Pessimism. But above all resignation. The citizens of the big European countries know that a harder than usual autumn-winter is coming up, that they will have to be aware of whether or not Putin closes the Russian gas tap definitively and also of a triggered shopping basket, matters that go to make your day-to-day difficult and will compromise your future. This is how they see it:
"With the water up to the neck" and at risk of riots
Germany. Protests in Leipzig against rising energy prices. /
Juan Carlos Barrena
The energy crisis and the effects of high inflation will become apparent at the latest at the end of the month in Germany. Under the slogan 'Hot autumn against the social cold', the Left party started this past Monday in Leipzig its campaign of protests against the unstoppable rise in energy and consumption prices. A demonstration to which several thousand people joined, while a few meters away the extreme right concentrated several hundred supporters to protest for the same reason. Demonstrations that in a few weeks could degenerate into serious riots, according to economists and sociologists, given the desperate economic situation of many Germans, who already have serious difficulties paying their electricity and gas bills. Before this crisis began due to the war in Ukraine, one in six Germans, about 13 million people, lived below the poverty line. When the winter is over, there will surely be several million more.
"People who until now paid 100 euros a month for their gas heating will soon have to pay 300 euros or more," warns Sebastian Dullien, scientific director of the German Institute for Macroeconomics and Conjunctural Studies. In the same proportion that gas rises, the electricity bill increases. For many households with adjusted incomes, these are increases that "represent a serious burden and can lead to family financial bankruptcy," says Dullien.
Ready for what's to come
Europe reinvents itself for this winter. Governments plan aid and citizens sharpen their imaginations. In Italy they even propose to cook the pasta with the fire off
Not only the rise in energy prices and high inflation cause alarm. As much or more worries a possible shortage of gas in the middle of winter. Before the war, Germany bought more than half of the gas it consumed from Russia. Since Moscow has turned off the tap, Berlin is desperately looking for new suppliers and to fill its reserves at all costs to guarantee, above all, the functioning of a good part of its industry.
Thus, the humanitarian associations have raised the alarm. The Christian organization El Arca, which cares for and feeds thousands of children from disadvantaged families daily in its 30 centers throughout the country, warns that the current crisis is going to reach dimensions unknown in the leading economy of the European Union. "I have seen in Germany children and adults with signs of malnutrition, but no one hungry, although in the coming months this problem will become a reality," says Wolfgang Büscher, spokesman for the organization.
And the popular movement '#estoyaaffectadoporlapobreza' denounces that state aid for those who lack a fixed income is insufficient. Initiator of the movement, Kati Braun, who cannot work for health reasons and needs public support to survive, stresses that the millions of Germans in the same situation are "up to their necks in water" and that if things get even worse , if people cannot pay for electricity and gas, turn on their radiators or shower with hot water, or basically feed themselves because it is unaffordable due to inflation, there will be a "social explosion" with unforeseeable consequences.
Recovering the stoic mood
United Kingdom. Volunteers prepare meals in Bradford. /
Until now, domestic terror consisted of entering the 'Nextdoor' app in search of an electrician and discovering the number of alleged and confirmed thieves who prowl the English streets at night. The neighbors' security cameras used to be the source of uneasiness, but now it's the smart meter that the electric companies install inside the house.
Counters are moderately smart. They count the cost of electricity or gas consumption. Increases of 50%, 80%, and even more extraordinary forecasts, have turned the electronic box into an intimate enemy. Those who do not have a smart meter visit friends' houses to see if it would be convenient for them to install one in theirs.
It is common for British houses to have a hot water boiler, programmed for bathroom or washing machine times. They have given ground to the 'combi' boilers, common in Spain, which are more efficient. The rule is that the more ancestrally rich the hosts, the cooler the house. It is often said that the national housing stock is deficient in its thermal insulation.
The new prime minister, Liz Truss, blames Putin for the energy price increase, but at the same time says that delayed production problems must be solved. Boris Johnson celebrated at his farewell that wind power will soon generate half of the energy needed in the country. Last year, the daily demand was 29.4 gigawatts. The 'mix': 42.4% gas, 28.1% renewable, 17.9% nuclear.
Cold and hunger, and stoicism to defeat Putin. The happy ending is a windy winter for the mills. In supermarkets there are more empty shelves than before. In East London they have put security locks on the cheeses and customers have to scan the barcode on the bill to leave. There are very few people in the center. Caution in spending is a talking point.
“We have to accept the unhappy decrease”
Italy. Milanese receiving official aid. /
At 80 years old, Rita turns the theory of happy degrowth, very popular among circles of the Italian left 20 years ago as an alternative to consumerism, on its head, when explaining how she faces runaway inflation in Italy with her pension retired. “We are left with no choice but to accept unhappy degrowth,” she says. Prices rose by 8.4% on average in August. “My husband and I try not to waste anything. For example, with fruit we buy less quantity, so that it does not go bad and we have to throw it away. And we try to be very careful not to leave the light on," says this lady as she leaves a food market located in a residential neighborhood in Rome.
Less concerned about rising prices is Antonio, a well-positioned businessman in a suit whose only concern is the gas supply. "As it has to be rationed, the effects for the economy are going to be catastrophic," he says. Although Italy has managed that, since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia goes from satisfying more than 40% of its needs for this hydrocarbon to being relegated to 18% of imports, it is not expected that it will be able to dispense with gas purchases from Moscow until the second half of 2024.
The fear of scarcity has led to the multiplication of advice to save energy at home, even reaching such an identity element for the country as cooking pasta. Giorgio Parisi, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2021, has become the latest scientist to bless the most economical way to cook this food, which foresees turning off the fire after the water comes to a boil and the pasta is added. . Just cover the pot for it to cook.
The Government hopes that thanks to the reduction in the temperature and duration of heating imposed in a new decree, together with other measures and the greater energy awareness of citizens, they can save more than 5,000 million cubic meters of gas of the 70,000 million that the country usually needs per year.
Less inflation, but public pools closed
France is the country with the lowest inflation in the European Union (6.5% in August, compared to 10.3% in Spain), thanks in large part to nuclear energy and government measures, such as the freezing of prices of electricity and gas for individuals.
Despite this, the French have never been as pessimistic (75%) as they are now about their future and that of their children, according to a recent Ifop poll. Only 25% are optimistic, the lowest level recorded since February 1995. Two years after the start of the covid-19 pandemic, the issues that most concern the French are health, rising prices and insecurity.
The increase in the price of products is noticed by the French in the shopping cart. For example, in June 2022, a baguette cost an average of 93 euro cents, four cents more than a year earlier. In the coming months it is expected that its price will continue to rise.
The French are getting more surprises. "Due to the energy crisis, your aquatic center will remain temporarily closed," read the sign that users of some thirty public swimming pools managed by the Vert Marin group found stuck to the door of the facilities this week. Those responsible justify the closure of the pools by the rise in energy prices.
"If this increase had an impact on the entry price of these centers, the latter would be multiplied by three," explained the Vert Marin group in a statement. The group hopes to find a solution with the local or government authorities that will allow the swimming pools to reopen to the public as soon as possible without having an impact on users.
Production halted at some breweries
Passing by the checkout of a Brussels supermarket, a couple carefully reviews the receipt. “Everything is very expensive!” they comment. And it is that the monthly purchase of Belgian families has become more expensive around sixteen euros since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.
The country's inflation has reached 9.9% in the second half of the year, according to Eurostat data, which has caused a general rise in prices. However, the effect has been especially noticeable in products such as oil, bread, cereals, coffee, tea, cocoa and dairy products, as well as tobacco and alcohol. Some supermarket chains have frozen the price of some of these products to help the most vulnerable families.
Beer, one of the most important national products in Belgium, has also failed to escape the effects of the war. Rising energy prices and a lack of glass bottles have forced some breweries to stop production, including Huyge, maker of the well-known Delirium Tremens brand.
But rising fuel prices have had the biggest impact on Belgian families, as many use diesel to heat their homes. Before the war, the liter cost 1.88 euros, while now it does not drop below 2.13 euros. This has led the Belgian Government to offer an aid of 200 euros to citizens to minimize the impact on the bill.
The country imports about 75% of the energy it consumes and most of the gas comes from Norway. Belgium's energy mix is also supported by nuclear power, its second most important source, and cuts in Russian gas supply will delay the closure of these plants.