The eurozone is forecast to make a modest recovery through 2010, thanks to a rise in exports and higher investment in the public sector. But a spate of industrial unrest shows that, while most countries of the region may have emerged from recession according to official indicators, the eurozone as a whole is far from being out of the woods yet.
The future of the Greek economy remains uncertain, despite a cobbled-together agreement among eurozone finance ministers to prevent a default. The necessary slimming of the public sector pay bill, along with equally necessary changes to the tax system, will make it difficult for the government to avoid further protests, even if it can avoid soliciting the IMF for help.
Industrial unrest has erupted in some of the least likely places. Pilots employed by the German flag-carrier, Lufthansa, went on strike this week for the first time in a decade, before agreeing to return to talks after just one day of the planned four-day stoppage. The dispute is about pay and jobs being farmed out to low-cost carriers. Some car plants are on short time, as sales stall, following the end of the scrappage scheme.
In France, flights have been cancelled because of action by its high-paid air traffic controllers, protesting about plans to integrate the EU's air traffic control system – a move they fear will bring reduced pay and benefits. And a week-old strike at Total oil refineries, over closures reflecting overcapacity, is raising fears of fuel shortages. In Italy, Fiat is suffering periodic strikes over threatened closures and short-term working, and Spain yesterday saw its first mass protests in six years of Socialist government over plans to raise the pension age.
As the strike threatened by cabin staff at British Airways shows, discontent is not limited to the eurozone. But it is the eurozone governments that face the bigger challenge as their options for cutting costs and reducing debt are limited. The fall of the Dutch government, over the completely unrelated question of keeping troops in Afghanistan, further complicates the picture. From Amsterdam to Athens, it will be a torrid spring. Eurozone governments will need all the solidarity and political will they can muster.