The International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent (IFRC) has warned that the continued economic crisis in Europe may trigger social unrest across the continent.
At the launch in Budapest of “Think Differently”, a report on the humanitarian impact of the economic crisis in Europe, Anitta Underlin, the director of Europe zone for the IFRC, told members of the diplomatic corps there was stark evidence that the crisis was biting hard.
“We are especially concerned about the social consequences of the unemployment, and this goes both for the individual people who can lose faith in the systems, fall into depression; and in the worst cases, some kind of abuse or mental problems. We are most concerned about whether this quiet desperation can turn more vocal, into social unrest and violent manifestations” Underlin said.
“There is a marked trend of high unemployment rates across Europe especially among the youth. When we began our mapping exercise in early 2013 we heard about youth unemployment rates of above 30. These have now grown to above 60 per cent in some countries. One naturally needs to consider the consequences of this and observe the trends and reactions” she explained.
Numbers don’t lie
According to the EU’s official statistics bureau, Eurostat, 120 million people in Europe are at risk of poverty. Between 45 and 48 million are unable to pay for a protein-rich meal twice a week – that is almost 10 per cent of the population — and the numbers are increasing.
Tom Norring, the Danish Ambassador to Hungary warned that Europe faces a rising wave of extremism unless the underlying root causes are addressed. Governments have a crucial role to play, but all key actors including international organizations and NGOs have to contribute to finding solutions, amongst others through engaging the youth and the poor, he said.
“It’s simple. When there’s a lot less in your pocket, you look for someone to blame and that’s how social unrest starts. We are seeing an increasingly grim picture across the continent, in some countries with violence, in others with rhetoric,” Ambassador Noring said. “Something needs to be done, and both governments and organisations need to address this to prevent the economic crisis from turning into a social crisis.”
Norring also added: “Everybody has a responsibility to think in a different way. In some countries austerity measures are being blamed for the crisis. Naturally austerity measures need to be reviewed and revised continuously, but they are not the cause of the crisis, they are being implemented because of the crisis, because governments did not make the necessary changes and addressed the issues early enough.”
Péter Wintermantel, Hungary’s deputy secretary of global affairs put a spotlight on the central European country’s efforts to address the economic depression through healthcare policies and social housing for immigrants, the poor and unemployed.
“Between 2009 and 2012, there was an average of 4 per cent decrease in personal disposable income, while the housing costs rose to 34 per cent within the total income of families,” Wintermantel noted, as an example of how the financial crisis has made life difficult for millions of Europeans.
“Hungary has already taken quite a number of measures and is looking forward to continuing with their implementation, at the same time assessing their impact. In this sense, the recommendations provided by the IFRC report will serve as a good guidance, a “checklist” for our future work. As the report has underlined, to mitigate the effects of the crisis, a long-term, sustainable and innovative cooperation of many stakeholders is needed,” Wintermantel added.
Words and photography by: @makiwahenry