McManus: Europe's continental drift You think the U.S. is dysfunctional? Get a load of the Eurozone.

Europe's economy

Unemployment in the 17 countries that share the euro is higher than 11%, and it's still heading up. People wait in line outside an unemployment office in Madrid, Spain. (Paul White / Associated Press)

RIMINI, Italy — You think (the U.S.) has it bad, caught between a stagnant economy and gridlocked politics? Then take a trip to Europe, where the economy is going not sideways but backward — and the politics are too. Europe's numbers should be familiar by now, but they're still awful. In the United States, President Obama's much-derided stimulus package helped end our recession in 2009; in Europe, with no comparable stimulus, the recession isn't over. Unemployment in the 17 countries that share the euro is higher than 11%, and it's still heading up. The International Monetary Fund says the Eurozone's economies won't start growing again until next year, if then.

Since 2008, Italy's gross domestic product has shrunk by almost 10% after inflation; by some estimates, Southern Europe is experiencing its worst drop in living standards since World War II. It all makes the U.S. recovery look positively healthy, even though our 2% growth rate and 7.6% unemployment feel anemic by modern standards.

On the ground, the news isn't much better. I headed this month for Rimini, Italy's aging but still glitzy beach resort, where la dolce vita doesn't seem so dolce these days. Real estate prices have tanked. The dazzling turn-of-the-century Grand Hotel, which Federico Fellini used in his films, is almost empty. "The only foreign tourists we're seeing are Russians," a hotel owner told me with a tone of mild distaste.

Spain, Portugal and Greece are even worse off; France isn't much better. The French were shocked to learn this year that many of their brightest university graduates were thinking about emigrating to America, to Australia, even — the horror! — to Germany, Europe's healthiest big economy. The news has helped push Parisians into an enthusiastically lugubrious debate: Are they more morose than ever, or have they always been this grumpy?

Worst of all for the French, they're not unique. The Italians and Spanish are depressed by the depression, the British are unhappy about austerity, and the Germans are grouchy that they're still being asked to pay for it all.

And that has turned European politics sour. In almost every country, protest movements — many of them ugly, xenophobic and nationalist — have swelled with resentment against the bureaucrats of the European Union and against immigrants, often without papers, who are taking low-wage jobs. In Greece, the thugs of the Golden Dawn movement, which holds 18 seats in parliament, roam the streets beating up Africans and Arabs. In Italy, a senator from the anti-immigrant Northern League said a Congolese-born physician in the new Cabinet reminded him of an orangutan. In Britain, the anti-European (but officially "nonracist") UK Independence Party was, for a while, the fastest-growing faction in the country.


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