The vast majority of people in Europe still enthusiastically back the great postwar European experiment: their Europe without frontier crossings, without a Babel of separate currencies and customs fees and regulations, without employment restrictions and worse.
This is so despite widespread resentment of unemployment, factory closings, price hikes, tax increases, and slashes to government programs, and despite widespread fear of the future being driven by a recession that tight monetary policies have to a significant degree deepened and prolonged.
Simply put, Europe today is nowhere near the overwrought Europe of the Great Depression period, when national self-interest and nationalist hatred were rallying cries that led to a world war. No. By and large, Europeans today still support banding together in solidarity as Europeans, rather than as members of antagonistic nations, to overcome the economic and existential challenges they are facing.
And, at least for now, the vast majority of Europeans want no part of ranting extremists. In Greece recently the press reported that villagers on the Aegean island of Thassos—people hard pressed by the austerity program required by creditor countries providing their country loans to get a handle on its unmanageable debt—had refused to accept food packages and other handouts because they were coming from a party that deceptively calls itself “Golden Dawn,” whose neo-fascist leaders are seeking to grab political power by whipping up xenophobia and violence against immigrants.
Stories and prophecies of doom and gloom and the bombast of extremists such as the people behind Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary are the grist of the press. Stories about cooperation and solidarity and expressions of comity usually are not. Today, however, they should be.
This is because, even at this time of mounting social pressures, new survey results confirm that solidarity among ordinary people in Europe is still robust. People across the continent grasp the underlying social and economic pressures responsible for their plight even as they feel that that the austerity measures helping to drive the recession and exacting such a price from ordinary people are weakening the bonds that unite them.
The survey, carried out as the banking crisis in Cyprus was erupting, was commissioned by the Open Society Foundations.
Three-quarters of the respondents to the survey—administered to more than 4,000 persons in Spain, Italy, France, and Germany—indicated that the people of these countries are not scapegoating their fellow Europeans in Greece and other indebted countries for the ongoing financial crisis and consider it unfair for the hard-pressed to suffer the brunt of austerity measures for a situation they did not create. An overwhelming 93 percent of the survey respondents indicated that they believe politicians across Europe have lost touch with the suffering of ordinary people in the wake of the financial crisis.
Two-thirds of the respondents indicated that the countries of Europe should show solidarity and work together to tackle current economic and social challenges, while only a third said Europe’s individual countries should place a higher priority on national self-interest.
Fear of poverty brought on by lower wages and rising prices is the greatest worry of more than 70 percent of the persons surveyed. About 85 percent of the respondents indicated that the economic crisis had damaged European unity and solidarity and that some of the damage is severe.
In Germany, the largest creditor country where the survey was administered, the responses indicated that, despite the loss of billions of euros in German loans to Greece, there is a high degree of public concern over the increased tension and disagreements between the European countries and that, despite the crisis, most respondents indicated that they believe countries need to show solidarity.
The message from people in Europe is clear, if not loud. Europe will overcome the economic crisis and the social damage the austerity measures have caused by working together not separately. And it is the will of the Europeans to see that it succeeds.
Do you have a story of solidarity? Please share it in the comments.