Another day dawns in the capitals of Europe. With more meetings of presidents and prime ministers, more statements of re-affirmed political resolve, more frisky reactions from the money markets, more summits than the Himalayas... the Eurozone Crisis weaves its way like a septuagenarian soap opera round the lives of the continent’s 500 million.
Some may be bored rigid with the whole thing. But, on the streets, many know the crisis in all its component parts: depleted pension pots, extended working lives, teenage kids who cannot find jobs, compressed living standards, trouble with bills, belt-tightening as a contender for a new Olympic sport.
As we write, around 18 million Eurozone residents are out of work. In Spain, around 25% of the workforce is idle - and the figure is much worse for under-24s and those living in historically under-endowed regions like the appropriately named Extremadura. Even with a reasonably strong pulse audible from the German economy, the Eurozone will contract at the macro-economic level this year. Even the UK, hardly visited by the worst of the plague, is struggling to grow in 2012.
Our latest wave of European opinion research is being analysed now by our internal teams. Early findings reveal some stark human realities. Yes, in a relatively inoculated market like Sweden well over 50% of under-24s tell us that they expect that their “personal financial situation” will improve in the next twelve months - not a bad state of affairs all round. The figure falls, however, to 27% of young people in Italy and 20% in Poland. Back in Spain, less than 10% of those aged over 65 expect to be better off in the year ahead; we fear that the negative expectations of the 90% are grimly realistic.
In France and Italy, only around a quarter of young people tell us that they expect their national economies to do better in the immediate future. There is a real chance that even this minority is being seriously over-optimistic. In France around 2.7 million citizens are paid the minimum wage (around Euros 9 per hour) and, as with their fellow Europeans in the same state of income dependency in other parts of Europe, it is quite unimaginable that a raise (either numerically or in final living standards) is coming their way very soon. And for those employed by the State - around 6 million in an economy like the UK - the chances of a serious improvement in pay and rations are equally svelte.
In such conditions, attitude and consumer behaviour must be expected to shift on a pretty massive scale. Crudely, are Spanish consumers as worried about global warming as they may once have been? Are even middle-class shoppers going to join more buying groups in search of pared-down prices? How much money are soon-to-retire Italians actually going to able to leave aside for grandchildren? Is renting rather than buying outright the new austerity chic? Watch this space. by James Murphy, editorial director, Future Foundation