Eurogeddon vs. Occupy Wall Street

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Examining protests in Europe compared to North American movement

Sophie Long
News Writer

As early as 2008, there were reports of protests and riots in Spain, Greece, and Italy due to frustration toward financial systems. Now, with Europe on the verge of a financial collapse dubbed the “Eurogeddon,” North America could be given an insight into its future should the financial system remain unchanged.

While the series of riots in Europe do not come from an organized group with a name or slogan, the unrest felt there has been prominent, with riots increasing as Italy, Spain, and Greece move closer to financial collapse. In an article by deputy political editor James Kirkup, the UK’s Telegraph warned that “recent foreign and commonwealth office instructions to embassies and consulates request contingency planning for extreme scenarios including rioting and social unrest.” Clearly, governments are wary of the violence that might come along with their debt crisis in Europe.

The Occupy protests have been fairly peaceful in contrast, but each movement has been fundamentally similar.

“Both issues point out the problems with our financial systems,” said Kelly McParland, opinions editor for the National Post’s opinion. “I don’t think they’re the same thing, but both issues have created awareness.”

Ronald Camp, an international business professor at the University of Regina, agrees.

“A lot of the underlying problems seem to be similar in Europe and North America,” he said. “There seems to be a sense that events that are keeping us from fulfilling our goals or desires in life – a nice home, travel, whatever – are caused by factors that we cannot control. The difference seems to be who we focus on for our frustration.

“In Europe, much of the protest seems to be focused on the European Union and technocrats that Greeks, Spaniards etc. did not vote for. In North America, it’s bankers. In part, this seems to be a call for a restoration of democratic controls that we seem to have lost to outside forces.”

This idea that personal issues are caused by factors we cannot control is one of the main arguments of those opposing the Occupy Wall Street movement. The dissenters under the “53 per cent” umbrella, for example, argue that everybody should be responsible for themselves and their own financial mistakes.

McParland believes that, at the very least, the American people hold financial institutions to the same standard.

“I think the United States is ready to acknowledge that too much money has been borrowed,” he said. “But unfortunately the politicians aren’t there yet.”

One key difference between the Occupy movement and the riots in Europe is the future of each continent. The euro is on the verge of crashing, while both the Canadian and the American dollar are stable.

Camp believes one of the key differences lies in the anger and disenfranchisement of European youth. Young adults in Greece, Spain, and other European nations, he points out, have seen high unemployment levels for a long time.

However, he says, there are other differences – and those differences will dictate the way protests play out.

“I don’t think we will go the way of Europe,” Camp explained. “Quebec aside, we are not dealing with the same sovereignty issues as Europe. We don’t have the problems associated with giving up sovereign monetary control. Both Canada and the USA have sovereign control over both fiscal and monetary policy, giving up more tools to deal with economic problems. Europeans have fewer, more painful options for getting their economic problems under control.

“Canada is safe.  The U.S. will be fine; they are too smart to let it get to where Europe is. The difference is that Europe is facing an immediate threat. Italy is on the edge, Greece is in trouble, and this continues in places like Ireland and Spain. People in Europe are losing their homes.”

While this is reassuring, it still doesn’t answer one of the main questions many observers have asked of the Occupy movement – what are the protesters upset about, anyway.

“The thing about the Occupy movement is that something has gone really wrong in the economy,” McParland said. “There have been trillions of dollars spent and nobody has paid the price; neither the politicians nor Wall Street has taken responsibility.”

He believes the Occupy movement owes much of its media attention to its language.

“The 99 per cent movement is a catchy name, but it is not a coherent movement,” he said. “There are groups with competing agendas who have taken part in the various occupations over the past two months. Some are concerned with banking, others environmental issues, others still with gender or gender identity issues.

“I’m a bit cynical about the Occupy movement. I think what they’ve done is brought attention to a serious issue, but they’re more like extremists.”

Camp believes that ultimately the problems in both North America and Europe will be resolved.

“We have seen huge improvement in household finance issues in both Canada and the USA in the past few years,” he said. “People have paid down household debt. We are also seeing improvement in housing stats and unemployment. This is taking pressure off the economy, which in turn weakens support for the protesters.

“In Europe, Greece in particular, we are starting to see unions, middle class workers, and municipal government officials supporting protestors against the federal government austerity programs. We don’t see that level of support for the protests in North America.”

The experts say North America could be safe after extensive reform.  Without that reform however, the “Eurogeddon” could easily become a reality for Canada and the United States in a few years.

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