A Review of the Year: Europe in 2011


Unlike Africa, which often seems to be forgotten about, Europe and its many, many crises never seem to be far from the headlines. 2011 was no exception with the trials and tribulations never far from the headlines. From electoral crises in Russia to media crises in Britain to financial crises everywhere, European affairs never seemed to slow down. Here is a rundown of the most important in case you miss anything:

Eurozone: If you were to explain the European debt crisis to an idoit you’re best bet would probably be along the lines of ‘Euro go BOOM’. Truth is there are probably few people who really understand the ins and outs of it. Regardless, the EU is up shit creek with its only paddle being an extremely reluctant Angela Merkel. First Greece realised that it was unable to pay the interest on its domestic debts and was about to default and take every economy in the Eurozone with it. Then Ireland and Portugal jumped in on the action with Spain and Italy teetering on the edge eventually cost the heads of the Socialist Party of Spain, which lost an election in November and the Carry On Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi who was forced to resign in December. This lead to frantic discussions between Merkozy- or Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, Europe’s second weirdest power couple after Cameron and Clegg- over ‘what to do about the debt’ that Cameron dipped in and out of before causing another crisis by dropping out of the treaty they eventually drew up. The soap opera continues.

Greece: Poor Greece. You make the tiniest alteration to your fiscal health reports to get you into an exclusive fiscal club and then find yourself dealing with dire consequences eight years later and all the doctors helping you can say is ‘its your own fault’ and ‘you should have known better’. A series of economic reforms in Greece in the early part of last decade that meant they were able to borrow more easily and as a result they were forced to go to the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to borrow a ‘international rescue package’ to the tune of £111bn. In order to ensure there would be no further bailouts the Greek parliament introduced a number of austerity measures that led to rioting on the streets and the resignation of the Greek Prime Minister over giving the people a referendum on the measures.

Italy: Next up to have their own meltdown was Italy who were suffering from the onset of ‘a liquidty’ crisis as there were no bankers to buy the fancy cars and other luxury items the Italian economy rests on. Furthermore the ongoing structural problems such as corruption continued to rackle. Italy is a country were approximately 0.17 per cent of the population pay tax and most young people go abroad to find work as there are few jobs avaliable to those without connections in any particualr industry. Silvio Berlusconi provided light relief for the most of the year before the sex scandals, the gaffes and the cronyism got too much and Berlusconi was booted out to stand trial for sex with an underage prostitute.

Britain: The British economy did not default in 2011 but judging by the behaviour of its citizens you would not be surprised. There were protests about public sector pensions, tuition fee rises, cuts to public services, closing libraries. It would seem anything and everything made people take to the streets in protest. In August, they even took to the streets to loot their local Adidas. Then from October onwards they took up residence in St Paul’s Cathedral to protest against the entire financial and social system of Britain. The government’s plans to counter this was to stick their fingers in their ears, lock them up and wave a shiny, expensive distraction in their face. An outside observer commenting on Britain would say the country seemed to be in chaos and there was little organised or harmonious political process to be had this year as the British public no longer trusted their government, their media or even each other. Oooh, but wasn’t the wedding lovely?

Russia: Another country, another protest. The Economist review of the year confidently predicted that Vladmir Putin would win the Presidental election planned for 2012. However, recent protests across Russia have made the previously rock solid Putin regime seem rocky for the first time. Russia has never had a long and illustrious track record when it comes to democracy but the continued efforts of thousands of people in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities in Russia show signs that Putin made not be able to make these allegations of election fraud ‘disappear’.

Norway: The world was reminded that terroism doesn’t just come in Muslim shaped packages this summer as Anders Behring Breivik went on a shooting spree killing 37 teenagers at a political camp on the island of Uteya this July, hours after detonating a bomb that killed seven in the national capital, Oslo. Breivik has subsequently been declared criminally insane and will probably spend the rest of his life in a mental institution. The shocking nature of his crime however, exposed the hitherto unremarked but sizable presence of a Neo-Nazi movement in Scandinavina and the national- and international- tragedy has reminded people not to become to complacent and there are evil people do unimaginably evil deeds all the time and they do not fit into easily recognisable boxes.

The Politics Of Fear: Why The Sky Is Always Falling

A mock-up of the Houses of Parliament under European rule created by the Sun in 2007
This week’s debate on the referendum to stay in the European Union, instigated by the rather dubious e-petitions website, predictably resurrected fears that our continued presence in the EU is actually a plot to create a United States of Europe.

Of course, out of all the ridiculous notions that are floating around UK Politics this is probably the most ridiculous and I have previously had limited patience with it. However, this week as the hysteria has started to come to light again, I’ve found myself considering where it really comes from and the historical precedent for it.
Continue reading The Politics Of Fear: Why The Sky Is Always Falling

The Problem with Politics

Is this sort of violence an exception or will our frustrations always boil over?

It’s human nature to never be satisfied. In a way that’s why I almost feel sorry for politicians because even when they do what is actually in the best interests of the majority (which does happen very occasionally) the hysterical minorities come out in force.

We always want what we can’t have, take the figures released by Research Globe Scan, a polling firm and published in the Economist last week. In 2002, 80% of Americans, the land of the ‘American Dream’, believed that free market economics was the best financial system for their country but eight years and one massive recession later only 59% still agreed in 2010. Amongst Americans earning less than $20,000 it fell from 76% to 44%. You can say this is the impact of the financial crisis and the blame heaped on unregulated banking system for the loss of faith but Germany’s approval of capitalism has remained steady at 69% even if admittedly they’re still the strongest performing economy in the Euro zone. Only Spain managed to buck the trend with its approval growing from 37% to 51% and it is widely tipped to be the next country to receive a bailout from the European Union and the IMF.

In contrast, Communist China’s rating of capitalism keeps going up and up, at 68% it is higher than the USA for the first time ever.

There is a pretty clear correlation between the relative opinions of capitalism and the growth figures of each individual countries but does this play into a wider trend?

People have documented the increasing desire in the nominally communist states for prosperity and individuality with barely suppressed glee over the past few decades as evidence for the Western way being best but do these latest figures show that the grass will always be greener  no matter what side of the wall you’re on?

I’m withholding judgement on the merits or otherwise of free market capitalism (for now) but simply making the point that nothing will ever be perfect. There are always winners and losers and people will always see themselves as the loser because its human nature to have a bit of a chip on your shoulder.

If you don’t give people what they want they grumble (and in North Africa at the moment they rebel), if you do, they demand more or poke holes in what you’ve done. It’s a fun thing; there will never be a right way of doing things, only a few things the uninformed and slightly hysterical masses presume won’t damage them too much.

That’s why government’s normally veer from left to right depending on how dissatisfied the population are. If the recession hadn’t happen, Gordon Brown had been more charismatic and we hadn’t been dragged into two overseas conflicts, Labour probably would have still lost the next election because Cameron’s happy, shiny unrealistic plans looked so much more exciting.

You can promise anything when you’re not in power (ask the Lib Dems) if you make it seem different enough from what the government is doing.

(This post really has no point, it’s just late and it’s been a really long day. It’s mainly just my musings over the past week rather than any really cohesive polemic that’ll happen again when I’ve had more than five hours sleep).