LONDON — In Romania, protesters blew horns and drums to express their dismay at rising costs of living. People across France took to the streets to demand wage increases that keep pace with inflation. Czech protesters demonstrated against the government’s handling of the energy crisis. British railway staff and German pilots have gone on strike to push for better wages as prices rise.
Across Europe, skyrocketing inflation is behind a wave of protests and strikes that underscores growing discontent with skyrocketing costs of living and threatens to spark political turmoil. With British Prime Minister Liz Truss forced to resign less than two months after her economic plans threw financial markets into chaos and further damaged an ailing economy, the risk to political leaders became clearer as that people demand action.
Europeans have seen their energy bills and food prices soar due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Even as natural gas prices fell from summer record highs and governments allocated a whopping 576 billion euros (more than $566 billion) in energy aid to homes and businesses since September 2021, according to the group of Bruegel experts in Brussels, is not enough for some protesters.
Energy prices have pushed inflation in the 19 countries that use the euro to a record 9.9%, making it difficult for people to buy what they need. Some see little choice but to go outside.
“Today, people are forced to use pressure tactics to get a pay rise,” 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 greatly increased the risk of civil unrest in Europe, according to risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. European leaders have been staunch supporters of Ukraine, sending arms to the country and committing or being forced to divest their economies from cheap Russian oil and natural gas, but the transition has not been easy and threatens to erode public support.
“There is no quick fix for the energy crisis,” said Torbjorn Soltvedt, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “And if anything, it looks like inflation could be worse next year than it has been this year.”
That means the link between economic pressure and popular opinion about the war in Ukraine “will really be tested,” he said.
In France, where inflation is 6.2%, the lowest of the 19 eurozone countries, rail and transport workers, secondary school teachers and public hospital employees responded Tuesday to a call from a union of oil workers to demand wage increases and protest government intervention in strikes by refinery workers that have caused gasoline shortages.
Days later, thousands of Romanians joined a demonstration in Bucharest to protest the cost of energy, food and other essentials that organizers said were driving 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 and criticized its support for European Union sanctions against Russia. They also criticized the government for not doing enough to help homes and businesses affected by energy costs.
While another protest is scheduled to take place in Prague next week, the actions have not translated into political change so far, as the country’s ruling coalition won a third of the seats in the upper house of Parliament during this election. month.
British rail workers, nurses, dockworkers, lawyers and others have staged a series of strikes in recent months demanding pay rises to match inflation, which is at a four-decade high of 10.1%.
Trains were brought to a standstill during traffic actions, while recent strikes by Lufthansa pilots in Germany and other airline and airport workers across Europe seeking higher wages in line with inflation have disrupted flights.
Truss’s failed economic stimulus plan, which involved sweeping tax cuts and tens of billions of pounds (dollars) in aid for household and business energy bills with no clear plan to pay them, illustrates the plight in where governments meet.
“They have very little room for manoeuvre,” Soltvedt said.
So far, the saving grace has been a milder-than-usual October in Europe, meaning lower demand for gas to heat homes, Soltvedt said.
However, “if we end up with an unexpected gas supply disruption from Europe this winter, we will likely see an even greater increase in civil unrest, risk and government instability,” he said.