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Europe's economic woes mount as Ukraine conflict rages on

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Rapidly rising energy prices pose a new quandary to European states.

Amid rising living costs, soaring inflation, and worsening job crisis, people in European countries are up in arms against their respective governments, pouring into the streets in large numbers to protest anti-people policies. 

According to the data published by the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday, Britons are suffering from soaring inflation, which has caused the value of wages to fall at the fastest pace in more than a decade.

“Pay in real terms is falling at its fastest rate in over a decade,” with UK inflation at a 40-year high, said ONS Head of Economic Statistics, Sam Beckett.

The country's annual inflation rate has soared to nine percent, causing a cost-of-living crisis for millions of Britons.

The unemployment rate across the UK has also risen to 3.8 percent, in comparison to the rate of 3.7 percent in the first quarter of the year, with record-high vacancies seeking for employees, the ONS said in its statement.

“With inflation hurtling towards double digit territory, many workers are increasingly finding that their wages are not stretching wide enough to meet the bumper cost of seemingly everything from food to petrol,” said Myron Jobson, senior personal finance analyst at Interactive Investor.

According to the official figures, British economic output declined for a second month in a row in April, weighed down by runaway consumer prices.

“It is possible that this is the very first signs that the weakening in economic activity since the start of the year is filtering through into a less tight labor market,” Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said Tuesday.

He said it “won't be anywhere near enough to prevent the Bank (of England) from raising interest rates on Thursday.”

France struggling with strikes and fuel prices

France, on the other side, witnessed large strikes by cabin crew at Ryanair on Sunday and Monday who demanded better pay and working conditions.

Reuters cited union representative Damien Mourgues from the SNPNC-FO union saying that more than 40 flights had to be cancelled.

“As things stand, further walkouts are possible if the company does not meet our demands for a worthy salary and working conditions”, Mourgues noted.

The development came on the heels of a nationwide protest as health workers associated with nine major unions and organizations rallied in the streets to protest against the shortage of staff and resources.

Protest rallies and strike action began in public hospitals and healthcare centers in at least 50 French towns early on Tuesday morning last week before reaching the health ministry in Paris in the afternoon.

The fuel prices are also rising to record high figures in France caused by a spike in global demand and supply shortages.

However, President Emmanuel Macron points to ‘yellow vest’ protests as the main reason for economic failures of the government.

The anti-government protests of 2018 by low-income voters in florescent yellow safety vests were sparked by anger over rising fuel prices and attempts to tax heavily polluting vehicles.

“Work is underway and measures will be announced in the next few days,” Aurore Berge, the head of Macron's party in parliament, said reefing to the economic crisis grappling the country.

Average diesel prices in France hit an all-time record last week of 1.5583 euros a liter, while petrol was at nearly a 10-year high at 1.6567 euros a liter, slightly below the all-time record reached in April 2012, official data shows.

Rising cost of living across Austria

Meanwhile, rising cost of living across Austria has prompted the government there to introduce a package of measures, which it said would cost six billion euros this year.

The measures include increasing or topping up various benefits, including a 300 euro payment this year to vulnerable groups and separate direct payments to “energy-intensive companies”.

Like many other nations across the European continent, Austria is grappling with inflation that has surged to its highest level in decades.

As most of the European energy is provided from Russian sources, the military conflict in Ukraine has driven up energy prices in the continent, while also creating health problems.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has warned that Ukraine crisis could create “new vulnerabilities” in Europe to illegal drugs by triggering shifts in smuggling routes and potentially exposing more people to narcotics.

The Lisbon-based EMCDDA said in its annual report on Tuesday that many people who have suffered “severe psychological stress” during the conflict might be more vulnerable to substance misuse problems in the future.

The statement stressed that health services in European countries, especially those bordering Ukraine, are likely to become more strained

“Continuity of treatment, language services and the provision of accommodation and social welfare support are likely to be key requirements,” it said, adding that even those who were not drug users were at risk.

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