionally acutely affected by the war in Ukraine? Slovakia, which borders Ukraine, for example, is more dependent on Russian gas than the rest of the EU. In Slovakia, the risk of instability increases as prices rise and winter approaches. Not surprisingly, the estimated number of households unable to pay their bills this winter has doubled over the past year. In the face of this enormous energy crisis, pro-Russian parties are gaining popularity, such as the left-wing SMER led by Robert Fico – a politician known for his criticism of sanctions against Russia.
Grigory Meseznikov of the Bratislava Institute of Public Affairs told Foreign Policy magazine a few days ago: “The war in Ukraine and the energy crisis are helping to weaken the liberal bloc. And that encourages Fico. ” According to the Allianz Global Allianz report, published last summer, the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic could be the beginning of an ideological shift that continues to divide societies around the world. As analysts predict, companies must prepare for the rise in social unrest, which is already, as Srdjan Todorovic, head of Crisis Management, said “a more critical risk for many companies than terrorism.” In turn, according to a report compiled in September by the strategic and risk consulting company Verisk Maplecroft, up to 101 countries in the world will experience social unrest in the last quarter of 2022. As analysts indicate, this will be the worst result since 2016, when the company began research on the anxiety index social. Dissatisfaction with the rise in the cost of living appears in developed and emerging societies – from the European Union to Peru and Iran. In the opening speech of the last UN Assembly, Secretary General Antonio Guterres summed up the reality around us with the words: “The world is facing a real storm. A purchasing power crisis has broken out, inequalities are mounting, our planet is on fire and people are suffering. It is a global dysfunction (economic, social and ecological). ” We are used to the stability of the political system. We believe that the institutions we know are stable and that this is the most appropriate system to face the challenges, but is it really so? The challenges are so vast and so varied that we may have to make profound changes and reform the institutions that have contributed to the situation in which Europeans find themselves today.