Smoke of wood stoves rises over cities of Greece, Spain suffers from youth unemployment, Germany raises retirement age to 76 years, whereas in the heart of London, people gather to protest against austerity measures. Who benefits from multiplying the poor in Europe? Has the tale of good European life been destroyed?
"In winter you can heat your house with gasoline-powered radiators, - a real estate agent in Cyprus told Pravda.Ru. - But we, for example, have a big house, and gasoline is expensive. So we installed a wood-burning oven, a pot-belly stove."
Back to pot-belly stoves. This is the price of life on the island of Cyprus, which is a part of the European Union. As acknowledged by the Cypriots themselves, living on the island has become very difficult during the recent years. There are empty shops, abandoned villas and hotels, many unfinished buildings - the picture can not be hidden from tourists. However, the Cypriots say that that the hardships began prior to the collapse of the bank system in the autumn of 2013, when the flow of tourists from the European Union dropped considerably. One can still hear English speech in Cyprus, but the number of tourists from Russia is a lot larger. Why did Europeans stop attending their favorite summer resort?
In fact, the small island republic in the Mediterranean Sea absorbed and reflected the decline of the standard of living in Europe. News reports of people protesting against austerity measures in European countries appear on a regular basis. The number of the poor in Europe grows. This is no longer the problem of such countries as Greece, Spain and Portugal. Even outwardly prosperous subjects of Queen Elizabeth II stand up against austerity measures. Last weekend, a demonstration was held in London under the slogan "No more austerity measures." Everyone, who fears the spread of poverty in the kingdom, including representatives of various trade unions and even the clergy, came to take part in the march. As a matter of fact, everyone knows who dictates the policy of "belt-tightening." The Britons consistently advocate for the country's withdrawal from the European Union, along with the French and even the Germans.
Indeed, if we turn to Germany, the widely spread idea of perfect life in Germany appears to be quite distorted. For example, the Russians often notice that European pensioners and older people, particularly from Germany, are well-to-do individuals, who can travel around the world, whereas Russian pensioners are forced to scrape and save to buy bread. Of course, this is true. However, let us pay tribute to German older ladies and men, who also have hard times, because in Germany, the retirement age for men and women is 67 years. The German authorities have recently taken the decision and plan to raise the bar of retirement age up to 76 years, regardless of gender differences. This is the age that not all people have the luxury to celebrate, even if they can afford all medical services. Here is what one of our Germany-based readers wrote to us about the difficulties of surviving in Germany:
"When the Germans speak about unemployment, they take the data from Arbeitsamt (labor exchange), but do not take account of the data from Social, which today account for about six percent. In deed, and not in name, unemployment rate in Germany is about 10-12 percent. The fact that these are two different companies. If a person loses their job, they go to "labor exchange," on which they are paid 60 percent of salary. German citizens receive monthly insurance in case of job loss - 1.5 percent - all the time. If, within two years, a person has not been able to find work, this person goes to social programs. This is where students or former students go, who did not find work, and all those who just do not want to work. Finding a job in Germany is very hard. If you are not a doctor or an IT specialist, this is almost impossible. Some organize their own business, but one needs big money to get started, as banks do not give loans to immigrants quickly, - Alexandra Busch wrote in her email to Pravda.Ru. - When we got married, if it wasn't for my own money, we would have had very hard times. Professionals receive very decent salaries indeed, but they pay 25 percent of taxes from them. Plus, not all have the right to public medical insurance. A minimum private health insurance costs 460 euros per month. This is a basic one that is valid only for emergencies. Complete insurance costs 1,000 euros per month. If they do not have an insurance, then, for example, calling an ambulance will cost you 700 euros. Sky is the limit for prices on medical treatment. Cheapest braces for our ten-year-old child cost us 7,000 euros. Basic drugs, such as anti-allergy medications, can be bought only by prescription. The idea is to pay the doctor at first and then you can buy essential medicines."
Speaking about the difficulties of living in Europe, one shall recall the sarcastic escape of French actor Gerard Depardieu to Russia. Specifically, he escaped from French taxes that strangle even most highly paid entertainers. Depardieu is a bird that flies too high for ordinary citizens, but here is a down-to-earth example of living in today's France. French mothers can go on maternity leave for only three months. The writer of this article literally shocked a French-speaking guide by saying that Russian mothers go on three-year-long maternity leave, receiving maternity allowance.
What stands behind all these protests in Europe? What do Europeans want, if it appears that the living standard in Europe is high enough?
"I do not have statistics, but from my personal observations, as I travel to Europe regularly, life in Europe has not improved during the recent five years. There is no outright poverty, at least in central and northern Europe, or in the UK, but people started to count their money more carefully, even though they have always done that before. In southern Europe, unemployment is very high, there are a lot of young unemployed people in Spain, in Italy and Greece, the head of the Department of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies of the Higher School of Economics, Maxim Bratersky told Pravda.Ru. - Before 2008, it was better there, I think."
"The crisis affects each and every individual differently. Some earn well, some can do better than others, some others can not. The last thing that I've noticed is that unemployment started growing in Germany among low-skilled workers, roughly speaking, guest workers. They are not only the Turks, but also people from Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, who went there for work, but did not find anything good there," says Bratersky.
In turn, chief researcher at the Institute for International Economic and Political Studies, Vyacheslav Dashichev, said that economic woes in Europe grow from the union, which means that it is only decentralization of EU economies that will be able to improve the situation.
"The EU needs to pay more attention to national policies of each country. This contradiction between the central authorities of the EU, which is very influenced by the United States, and national policies, the identity of each of the countries - is now the central issue. Many believe that standards of living in different countries of the EU largely depends entirely on the policy of the European Commission of the EU. Therefore, each country in southern Europe - Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal - demand more rights for national policies in order to develop economy and improve the living standards of the people in these countries, - says Vyacheslav Dashevich. - The U.S., however, wants to see the EU a highly centralized organization, so that the US could show as much influence on Europe as possible."
The European Union, despite serious concerns from major economies, continues to grow and accept new members - presumably small countries with very, very shaky economies, that will become yet another burden for the European Union and its solvent taxpayers.