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Impacts of the Global Financial Crisis on Cities in Europe

An Introduction to Urban Austerity

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In terms of securing hegemonic consensus, Germany is perhaps the most obvious exception. A brief window of opportunity for social movements opened, in 2008–09, when the German economy was suffering severely as a result of the banking crisis. An increasing number of people were no longer convinced that market rule and the dismantling of the welfare state were good ideas (Altvater, 2009; Brie, 2009). After the collapse of Lehman Brothers, in 2008, many, including some eminent conservative intellectuals, began raising doubts about neoliberalism and even capitalism in public debates.3 However, neoliberal hegemony was reestablished quickly and popular support for austerity increased as soon as the German export-oriented accumulation model recovered and as the financial crisis was successfully re-narrated into a sovereign debt crisis. In 2010, media and political elites started aggressively blaming the non-German “others” on the European periphery, especially “the broke Greeks” (Belina, 2013a: 281). Today, forced austerity measures are accepted by a clear majority of German voters – except for the small, socialist Left Party (Die Linke) and the Blockupy alliance, consisting of radical and civic groups, which organized anti-austerity protests to block and shut down the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, in 2012, 2013, and 2015 (Mullis et al., 2015) – as good governance without alternatives, at least when implemented elsewhere (Belina, 2013b). Contributions by Margit Mayer (Chapter 15), Daniel Mullis (Chapter 16), Julia Tulke (Chapter 17), and Silvia Aru & Matteo Puttilli (Chapter 18) demonstrate that this is definitely not the case with anti-austerity struggles and social movements in Southern Europe. Especially in Southern Europe, contradictions inherent to austerity offer a context for radical contestations, alternative spaces, and the emergence of strong social movements. These provide the foundation for non-neoliberal forms of urbanization (Künkel & Mayer, 2011; Mayer, 2013), which at least maintain the hope for a different Europe based on principles of social justice and democracy.

However, Jamie Peck is correct in stating that it would be naive to conclude that austerity “will somehow automatically call forth its own gravediggers, in the singular service of progressive renewal” (Peck, 2014: 23). While anti-austerity struggles often, for practical reasons, emerge within urban centers, progressive social movements must extend beyond the local scale by building transnational alliances, which are able to challenge the “heart of the European crisis regime” (Mullis et al., 2015) and institutionalized centers of power, such as the European Central Bank, the European Commission, International Monetary Fund, and the German government. We hope that this collection of articles on the impacts of the global financial crisis on cities and counter-hegemonic narratives to neoliberal policies can make a small contribution by inspiring critical urban scholars, political activists, and social movements to continue their struggle for progressive social change in Europe.


We would like to thank Thomas Flierl, Harald Bodenschatz, Mario Candeias, and Stefan Thimmel for their productive cooperation. Neither the conference nor this publication would have been possible without the generous support Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation and the Hermann-Henselmann-Foundation.

1 According to Blyth (2013), austerity policies have failed historically in the United States (1921–1937), Great Britain (1921–1939), Sweden (1921–1938), Germany (1923–1933), Japan (1921–1937), and France (1919–1939). Recently, in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, similar policies have failed in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Romania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Latvia.
2 All these tendencies are often coupled with a “racialization of the people living in the European periphery” (Panayotakis, 2014: 10), nationalistic defamations stating that the southern “others” have been living beyond their means (especially in Germany, see Belina, 2013a), and a new wave of rightwing populism in many European contexts.
3 For example, Frank Schirrmacher, the former editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, argued, in August 2011, that conservatives should free themselves from the failing and devastating free-market ideology, which has held them hostage throughout the last decades (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/buergerliche-werte-ich-beginne-zu-glauben-dass-die-linke-rechthat-11106162.html).

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