If there were no democracies in Europe, it would be witnessing revolutions like those that erupted in the Arab world today, or perhaps even fiercer ones. The political earthquakes that Europe is going through these days, as seen in the results of recent elections conducted in several countries, or in the social phenomena produced by the economic crisis, are all expressive of a movement of serious objection to what many people see as the failure of the political elite, the greed of banks and the corruption of economic policies.
The voters have spoken and have punished the ruling political parties for the economic crisis and subsequent suffering, declaring their rejection of the financial austerity measures that governments have adopted to defuse the debt and banking crisis. Such measures have produced millions of jobless youths and a generation of people who have lost hope, and have caused families to be unable to meet their daily living requirements or pay the bills of modern life.
The figures and statistics are frightening and threaten more crises and unrest to come. The youth unemployment rate in Spain stands at 46 percent, whilst it is 43 percent in Greece, 32 percent in Ireland, 28 percent in Italy, 27 percent in Portugal, 24 percent in France and 21 percent in Britain. Germany and Austria are an exception, where unemployment rates among young people (under 25) stands at 9 percent. As for outside Europe, in the US youth unemployment stands at 18 percent, whilst in the Arab world it has reached 30 percent, although this figure differs greatly from one country to another.
The youth unemployment rate in the Arab world is one of the highest in the world, especially considering the fact that 50 percent of the Arab population is under 24 years old; this represents the world’s second-highest unemployment rate after Sub-Saharan Africa. The crisis of this lost generation, internationally, has prompted numerous experts and specialists to forewarn that the impact will last for decades and will not be limited to young people. Rather, it will affect all societies, and may also be a cause for social unrest as well as the emergence of extremist currents.
If it is true that the Arab world has witnessed revolutions - with youths at the forefront – because of political and economic factors, the West has also seen a rise in protest movements, as reflected in the emergence of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that extended to over 70 countries across the world, indicating the rising anger towards the political and economic elite and the growing frustration over the futile solutions to solve the international financial and economic crisis. In these movements, protestors raised slogans that read “We are the 99%”; in reference to the fact that just 1 percent of the world’s population control 44 percent of global wealth, while poverty and unemployment rates have soared, even in developed countries.
The results of the recent European elections are a continuation of the international protests that have toppled governments and will certainly continue to destabilize others. As in Tunisia, European politicians rushed to say to their angry people: “We have heard and we have understood”, but they did not have to flee along the lines of Ben Ali; they came via the ballot box and they will leave in the same manner. The newly elected French president François Hollande, addressing his supporters following the announcement of his election victory, said “I have heard you. I have heard your will for change… Thank you people of France, gathered here, to have allowed me to be your president of the republic.” Similarly, British Prime Minister David Cameron, following the slap in the face his party received in the recent local elections, published an article in The Daily Telegraph telling voters: “I get the message, loud and clear.” Other politicians have spoken similarly whenever they sensed their people’s anger and dissatisfaction regarding the prolonged economic crisis and the subsequent suffering.
However, this crisis will not be overcome by simply declaring that the message has been received. Different policies must be enforced and a new approach must be adopted. Today, Europe is facing a hard choice between two contrasting theories about how to defuse the economic and financial crisis: The first is represented by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and it relies on adopting austerity measures and reining in spending to confront budget deficits and the debt crisis. The second option is represented by the newly elected French President Hollande, who advocates giving priority to expenditure on growth in order to energize the economy, increase job opportunities and defend social welfare.
In reality, the battle will not be confined to the largest economic powers in Europe – Germany and France – but will have repercussions and consequences across the world in view of the global struggle to overcome the worst financial and economic crisis in modern history. Perhaps, it is for this reason that François Hollande, in his victory speech to the French voters who took him to the Élysée Palace, said: “You are much more than a people who want change. You are already a movement that is rising across all of Europe and maybe the world.” However, the German press viewed the results in France as a comprehensive defeat for Merkel who had backed Sarkozy - her ally in the austerity campaign - to the extent that she refused to meet Hollande during his electoral campaign.
The scene seems grim and complex, especially for the lost youth generation, and solutions will by no means be easy or prompt. Therefore, many people expect electoral revolutions to continue in Europe and in other countries across the world, and the search for a way out of the financial and economic downturn, and for solutions to the crisis-stricken capitalist system, will continue unabated. The difference between Europe and the Arab world is that, in Europe, democracies and elections allow people to express their anger, influence policies or change governments through the ballot boxes. As for most parts of the Arab world, there is deep resentment due to a combination of accumulated economic and social factors, and people cannot truly vent their feelings or entertain hope of change except by staging uprisings and revolutions, like those witnessed across the region in the past year. Such uprisings are expected to reoccur, even if they have stuttered for a while, so long as their causes remain unsolved and there is no hope for the lost and marginalized generations.