Inflation protests across Europe threaten political turmoil

LONDON (AP) – In Romania, protesters blew horns and banged drums to show their dismay at the rising cost of living. People across France took to the streets Demand wage increases that keep pace with inflation. Czech protesters demonstrated against the government’s handling of the energy crisis. British railway workers and German pilots went on strike to push for better pay as prices rose.

Across Europe, rising inflation is behind a wave of protests and strikes, highlighting growing dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living and threatening to spark political unrest. With British Prime Minister Liz Truss being forced to resign less than two months on the job after her economic plans unleashed chaos in the financial markets and a struggling economy continued to hurt, the risk to political leaders became clearer as people called for action.

Europeans have seen their energy bills and food prices soar because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Although natural gas prices have fallen from record summer highs and governments have made a whopping €576 billion (over US$566 billion) available in energy relief to households and businesses According to the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, since September 2021 some demonstrators have not had enough.

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Energy prices have fueled inflation to a record 9.9% across the 19 countries using the euro currency, 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 pay rise,” said Rachid Ouchem, a medic who was among more than 100,000 people who took part in protest marches in several French cities this week.

According to risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, the aftermath of the war in Ukraine has greatly increased the risk of civil unrest in Europe. European leaders have strongly supported Ukraine and sent arms to the country and promise or be forced to wean their economies off cheap Russian oil and natural gasbut the transition has not been easy and threatens to erode public support.

“There is no quick fix to the energy crisis,” said Torbjorn Soltvedt, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “And if anything, it looks like inflation could be worse next year than this year.”

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This means that the link between economic pressures and public opinion on the war in Ukraine is “really being tested,” he said.

In France, where inflation is 6.2%, the lowest in the 19 euro-zone countries, rail and transport workers, university teachers and public hospital workers on Tuesday answered a call from an oil workers’ union to demand pay rises and oppose government intervention protest strikes of refinery workers who caused fuel shortages.

Days later, thousands of Romanians took part in a rally in Bucharest to protest the cost of energy, food and other necessities that organizers said would push millions of workers into poverty.

In the Czech Republic, huge flag-waving crowds in Prague last month called for the resignation of the pro-Western coalition government and criticized its support for European Union sanctions against Russia. They also beat the government for not doing enough to help households and businesses squeezed by energy costs.

While another protest is slated for next week in Prague, the actions have yet to result in political change as the country’s ruling coalition won a third of the seats in the upper house of parliament during an election this month.

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British railway workers, nursesDockers, lawyers and others have staged a series of strikes has called for pay rises in recent months to match inflation, which is at a four-decade high of 10.1%.

Trains have ground to a halt during transit operations during recent Lufthansa pilot strikes in Germany and other airline and airport employees across Europe Striving for higher wages in line with inflation has led to flight disruptions.

Truss’ failed stimulus planwhich included sweeping tax cuts and tens of billions of pounds (dollars) in subsidies for household and business energy bills without a clear plan to pay them illustrates the dilemma governments find themselves in.

They “have very little room for manoeuvre,” Soltvedt said.

So far, the rescue has been a milder October than usual in Europe, meaning lower demand for gas to heat homes, Soltvedt said.

“However, if there is an unexpected disruption in gas supplies from Europe this winter, then we are likely to see an even further increase in civil unrest, risk and state instability,” he said.

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