What’s up, Europe? Mass protests in Greece and Spain

The image of Queen Elizabeth II on a 20 sterling note is seen between euro banknotes in London.

The summer optimism over Europe’s debt crisis seems to be fading. Two days of protest and unrest in Spain and a general strike in Greece have cast a pall over the drive to save the Euro.

And it had all been going so well. The European Central Bank had unveiled a plan to help the Eurozone’s stricken economies with a blitz of unlimited government bond-buying. The Germans had finally given their blessing to a new bailout fund. Investors had roared their approval and stockmarkets had taken off.

But now the people of Spain and Greece are delivering their verdict on the rescue plan and it is not a reassuring one. The people do not like the strings attached to the help on offer: more cuts in healthcare, welfare and public sector salaries. In other words, more austerity and another plunge in living standards. Even the head of the Chamber of Commerce in Athens, Konstantinos Michalos, sympathizes with the strikers and protesters.

"It’s a question of whether we can live -- or a large portion of the Greek population can live -- with a salary which is near the European Union poverty-line," says Michalos.

The protests in Greece and Spain alarmed investors and with good reason. Sony Kapoor of the Re-Define think tank in Brussels claims that the unrest is a sign that the social fabric in some Eurozone countries is rupturing and this poses the biggest single threat to the Euro.

Other analysts are less pessimistic. They point out that there have been many anti-austerity protests in Europe over the past two years but none has prevented a government from imposing budget cuts on its people.

Nevertheless, the latest angry outbursts in Spain and Greece do suggest that a brief but glorious summer of optimism in the Eurozone could be morphing into a winter of discontent.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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