Saturday, August 30, 2014

Conditions in Europe Since 1973 - World History

With the oil crisis of 1973, the post-war boom was replaced by more unstable growth and high inflation. While Western Europe became more united through the EU, the Soviet bloc collapsed. Renewed economic growth after 2000 brought an enlarged union, linking east and west.

IN 1973 THE OIL PRODUCING states almost trebled the price of oil in a year, triggering world wide price inflation. In Europe, the crisis coincided with a general slowdown in productivity and profit growth and mounting unemployment. The 1970s saw the onset of “stagflation” – low rates of growth and soaring inflation. Unemployment, which had been almost eradicated in the 1960s, rose sharply, producing Widespread labour unrest. Oil prices in the USSR affected the Soviet bloc as well. Economic performance stagnated behind the Iron Curtain, and in some cases actually declined.

Economic integration

Across much of western Europe, the crisis was confronted by continuing the trend to greater economic integration. By the late 1960s, the original six members of the EEC (European Economic Community) had established themselves as the economic vanguard of the continent. Fearful that they were being left behind by their more dynamic neighbour, in 1973 Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined them. They were followed in 1981 by Greece, in 1986 by Spain and Portugal and in 1995 by Austria, Finland and Sweden.

Underpinning the EEC (renamed the EU, European Union, in 1995) was the belief, first proposed in the 1950s, that integrating the nations of western Europe was the only effective means of guaranteeing continued economic success. The massive economic bloc thereby created would allow Europe to compete effectively with the world’s other leading economies, the USA and Japan. Such integration should in time evolve into full political union, with the aim of creating a single state. In 1985, the EEC agreed to create a single market and free-trade zone. The subsequent Maastricht Treaty of 1991 also committed that became known in 1995 as the European Union to a single currency. The Euro was introduced into most of the EU in 2002, though Britain declined to join at that time. The EU drew up proposals for a European Constitution in 2003, but no firm commitment existed to extend economic collaboration into a political union. In 2004 a further ten states joined the EU and, in 2007, two more.

The coming of democracy

The combined effects of the economic slowdown after 1973 and the realization that by clinging to their pre-war authoritarian governments they were increasingly being pushed to the margins of Europe were sufficient to see the reintroduction of democracy to Portugal (1974) and Spain (1975). Greece also embraced democracy in 1974.

But these changes paled in comparison with events in eastern Europe in the late 1980s. these involved nothing less than the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism in everyone of its satellite states as well as in Yugoslavia and Albania. As remarkable as the collapse of this apparently permanent system was the creation in its wake of no less than 15 new countries. The reasons for this transformation were as much economic as political. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the economies of the communist bloc had declined to the point where the region was effectively bankrupt. Unable to guarantee the survival of its client states, the Soviet Union under President Gorbachev abandoned them. By 1991 free elections had been held in every country of the region, including the Soviet Union, and the two Germany's had been reunited. Except for a short surge of violence in Romania, the transformation had been relatively peaceful.

The revival of nationalism

The euphoria which greeted the end of communism was followed swiftly by a fresh set of economic problems as the new regimes struggled to come to terms with democracy and economic liberalization. In the atmosphere of crisis old ethnic or religious conflicts revived. Slovakia won its independence from the Czechs in 1993. In 1991 Moldova declared independence and a brief civil war followed between the differing ethic groups making up the new state.

But the most bloody and prolonged struggle took place in Yugoslavia, which In 1991 disintegrated under pressure from the long-suppressed rivalries of its ethnic groups, despite Serbian resistance. Between 1991 and 1995 Serbia fought first against Slovenian, then Croatian and finally Bosnian independence, declared in 1992 by its Muslim majority. Only the intervention of NATO In 1995 prevented further bloodshed in what had become the most barbarous European conflict since the Second World War. In 1998 civil war broke out in Serbia itself when ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo fought for independence. 

Nationalist conflict continued in western Europe too. Basque separatism in Spain and Irish nationalism in Ulster were both sustained by terrorism from the 1970s. In Ireland political agreement for closer cooperation between nationalists and Unionists were secured in 1998. Since the millennium the greatest problem facing Europe was the increased number of political and economic refugees. Fear of “asylum seekers” fuelled radical right-wing movement in Europe and heightened radical tension. In France, this exploded in 2006 in major urban riots among frustrated and impoverished immigrant communities. Terrorism and asylum has forced European governments to increase state powers and compromise civil liberties.

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