AUSTERITY IN EUROPE
Since the financial collapse of 2008, the Greek economy has been in stagnation mode while the country struggles to pay back a mound of piling debts. Year on year, Greece has been owing a monumental debt of €325 billion to Troika, or the equivalent of 177.4% of GDP. Troika is a coalition of three organisations - the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission - who jointly paid money to save Greece from bankruptcy. But the money came with a high price. The condition for the bailout was to raise taxes, conduct a public sector clean out, impose a wage freeze, and increase the retirement age among other harsh austerities. And although the unemployment rate is showing a slight improvement from years before, it is still soaring high at 22.5%. In comparison to four or five years ago, the jobless figure among the 16-to-24 year olds jumped an incredible 65%. And because of the shocking financial slide, millions of jobs were wiped out over night as companies shut their doors and went into liquidation. The reason why Greece was quickly bailed out was because if the country was allowed to default, it would have dragged other fragile economies down with it. Several other European countries like Ireland, Portugal and Spain remain at substantial risk. In Greece, people lost their jobs, wages, savings and houses, and even those who managed to clutch onto their employment status found themselves squeezed by painful salary reductions. Because of the cuts, in some areas of the capital Athens, families are getting used to living without the most basic public services like water and electricity, which is taken for granted across Europe. According to unofficial reports, there are over 20,000 homeless people across Greece. Also, there is a steep rise in the number of people going through the bins each night to forage for food. It has also become a popular trend to collect cans from the streets to sell as recyclable rubbish. Hence, every night privately run charities and neighbourhood solidarity organisations, would drive around cities looking for vulnerable people living on the edge of destitution, to help and support.
Unfortunately, the aid reaching the needy in society is dismal in the face of the catastrophe. As a direct result, the desperation triggered a sharp rise in suicide attempts, and a drop in life expectancy. Believing they could break the European shackles of austerity, thousands of Greeks have been spilling out onto the streets regularly to demonstrate against the government. General strikes by frustrated workers have become a common place. But so far, the government is able to cling to power and pass its memorandums through parliament, backed by the European Union. Thus, the mood in the country has shifted from bringing the government down, to venting out steam among a population feeling let down by the system. There is an agonising passion to change things, but the dimension for it to happen are simply unrealistic. For Greece to go back to the same level of prosperity before the financial crisis of 2008, its EU debt must be cancelled allowing the country to start with a clean slate. Next, the country must slowly expand its market limits, building its reputation from scratch, to attract investment with the potential of pumping cash into private enterprise to generate employment. But in theory, investment is attracted by political stability and an environment promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. So in the end, the purpose of establishing the EU is to create one common market, and a unified economy with shared values that guarantee the equal distribution of wealth. However, the opposite seem to happen. Moving across the diverse and wealthy continent, the growing divide along the east-west and north-south faultlines is not hard to see. In fact, powerful European economies like Germany and France are rapidly transforming into industrial super powers, while the weak south is turning into a cluster of poorly regulated consumption societies, with staggering national debts, and high unemployment levels.