A recent UBS research note, covered by FT Alphaville , suggests that the single currency has benefited Europe's periphery to the detriment of its core.
As the graph shows, the Union's worst debtors – Portugal, Greece, and Spain – have noted exponential increases in purchasing power with the advent of the Euro. In these countries, the leap in income (percentage-wise, at least) has accrued in larger part to the poorest deciles of the populations, with Greece's lowest decile cumulatively gaining 40 per cent in income from 2000 to 2010. Similarly, Portugal and Spain's poorest have accrued a 30 and 20 per cent increase in income respectively. This is an especially notable stride considering that Portugal, Greece and Spain are the third, sixth and eighth most unequal countries in the EU27.
On the other hand, countries like Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands have been less favorably affected.
In almost diametric opposition to Greece, Austria's poorest decile has been hit the hardest, losing nearly 40 per cent of its purchasing power in ten years. Income has decreased less significantly for richer echelons of the population, with its top decile noting a ten per cent decrease in purchasing power. Ireland, Belgium, and the Netherlands have experienced similar trends. However, while Belgium's poorest have lost purchasing power, its middle and upper-middle income population has marginally gained. This contrast is echoed and intensified in the Netherlands, where its lowest decile lost over 30 per cent of its purchasing power, while the richest decile gained by nearly the same percentage.
The opposite has happened in France, where the middle classes have borne the brunt of the decrease in purchasing power, losing up to 10 per cent. Contrastingly, the top and bottom deciles gained by 25 and 30 per cent respectively.
The figures suggest that inequality between European countries has been – at least between 2000 and 2010 – lessened. However, they also seem to indicate that this has been possible at the expense of the core's poorest. As mentioned in the Washington Post, this phenomenon may foreshadow nationalist resurgences as the rift between rich and poor widens and the feckless periphery becomes an ever more viable scapegoat.
Nonetheless, in spite of having gained from the Euro, Portugal, Greece, and Spain continue to lag behind their European counterparts. As cited by the Washington Post , the report stresses that Greece's poorest live on half of that of France. In the sense that - for better or worse - Europe is on a path to convergence, the figures would point towards a tendency for more a sustainable Union. However, if it can only do so on the shoulders of those who can least afford it, the notion of a shared European identity may well have died with Monnet.