LONDON — In Romania, protesters blew horns and banged drums to express their dismay at the rising cost of living. Across France, people have taken to the streets to demand wage increases that keep pace with inflation. Czech protesters rallied against the government’s handling of the energy crisis. British railway staff and German pilots staged strikes to demand better wages as prices rose.
Across Europe, soaring inflation is sparking a wave of protests and strikes that underscores growing discontent with the spiraling cost of living and threatens to trigger political unrest. As British Prime Minister Liz Truss was forced to resign less than two months after her economic plans wreaked havoc on financial markets and further bruised a struggling economy, the risk for political leaders became clearer as that people demand action.
Europeans have seen their energy bills and food prices soar because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite natural gas prices falling from record summer highs and governments allocating 576 billion euros (over $566 billion) in energy aid to households and businesses since September 2021, the group says Bruegel reflection in Brussels, this is not enough for some demonstrators.
Energy prices have pushed inflation in the 19 countries that use the euro to a record high of 9.9%, making it harder for people to buy what they need. Some see no other choice but to take to the streets.
“Today people are forced to use pressure tactics to get a raise” in wages, said Rachid Ouchem, a doctor who was among more than 100,000 people who joined protest marches this week in several French cities.
The fallout from the war in Ukraine has sharply increased the risk of civil unrest in Europe, according to risk management consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. European leaders have strongly supported Ukraine, sending arms to the country and pledging or being forced to wean their economies off cheap Russian oil and natural gas, but the transition has not been easy and threatens to erode public support.
“There is no quick fix to the energy crisis,” said Verisk Maplecroft analyst Torbjorn Soltvedt. “And in any case, inflation looks to be worse next year than it has been this year.”
This means that the link between economic pressure and popular opinion on the war in Ukraine “will really be tested”, he said.
In France, where inflation stands at 6.2%, the lowest of the 19 eurozone countries, railway and transport workers, secondary school teachers and public hospital employees answered the call on Tuesday. union of oil workers to demand wage increases and protest government intervention in strikes by refinery workers that caused gasoline shortages.
Days later, thousands of Romanians joined a rally in Bucharest to protest the cost of energy, food and other essentials that organizers said was sending millions of workers into poverty.
In the Czech Republic, huge flag-waving crowds in Prague last month demanded the resignation of the pro-Western coalition government, criticizing its support for European Union sanctions against Russia. They also blamed the government for not doing enough to help households and businesses squeezed by energy costs.
With another protest planned in Prague next week, the actions have not translated into political change so far, with the country’s ruling coalition winning a third of the seats in the upper house of parliament in a an election this month.
British railway workers, nurses, port workers, lawyers and others have staged a series of strikes in recent months to demand pay rises that match inflation which has peaked at 10.1% in four decades.
Trains have come to a standstill during transit actions, while recent strikes by Lufthansa pilots in Germany and other airline and airport workers across Europe seeking higher pay in line with inflation disrupted flights.
The failure of Truss’ economic stimulus package, which involved sweeping tax cuts and tens of billions of pounds (dollars) in aid for household and business energy bills without a clear plan to pay them , illustrates the impasse in which governments find themselves.
They “have very little wiggle room,” Soltvedt said.
The saving grace so far has been a milder than usual October in Europe, meaning less demand for gas to heat homes, Soltvedt said.
However, “if we end up with an unexpected disruption of gas supply from Europe this winter, then, you know, we’re likely to see an even greater increase in civil unrest, hazard and government instability. “, did he declare.