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Rising prices top concern for EU

Social inequality and inflation seen as hot issues ahead of bloc's elections

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-25 09:20
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Consumers shop at a supermarket in Berlin, capital of Germany, Oct 28, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

Anyone who thinks the top concerns for European Union citizens ahead of the June elections are the Russia-Ukraine conflict or climate change might be surprised. Instead, they are high prices and social inequalities.

Economic issues represent four of the top five topics that citizens think should be the top priorities for future EU leaders, according to an Ipsos poll conducted last week for Euronews.

The poll, conducted in 18 EU member states that account for 96 percent of the EU's 450 million population, shows that rising prices remain the top electoral issue for EU citizens, followed immediately by social concerns such as preserving healthcare and pension systems.

About 68 percent of respondents called the fight against rising prices a top priority while 25 percent think it is important even if not their highest priority.

On the issue of social inequalities and the preservation of social protection systems, some 64 percent believe it is a priority.

"The two issues of high prices and social inequality, which are vital interests for ordinary Europeans, will be reflected in the June elections," said Ding Chun, director of the Center for European Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Ding said the problems, which became prominent due to the eurozone debt crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, have been exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

He said it matters especially for the lives of people in the lower and lower middle classes in society.

"It will greatly impact the policies of governments and parties leading up to the June elections. It's an evaluation and pressure," he said.

"High inflation in the past two years has made everyone worse off, and it came on top of a pandemic economic contraction and follows decades of slow economic growth in Europe," Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, was quoted as saying in Euronews.

Adequate wages

Commenting on the survey, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit said that ensuring adequate wages that afford a decent living is "one clear way" of meeting the rising costs in Europe.

"Looking ahead, all policymakers must redouble their efforts to combat poverty and social exclusion. This means assessing the distributional impact of all policies and protecting those most at risk," said Schmit, a Luxembourg politician who is now the lead candidate in the Party of European Social Democrats to challenge Ursula von der Leyen, who is seeking reelection as the lead candidate for the European People's Party.

The GDP in both the 27-member EU and 20-member eurozone economy grew 0.5 percent in 2023, according to the European Commission. The International Monetary Fund forecast in January that the eurozone economy will grow only 0.9 percent in 2024 and 1.7 percent in 2025.

Inflation, which has haunted EU economies for the past two years, has come down greatly from 9.9 percent to 2.8 percent in the 12 months up to February this year.

Despite this, EU citizens expressed that rising prices have pushed almost a third of them into a "precarious" financial situation, according to another Ipsos survey released in November.

The purchasing power has declined over the past three years, forcing a majority of them to skip meals and resort to making difficult financial choices, the survey has found.

Also, half of EU citizens say they face a high risk of falling into a precarious situation in the next few months because of rising prices and relatively stagnant pay.

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