While Irish Independent advertisements suggest that the difference between Greek and Irish responses to austerity is a matter of individual choices, new research from NUIM Dept of Sociology indicates that matters are a little more complex than that. Understanding European movements: new social movements, global justice struggles, anti-austerity protest, published today by Routledge and edited by Cristina Flesher Fominaya and Laurence Cox, is the first systematic attempt to situate Europe’s anti-austerity movements in their historical and cultural context.  Cristina Flesher Fominaya (Aberdeen) starts a two-year Marie Curie fellowship at the Dept. of Sociology in September, working with Prof. Sean O Riain on a comparison between anti-austerity movements in Ireland and Spain, while Laurence Cox co-directs the MA in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism, jointly based in Sociology and Adult and Community Education.

Understanding European movements is the first publication from the Council for European Studies’ research network on social movements, which is chaired by the two editors and brings together 178 scholars from 23 countries and 18 disciplines working in the field. The book’s
15 chapters include authors based in 11 countries whose analyses are all grounded in ethnographic and historical research on these movements – in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Spain and the UK as well as transnational relationships. The book offers a comprehensive, interdisciplinary perspective on the key European social movements in the past forty years and sets present-day struggles in their longer-term national, historical and political contexts. Its four sections discuss the European tradition of social movement theory, the relationship between European movements from 1968-99 and contemporary anti-capitalist movements, the construction of the “movement of movements” within the European setting from the late 1990s onwards and the new anti-austerity protests in Iceland, Greece, Spain and elsewhere.

The book will be launched by leading social movements scholar James Jasper (CUNY) at the CES conference in Amsterdam next month. Other network events at the conference include two mini-symposia, five panels, a workshop and a roundtable on understanding contemporary waves of protest. Together with the ECPR’s and ESA’s standing committees on social movements, the CES network is also organising a symposium on social movements and the European crisis at the Transnational Institute, Amsterdam.


Cristina Flesher Fominaya and Laurence Cox, eds. (2013) Understanding European Movements:
New Social Movements, Global Justice Struggles, Anti-Austerity Protest. London: Routledge (Advances in Sociology series).

304 pp. hardback, ISBN 978-0-415-63879-1

The print version of the property section in The Guardian carried a piece by Grahan Norword on the property bust in Spain (I can’t find an online version, so apologies for no link).  The headline was: ‘Building bust after the boom casts a shadow over property in the sun.’  The tagline: ‘Unhappy buyers, corrupt councillors, illegal homes – all part of the storline in a new Spanish soap opera.’  It provides some interesting figures regarding the Spanish property sector, and the story being told is not wildly dissimilar to Ireland – falling prices, negative equity, a glut of unsold new property – though there are some differences, particularly with respect to some developments being deemed illegal and being knocked, and politicians being jailed for taking bungs from developers.

The piece reports that there are approximately 600,000 new unsold homes (Ireland c. 23,000) and 200,000 part-complete unsold homes (Ireland c. 20,000). If you scale the Irish population (4.5m) to Spain (46m), then it’s clear the unsold, brand new property overhang is significantly worse in Spain (by a factor of 3); the part-complete units though are broadly comparable.  The article does not discuss the phenomenon of unfinished estates, but one presumes that a large number of households are living on either under-construction estates and/or estates with high vacancy.   The official house price fall is 17% (Ireland is c. 40% – see here for latest roundup of estimates), though estate agents are reporting 20-50% depending on area.  Holiday homes are down c. 40%.  There has been a 43% collapse in the value of Spanish construction industry and drop in land values of c. 50% (Ireland c. 70-95% depending on location).  On top of the unsold units, Spanish banks are apparently sat on a glut of repossessed homes, which they are obliged to release to the market after two years (meaning they will start to flood onto the market from later on this year).  In addition, the issue of illegal build rumbles on.  For example, 12,697 homes were recently declared illegal in the Almanzora Valley in south-east Spain, 920 of which are earmarked for demolition, leaving owners in a precarious position.

What the article makes clear is that both Ireland and Spain share some broadly similar issues with regards our respective housing markets, which perhaps isn’t a surprise when you look at the rate both countries were building properties at the peak of the boom.

Housing unit completions per 1000 population for Europe in 2007

Rob Kitchin

The financial and economic crisis that has hit the world and Europe since Autumn 2008 has had its most severe impact on a few European countries, countries that are often referred to as ‘peripheral’ from the standpoint of the geography of Europe or the EU: Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. Does that mean that their geographically ‘peripheral’ position is at the heart of their current financial and economic problems? Not really. Or maybe, somehow. Maybe it was their location on the margins of Europe that played a part in their lagging economies compared to their EU partners in the 1970s and 1980s as they all joined the EU (1973 for Ireland, 1981 for Greece, 1986 for Spain and Portugal)? And maybe that explained to a certain extent the ‘fast-track’ paths to economic growth that some of them went for then, with the support of European funding for infrastructural upgrades in particular, but also based on what Henri Sterdyniak, from the OFCE research center, has called “macroeconomic strategies that have become illusory”. And that’s precisely what’s more important than their ‘peripheral’ location: the fragility of their respective economic development model. In the case of Ireland, that has been largely explained, discussed, documented through many posts on the Ireland after NAMA blog (since its creation at the end of November 2009, almost a year ago now) and other forums such as Politics.ie or The Irish Economy among others. But there hasn’t been too much discussion about how the Irish model compares to its ‘peripheral’ counterparts and what lessons Ireland could learn from them and their own crisis as it looks for a way to get out of the crisis and to rebuild its growth and a (hopefully) viable growth model. There’re a few things that I would like to highlight to that effect.

The Irish and Spanish experiences have been quite similar so far. Their public debt was quite low, their growth levels quite high, but in both cases growth was heavily reliant on real-estate and financial speculation. In Ireland, at the end of 2007, loans for real-estate development amounted to 250% of the GNP. That made for a huge real-estate bubble, the same kind of bubble that exploded in Spain a few months after the Irish one. While a large amount of the bursting of the Irish bubble is being cleaned up by NAMA, Spain has not created its own toxic bank to absorb the current 325bn euros of debts of the real-estate sector.

Portugal and Greece are in a different situation. Their major problem has been the lack of growth in the past decade or so (while Ireland and Spain were experiencing high levels of ‘growth’, but one that was highly illusory given its speculative nature). Their main problem is that their governments have been very keen on entertaining the idea that growth was happening: to international investors, to their own population, and to EU officials. They did so through rather irrational budget decisions. While Greece deliberately falsified and concealed its high levels of public debt and justified 4% annual growth since 2000 by emphasizing the performances of its real-estate industry and tourism (two sectors that are highly volatile), Portugal went overboard with public spending to stimulate domestic consumption while it struggled to boost the growth of its leading industries and main exports (e.g. textiles).

Among the four countries, Ireland is actually the only one that has developed a real and successful export-oriented economy, in particular in knowledge-based sectors such as (e.g.) pharmaceuticals, electronics, software …etc. But the problem is that the success of this strategy relies to a great extent on the very low corporation tax (12.5%, as opposed to 25.7% on average across the Euro zone, almost 30% in Germany, and over 33% in France). And this is something that may be challenged in the near future as part of the EU/IMF bail-out package that is currently negotiated. As noted in a post from yesterday by Rob Kitchin, the IMF has indicated in its position paper on structural reform in the Euro area that harmonization of macroeconomic policies should be a priority in the Eurozone, and an harmonization of the corporation tax across the area, or at least some degree of convergence, is not to be excluded. This does not mean that firms are necessarily going to massively flee out of Ireland if the corporation tax is raised by a few percentage points. While the potential short-term negative effects of raising the corporation tax has recently been discussed by Chris van Egeraat in another post on this blog, there are also a series of factors that make firms more locally-embedded than implied by the hypermobility of capital argument mobilized by those in favour of maintaining a low corporation rate in Ireland. I’ll leave that aside for the moment, and I will pick up on another point raised by Chris van Egeraat in his post and many others in the past few months, which is the fact that Irish recovery and a viable Irish economic model cannot be built upon a low taxation model. It needs to be rebuilt on strong foundations, including a proper industrial policy, that would send the right ‘signals’ to global markets and international investors, i.e. the image of an economy that is actually managed and doesn’t threatened to spiral out of control again.

A major problem here is that it is going to be very difficult for Ireland, but also Greece, Portugal and Spain to build the foundations of a strong economic model with the austerity plans that are currently being designed or implemented because the priority being the reduction of national deficits through major cuts in levels of public spending, this leaves close to nothing to support these sectors that could create a solid base for these economy (e.g. textiles in Portugal, food industries in Spain and Greece, new technologies in Ireland). That includes, for example, continuous funding for education to keep training indigenous youth, mentoring and internship programmes to help graduates enter the workforce, financial and structural support for start-ups to create jobs ….etc (as discussed in this post for example). If their respective economic bases do not solidify in the next few years, all four countries are likely not only to be prone to future crises of the sort that we are dealing with right now.

Delphine Ancien