Alexandre Afonse Discusses the Divide within Europe
Alexandre Afonso, Associate Professor at the Institute of Public Administration, was interviewed by Dutch news website 'de Correspondent' about the misapprehensions surrounding Southern Europe.
Dutch politicians claim that the southern countries are living beyond their means and are squanderers. This reportedly is the cause for their misery. Afonso states that in reality things are exactly the opposite.
A popular assumption is that countries such as Spain, Greece, and Italy are lazy and spend too much money. Countries such as the Netherlands and Germany are frugal, which is why things are going well here. The Netherlands make use of this incorrect representation of affairs to resist the so-called corona bonds. These corona bonds are designed to 'evenly distribute the heavy economic consequences of the corona crisis as much as possible'. Distribution is one of the central issues in the political economy. In Southern Europe people are actually working more hours than, for instance, in the Netherlands. Politicians are well aware of this, but the voters in these countries have no idea whatsoever.
The reason why the corona virus has had such a bigger impact on Southern Europe, according to Afonso, it the fact that in the southern countries there are a lot more jobs that are difficult to perform from a distance. 'The average employee in the south of Europe is not very highly educated. A lot of jobs are disappearing there because they have a completely different economic structure.'
'Solidarity is needed, especially now'
As a result, corona is causing a more profound economic crisis in the south. Southern countries are still suffering from the effects of the euro crisis that resulted in large scale austerity measures and unemployment. With yet a new crisis in sight, it is difficult to maintain that everybody should fend for themselves. Because the Netherlands is an export orientated country that sells a lot to other countries, it is in our own best interests that those countries have enough money. With the current global economy, the Netherlands is part of a system in which the southern countries also have role to play. The European economy should not be seen as a group of separate countries, but as a system in which some countries have budget surpluses and other countries have budget deficits. Both types of countries are needed to make the system work.
At a glance, Europe may appear to show solidarity, but the numbers clearly indicate something different. Within countries themselves there exists a feeling of community, where rich people pay a lot of taxes to support the community's poorer people. The problem with the European Union is that this sense of community does not exist here. Afonso says that creating this is the responsibility of politicians.
Alexandre Afonso's research focusses on the comparative political economy of European countries, and the relationship between welfare states, labour market institutions and immigration.