A tale of two Europes


Matthew 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.

Amateur sailors on the Alster in Hamburg People in Hamburg say life is plain sailing
A petanque player measures the distance from a boule to the jack 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.

A fisherman works on his boat next to a fish market in the Vieux Port of Marseille in January 2013 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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    We're all very diverse and we should all independently have the right to govern our own countries. Yes i believe that in europe we need to come together as a strong community to brave the US and Asia. Why can't we all be a Euro Family helping each other instead of trying to be a replica model of Germany!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    21. EUprisoner209456731
    "they try to get on with employees rather than abusing them as happens so often in the UK"


    Thank you. You've just summed up why the UK's workforce so desperately needs to stay in the EU, which offers at least a degree of protection, whereas their German counterparts could probably get on reasonably well without it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    @ TM:

    I do not know your wife's company. How do we know that the company was not at fault??? Besides one should acquaint oneself with cultures before pointing fingers at others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    It´s difficult to feel too sorry about a country where I could retire nearly 4 years earlier than I can here in Germany.
    So what exactly have the French done since 1989 while we´ve been integrating 16 Million bankruptees ?

    Re 73 Nastiness towards the Brits ? Ah, Re 75, you mean the Blogs. But aren´t they often about who shouts loudest ? Germans generally like the humorous, pragmatic Brits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    To EUprisoner209456731...

    Please disagree with me...I like that, but at least copy in the whole of my comment and not just part of it.....you will see that i was pointing out how nasty we are to one another on these blogs...you have made it look like I have said the nastiness is one way only. Thank you.


Comments 5 of 79


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