A tale of two Europes

  • 24 April 2014
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Media captionMatthew Price in Hamburg and Chris Morris in Marseille report on how the different countries are gearing up for the elections in May

Millions of Europeans go to the polls next month, so how will the eurozone crisis affect their choices? We look at the situation in two great port cities - Hamburg and Marseille.

H2O helped build Hamburg. From its early days as the biggest city in the Hanseatic trading league, to today as one of Europe's largest ports, water has been crucial to its affluence.

Here they boast that they have more canals than Amsterdam and Venice combined. They also have a lot of well-appointed sailing clubs at which you can forget all about Europe's economic downturn.

Out on the Alster (the large lake right in the city centre), product designer and amateur sailor Sybs Bauer says the city, the country indeed, has barely felt the eurozone crisis.

"If we complain, we do so from a very high level," she laughs. "Life is good."

This is undoubtedly a prosperous, efficient, confident place. As indeed is Germany - the engine of Europe.

Contrast that with Marseille, where unemployment is just over 13% (in Hamburg it's 7.8%), and plenty of people are struggling.

Image caption People in Hamburg say life is plain sailing
Image caption Petanque in Marseille: Economic anxiety despite Mediterranean sunshine

At the Bouliste de Vallon petanque club, not far from the old port, there's plenty of laughter, and some fearsomely accurate throwing.

But the sense of economic anxiety is also there.

"It's a beautiful city," says Marilyn as she watches a close match progress. "But if we speak about the economy, it's very difficult."

The petanque is highly competitive, which is more than can be said for much of France itself.

"They say we don't work as hard as Germany," says Baptiste, "and maybe in Marseille we can be a little bit lazy."

"So we need reform, and personally I think we can do it."

Rumblings of discontent

Economic issues usually decide elections, and across Europe this election will not be bucking the trend.

In France that means the anti-establishment National Front - preaching economic protectionism and opposition to the euro - will do well.

Image caption Some traders at Marseille's old port admit they are struggling

And as the morning catch comes in at the small fish market next to the marina in Marseille, it's not hard to find rumblings of discontent.

"Prices have trebled under the euro," complains one stallholder, Berte. "With the franc you could eat out on the cheap. But not any more."

The protest vote in Germany will be a lot smaller.

Most Germans believe their success is built in part at least on membership of the European Union.

But many now also believe the EU and the eurozone need more reforming.

One union leader in Hamburg, Thomas Mendrzik, looking out over the vast port here through which so much of Europe's imports and exports pass, said he hoped the next European Parliament and Commission would help introduce a more "social" Europe.

One for the workers.

Solidarity across the continent was needed, he believed. And German power remains only if it is a central and core part of the EU.

But the fallout from the eurozone crisis has had very different effects in Germany and France, because their economies are so different.

That will affect the way people vote. And in northern Germany they feel the pain a lot less than they do in southern France.