The European Union (EU) last week extended its deadlines for six countries to meet austerity targets. It is trying to buy time in the face of growing anger.
France, Spain, Poland and Slovenia have been given an extra two years to bring down their budget deficits below 3 percent of national output. Portugal and the Netherlands each get an extra year.
The news came within days of new unemployment figures for the eurozone. More than one in four workers in Spain is out of work—as are around two thirds of young people in Greece.
An international day of protests against austerity on Saturday reminded Europe’s rulers of the fury their cuts have created.
Some 15,000 people protested in Lisbon, as Portugal’s rival trade union federations called a joint general strike against austerity for 27 June. It would be the first time in more than a year since they struck together.
Over 7,000 people protested in Madrid. Spain’s two main political parties—the ruling Tory PP and the Labour-type Socialist opposition—could join forces in negotiations with Europe this month.
At the same time two thirds of voters say they would rather see the Indignados protest movement run candidates in the next election than vote for either party.
More worrying for Europe’s rulers is the political turmoil in France, one of Europe’s largest economies.
Socialist president François Hollande slumped to record low poll ratings less than a year on from his election. But the Tory UMP party remains bitterly divided between the centre right former prime minister François Fillon and Jean François Copé.
Seven months after Copé was elected party leader, the UMP is preparing to consult members on whether to rerun the election. They hope that will end the infighting.
Even Germany is not immune. The “Blockupy” protest movement saw 20,000 people in Frankfurt’s financial district on Saturday.
Nearly all European rulers face a level of political crisis as austerity policies begin to look as ineffectual as they are brutal.
The extension of austerity deadlines has been presented as a U-turn—but it’s more of a tactical retreat. Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau points out that “Rather than being abandoned, austerity has simply been prolonged.
“Like a B-movie monster, austerity will rise from the dead in 2015 and 2016 when countries have to meet their delayed fiscal targets.”
In the meantime these governments are being told to boost their competitiveness—that’s code for attacking workers’ rights.