The economic down turn of 2008, which was a result of the global recession in that same year, hit some European nations hard. Greece’s debt to GDP ratio was dangerously close, markets collapsed, and jobs were lost, needing a strong bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Reports have shown that the nation is starting to tiptoe out into capital markets once again, with help from other European nations and even more assistance from the IMF. Though this is not the first time Greece has shown an interest in trading or rejoining the international market or promise of growth, this particular instance seems to be more permanent.

However, with youth unemployment the highest in all of Europe at 58 percent, and unemployment still at astronomical numbers at over 28 percent, along with other negative economic indicators, many are understandably cautious about Greece’s re-entry. Amidst all the people who are still unemployed and even more who have migrated to other countries all together to find work, Greece has made this move most likely as a way to alert the world that although they have a long way to go, the world should not completely forget about them.

The European Commission expects a turnaround and “robust growth” in 2015, which is probably the reason for Greece’s reemergence, to establish new relationships and connections before the actual growth occurs.

The nation still owes a substantial debt to investors. With their bonds still wavering around junk bond level yields, Greece still has a way to go. But their situation is a lot like a patient in physical therapy. In order to walk again, no matter how grievous the injury, the road to recovery is actually getting up and attempting to put one foot in front of the other.

– Matthew Price

Sources: CNN Money, CNN
Photo: RTE News

poverty crisis
The financial crisis of 2007-2008 was one of the worst financial crises since The Great Depression of the 1930’s. It has had huge ramifications on every piece of the world’s economy and way of doing business. The bailout of Europe’s economy and banking system did its intended job and stabilized Europe’s markets. However, an Oxfam report put out in 2013 has laid out the far reaching implications of the severe cutbacks that saved Europe’s economy at risk of jeopardizing the livelihoods of  millions upon millions of European families.

The Oxfam report “A Cautionary Tale” lays out the troubling details of the austerity programs that have been rolled out across Europe in response to the financial crisis and how they are taking Europe two steps backward instead of ensuring the stability and security of both Europe’s economy and its citizens. Oxfam’s report states that by 2025 there will be upwards of 15 to 25 million additional Europeans threatened by the specter of poverty if the measures that are currently in place are not seriously examined by the governments of Europe.

The reports also note that the amount of public spending that was cut from 2010 to 2014 will greatly decrease the amount of public sector jobs across Europe; 40 percent of Ireland’s GDP, 20 percent in the Baltic States, 12 percent in Spain and 11.5 percent in the U.K.. The report cites that due to these public spending cuts, in the United Kingdom alone 1.1 million jobs will be cut between 2010 and 2018. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) cites France as an example of the growing poverty crisis in Europe. According to the IFRC, an additional 350,000 people in France have fallen below the poverty line since 2009. In just under 4 years in France, that is almost 90,000 people.

The conundrum at play here is how does Europe go about ensuring that its economy continues to recover from the poverty crisis, while at the same time keeping poverty from consuming its citizens. The dangers of income inequality are also something that not only European nations but indeed all the nations of the world must work diligently to lessen, or otherwise risk another global financial collapse. Oxfam’s report lays out the detailed analyses of how this would occur. Increased income inequality in countries who are still recovering from the global financial crisis and long term periods of income inequality in countries lead to the sort of  high rate high risk borrowing done by those who are more than likely not going to be able to pay these loan back to the banks. These sorts of inappropriate financial transactions greatly contributed to the financial crises that occurred in 2007 and 2008.

Governments will always cut costs in some fashion; it has come to be part of the current political climate. It is easy to slash spending for programs that are not perceived as essential for the immediate running of national affairs. However if Europe’s leaders do not monitor the situation, they could potentially set Europe’s recovery back by almost a decade according to Oxfam’s findings. Real wages in the United Kingdom and Portugal have dropped to 3.2 percent, which have set the value of wages in the United Kingdom to 2003 prices.

The leaders of the world’s nations that were hardest hit by the financial crisis have done a remarkable job in swooping in and preventing the total collapse of many of the world leading national economies. However if the current cost cutting measures that are in place which are supposed to be helping to push countries in the right direction are not seriously examined and examined soon, Europe faces serious implications for the future.

Arthur Fuller

Sources: Oxfam, IFRC, The New York Times, CNBC
Photo: Europe Direct Leeds

On February 12, over 140,000 people signed a petition created by The Daily Mail to have foreign aid money go to victims of recent destructive flooding in Britain.

The floods took place over six weeks ago and many British citizens are trying to put pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to put more funds towards helping flood victims. Cameron has refused to use foreign aid money for these purposes, saying, “I don’t think it’s needed to go for the aid budget because we will make available the money that’s needed in Britain.”

Many global poverty experts have spoken about this campaign, calling it “outrageous.”

Several prominent experts including And Etharin Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Programme called this campaign to use funds dedicated to foreign aid in Britain an “extremely worrying” minority view and hoped that it would be ignored by governments. Experts have further called the campaign “inexcusable and unforgivable” as well as “disgraceful.”

World Vision chief executive Justin Byworth has said that this situation is a “political excuse” to put foreign aid in a negative light. Byworth has also said, “Anything that politicizes poverty here and in the UK, makes me angry, we are promoting a political agenda on the backs of the poor. It should be our humanitarian agenda that drives us.”

In the article published in The Daily Mail, writers use a one-sided viewpoint in addressing any foreign aid that Britain has given, attempting to show that relief money has been used poorly. The comments on the site seem to reflect these views and the site even offers a link to contact the prime minister to express concern about the use of funds.

Poverty experts have cited the importance of realizing that foreign aid helps everyone, as it is an essential investment. Cousin has said, “The reality is that we live on a very small planet. Food security in one part of the world means security for another part. We are hopeful government [will] recognize the need to support both population[s].”

Experts are imploring that people need to understand better the impact that foreign aid has on its recipients. Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, urges people to understand, “The mistake we make, we do not see the connection between instability and how it affects global peace. As the rural areas are destabilized, people migrate to urban areas, and there they often become even poorer, more frustrated, desperate and susceptible to rhetoric.” Nwanze attributes this to how so many end up living in militancy.

Urgency can be found on both sides of this argument, with one side demanding action on behalf of British citizens and the other reminding world of how important it is to maintain humanitarian action. What Cameron and Britain ultimately decides to do regarding this issue could have an impact on the way other countries use foreign aid. As poverty experts continue to emphasize the effect foreign aid has on a global level, and not simply the effect it has on the recipient, it will be up to the British government to make the best possible decision.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: Huffington Post, The Daily Mail
Photo: Daily Mail

The nation of Syria has endured ongoing violence with tension between the Syrian government and people. The situation has long been called a human rights disaster and numbers are beginning to show the extent of the issue.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, a total of 145 hectares of developed land including neighborhoods and towns (about 200 soccer fields worth), have been completely demolished. The areas have contained opposition hubs and the Syrian government has used large-scale explosives and bulldozers to wipe them out.

Because of the extent of the situation in Syria, there is expected to be a lost generation of Syrian children. There have already been thousands of refugees forced to leave, which has put a strain on the surrounding nations that are dealing with economic burdens.

Currently, organizations on an international scale are beginning to step in to alleviate the situation. The United States has already addressed the human rights situation in Syria and plans to mobilize USAID to respond to refugee needs. As of January 28, members of Parliament for the European Union convened to reach a resolution on the action regarding the lost generation of Syrian children.

Ultimately, with the inclusion of UNICEF and cross party EU committees, they established the goal to “create synergies across committees and incorporate children’s rights into the legislative body.” Spanning back to the start of the situation in Syria, the EU has already mobilized a total of over 2.7 billion in assistance—and now they are planning on utilizing the legislative system to prevent the lost generation.

As violence in Syria continues, the future of the nation looks dreary. So far there have been over 2.4 million registered refugees with almost 50 thousand refugees awaiting registration for assistance. With the assistance of the entire international community, the situation in Syria is expected to continue to be addressed. So far, much has been done to respond to the humanitarian needs of the people; ultimately, it may require a more of a political approach to resolve the issue.

– Jugal Patel

Photos: UK Humanity First

The Syrian civil war has been the cause of daily consternation for those affected by the war and the humanitarian groups looking to administer to victims’ needs. This past week saw the opening of peace talks in Switzerland as representatives from both sides of the war and nations with interests in the region looked to find some way to bring the conflict to a close.

With chances of a settlement looking grim, a number of European nations including the United Kingdom and Sweden have announced plans to bring in some of the refugees of the war. The refugee crisis resulting from the civil war has stretched the beleaguered nation’s neighbors to their limits.

The United Nations Higher Council for Refugees recently announced that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon had exceeded 890,000, with over two million Syrians now living abroad in total. With these staggering figures have come questions over how best to administer to the refugees’ needs, and how well the host nations could sustain this influx.

With these concerns in mind, Sweden has opened its doors to the refugees, more so than any other Western nation according to the CBC. Since 2012, the Nordic nation has taken in 14,000 refugees, far exceeding Germany, which has taken in the second-most refugees of any EU nation.

The path from Syria to Sweden is rather perilous, as refugees flee their homes with little luggage and must rely on smugglers to take them into Western Europe. In a nation they presumably know fairly little about, Syrians have gotten a warm welcome in Sweden.

One Syrian interviewed by the CBC said, “They are providing almost everything,” when questioned about their living conditions.

Sweden and Germany had taken in 64% of the Syrian refugees entering Europe from the beginning of 2012 until May 2013, according to the European Asylum Support Office. None of the other European countries in the study come close to their totals, but it looks some nations are willing to share the burden of hosting these downtrodden people.

Despite this seeming lack of interest by European nations in housing the Syrian migrants, some governments are debating opening their doors to more Syrians. William Hague, the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, has said that his government is planning on “helping people who are particularly vulnerable,” particularly these refugees.

This represents a significant change from a government that had not committed to any refugee plan, and had up till now declined to sign for a United Nations refugee sanctuary program.

The peace talks in Switzerland and the plans that the United Kingdom has announced are being worked on represent promises being made to the Syrian people. Yet these people have been dealing with the results of the conflict for three years now, with their homes and lives being torn apart.

The lack of support for refugees beyond that done by a select few nations represents a failure on the part of the Western world. The burgeoning crisis that is engaging Syria’s neighbors is a dangerous scenario, and show the need for foreign aid that developing nations still need.

Eric Gustafsson

Sources: CBC News, DNA India, The Guardian
Photo: NPR

After nearly two months of protest movements ranging across cities of Ukraine, protesters have made landmark achievements towards a government void of corruption.

The social turmoil began when President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union and went on to receive a $15 billion bailout from Russia. However, anti-protest legislation introduced two weeks ago are what caused the protests to magnify and eventually turn violent.

Since then, opposition movements have placed significant political pressure on Ukrainian leaders. As of January 18, controversial anti-protest laws have been repealed and the very unpopular Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned from office.

Azarov’s resignation followed President Yanukovych offering of the Prime Minister job and other senior positions to opposition leaders. The opposition ended up rejecting the deal, asserting that they do not plan on letting up. They continue to press for new and early elections and there are still many negotiations to be made between the Ukrainian government and opposition.

So far, the opposition movements are calling for, “an end to government corruption, freedom for political prisoners and for Ukraine to be aligned with the European Union and not Russia.”

The Ukrainian government also recently signed in a conditional amnesty law for captured activists in which protesters would be given at 15-day deadline to leave the government buildings that are occupied. This also comes after recently allegations of the Ukrainian government for abducting and torturing citizens, including the opposition activist, Dmytro Bulatov.

As the situation in Ukraine has already been established as a human rights nightmare, it is increasingly becoming one with more information on government allegations surfacing. The United Nations Human Rights office has also gotten involved by condemning the cases of torture and is now calling on the Ukraine government to further investigate the situation.

Although the opposition movements in Ukraine have gained significant ground with the resignation of Prime Minister Azarov, the repeal of anti-protest legislation and now with the law of amnesty for all of the political prisoners (as long as protesters vacate government buildings), they are still calling for new elections.

It is unclear at this point, how much further the tension between the Ukrainian government and opposition will last. However, on an international scale, people are weighing in to attempt to resolve the issue.

As a consistent critical of the Ukrainian government’s handling of the past two months, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that, “Ukrainian president’s offers needed to improve if the opposition were to take them seriously.”

– Jugal Patel

Sources: BBC, BBC-2, Al Jazeera, Global News
Photo: Voice of America

Germany, long the land of chocolate and efficient production, has its own share of problems.  Oddly enough, for being one of the richest countries in the world, poverty in Germany is a major issue.  The country is often seen as the economic center of the European union so it’s surprising to see creeping numbers of unemployed and poor within its borders.

During 2012, Germany saw a rise in the number of people reliant on welfare to survive rose 3.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of poor, those making less than 925 euro (1,260 USD) per month, rose sharply to about 15.5% of the country’s population, outpacing the US numbers at 15.1%.  While this doesn’t put Germany on the same footing as bottom economic tier countries like Sierra Leone (70.2%!), it does show a troubling trend in Germany that, if not addressed, quickly could spiral out of control.

Germany, more than most other European nations, ties academic success to the income and education level of the parents.  This creates a situation where the more individuals fall below the poverty line the more their children suffer at school, creating a vicious cycle that is hard for these families to escape.

UNICEF, the worldwide leader in child focused humanitarianism, has provided some useful guidelines for Germany that will help to curtail the rise in poverty and unemployment.  About twice as many children live below the poverty line in Germany as adults, making UNICEF’s focus on the young extremely valid.  The organization has sent recommendations to German leadership that call for targeted changes in the education system that support disadvantaged children.

Of course, while UNICEF’s recommendations are worth consideration they are in no way binding.  Whether or not the German leadership acts on the recommendations is a matter of politics.

Without going too in depth about those politics, the sitting German leadership will have until 2017 to make a lasting change.  2017 Marks the next batch of elections at which point long serving German chancellor Angela Merkel will have to fight for a fourth term in office.

For now Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, has gained a much larger percentage of the German parliament; the largest since the early 1990’s. What they do with this increase in numbers remains to be seen.

Merkel’s successful third term re-election and the growth in popularity of her party are due in large part to promises made about bolstering the German economy and heading off the rise in poverty.  How successful she and her party have been in stabilizing the German economy will likely play a major role in the next set of elections.  Angela Merkel’s fourth term will certainly depend on Germany’s economic performance both within its own borders and within the European Union.

Dylan Spohn

Sources: World Socialist Web Site, Inequality Watch, Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg
Photo: NBC

A new report from the European Union illuminates the staggering cost of untreated illness among Europe’s most poor. The report estimates that trillions of dollars a year are lost due to what it calls “health inequalities.”

As reported by The Guardian, the study shows that many avoidable costs are incurred as a result of sick individuals leaving the workforce due to illness or death. The loss of productivity alone may cause trillion dollar losses throughout the E.U.

Granted that these costs and conditions (along with other economic factors) vary widely from nation to nation in the E.U., the report signals a need for shared responsibility in dealing with public health.

From west to east, Europe has an obvious incline in disease and mortality. Many eastern European states report annual mortality rate that are nearly double that of the lowest western states. The fault line between the two halves of Europe appears to be primarily economic—a divide between rich and poor.

The report points to poverty as the central association to these varied health outcomes. The report claims to have “found many examples of associations between risk factors for health, including tobacco use and obesity, and socio-economic circumstances.”

A lack of education, employment, and social safety nets also help to account for a fairly substantial disparity between member states. The report, therefore, calls for broad, systemic changes for many nations. The solution has to be delivered on several fronts if the less fortunate states are to see positive change. Additionally, they are not likely to be able to accomplish these goals in the short term without significant aid from wealthier member states.

In the end, the report looks to put this issue in the public interest by appealing to economic consequences of allowing such inequality to exist. Further, it argues that these inequalities are mostly avoidable. In other words, something can be done on the part of member states to ensure the well being of the most poor.

Chase Colton

Sources: The Guardian, EU
Photo: Shared Justice

In 2013, Greece faced its sixth consecutive year of a devastating recession. In order to secure $325 billion in rescue funds from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, the Greek government resorted to cutting jobs and wages, actions that consequentially incited mass protests and unrest.

As a result, according to statistics released by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (HSA,) nearly a quarter of Greece’s population is susceptible to poverty. In a nation composed of 11 million residents, 2.75 million of whom are at risk of poverty, Greece has the highest poverty risk in the E.U. Among those at risk, the most susceptible individuals are single parents and unemployed men. Approximately half of jobless men in Greece are at risk of poverty, while single-parent households are also in a vulnerable position.

A factor contributing to the anticipated poverty of Greece’s population are the projected social welfare budget cuts for 2014. Between 2012 to 2013, the welfare budget had been cut by almost seven percent. However, the projected budget reduction for social welfare in 2014 is a staggering 18%, or $406 billion.

Furthermore, according to the Public Policy Analysis Group at the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) discovered that within the last year, approximately 14% of Greeks had earned an income that was less than the living standard. In contrast, in 2004, only two percent of the population had earned an income below the standard of living.

Since 2008, the crisis in Greece had steadily increased in volatility. According to ESYE statistics agency, an increase in material deprivation in at least four of the nine basic categories of goods and services for human survival occurred during the past five years. To clarify, basic needs include the ability to endure unforeseen financial expenses, eat meat every two days, and heat one’s home. However, due to the economic crisis, approximately 76.3% of poor Greeks were directly affected, while 30.8 percent of the non-poor population suffered as well.

Without adequate government intervention, a substantial portion of the Greek population will remain at risk of poverty throughout 2014. With poverty and struggle in sight, internal social conflict in Greece will continue to rise as well. However, with aid from the E.U. and gradual stabilization, the nation can begin to recover.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: International Business Times, The Telegraph, Zero Hedge, AFR
Photo: Read My Mind

Poverty in France
More than just the illustrious Eiffel Tower looms over France. The land of crepes and Albert Camus is also the land of prevailing poverty. At 40 percent of the average standard of living, two million French residents sustain themselves with 645 euros, or $873.85 per month after accounting for social benefits. For individuals who make less than 977 euros, the minimum living income in France, it is difficult to accommodate daily needs.

Furthermore, 3.6 million French residents rely on some form of social assistance to varying degrees. Approximately 1.4 million recipients of social assistance report aid from the Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA,) a French social welfare program in which an eligible individual receive, as of January 2014, receives a maximum allocation of 499.31 euros, or $676.47 per month.

Additionally, 3.5 million residents report relying on food aid, such as food packages, vouchers, and charity meals, according to the National Council of Food. Over a third of the individuals who rely on food aid receive assistance through the Secours Populaire, a non-profit French organization that aims to mitigate poverty in France and poverty in the world.

The Secours Populaire typically lends aid through the form of emergency food, clothing, and shelter. However, 1.8 million individuals (these individuals may overlap with the previously-stated 3.5 million who rely on food aid) report being unable to have a full meal at least once a day at some point within the past two weeks.

According to the French food-aid charity Secours Catholique, 31 percent of its aid recipients are single mothers, even though single mothers only comprise eight percent of households in France. However, in the past, single men and single mothers made up the majority of France’s poor, but due to global economic crises, France has seen an increase in the number of poor families.

Although poverty has declined in France since the 1990’s, a substantial amount of the French population remains economically stagnated, relying on social welfare and housing assistance. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is appalling how such a disproportionate amount of the population struggles to make an adequate income.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Secours Populaire, Palgrave, Inequality Watch