From all indications I see, this summer and early fall could be a tough season in Europe. The problem isn't an ash cloud or lousy weather, it's a political cloud. Countries throughout the region are struggling, as we are, with excessive budget deficits; governments are responding with austerity measures; and the citizens are responding to austerity measures with demonstrations and strikes. I'm not suggesting that as an American tourist you'll be in any personal danger, but I am suggesting that you may face occasional disruptions and delays.
- You've all seen the TV shots from Greece, where citizens are already demonstrating and rioting against announced austerity moves.
- Some 750,000 British public-sector employees went on a one-day strike last week, with more strikes and stoppages threatened for later this year.
- Other European countries face similar financial and labor pressures—Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and even financial bulwark Germany.
As in the United States, Europe's economic woes are not going to go away any time soon. The "demographic bomb" we face here is even worse in Europe: aging populations, lower retirement ages, increasing medical costs, low birthrates, and aversion to immigration from culturally diverse areas. In Greece, workers are demanding to retain the financially unsustainable combination of retirement at age 53 with 80 percent pay pension and full medical care. To governments, the only possible solutions are in some combination of raising the retirement age, cutting back on pension and medical benefits, and increasing taxes. Not a happy expectation for the average worker, and European workers are more likely than their U.S. counterparts to take to the streets rather than the voting booth.
This is not to say that strikes and demonstrations will break out and go on throughout the summer. Realistically, your chances of avoiding any problems are reasonably good. And even if you run into a strike or demonstration, it's likely to last only a day or two. But you can improve even your already good odds by taking a few precautions:
- Spend time outside the biggest cities. You're much less likely to face a problem staying at a country hotel in Midsomer Parva than at a big hotel in London (don't worry about Midsomer Parva's exceptionally high murder rate; it's fictional).
And, last but not least, be realistic about yourself. If you're able to "go with the flow" and adjust to minor difficulties, by all means take the trip and enjoy. But if you're the sort to worry about potential problems the entire time you're away, avoid the anxiety and stay home.