The fall of the Romanian provisional government on April 27th was the latest indication of rising anti-austerity sentiment across Europe. In the past several months, just in CEE governments have fallen in Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania, with the disintegrating Czech governing coalition barely surviving a no-confidence vote last week. However, these are not the only countries where popular dissatisfaction with the deteriorating macroeconomic environment is on the rise. The incumbent government in Croatia lost to the left-leaning opposition in the latest elections, while the pro-European Serbian government stands the real possibility of being voted out of office in favor of the leftist and nationalist opposition in next week’s elections. The Party of Regions in Ukraine, facing elections in October, is already increasing public spending to stave off its sliding popularity. Even Poland’s just-reelected government has taken a significant popularity hit in response to the austerity measures it introduced immediately after returning to office.
As CEE voters are making their preferences for less austerity clear, the resulting political instability is not all bad news for MNCs in the region. First, the political instability in CEE is giving local consumers breathing room by delaying the introduction and implementation of higher taxes that would reduce consumer spending power. Coupled with weakening inflation, this creates the opportunity for moderate improvement in consumer growth in CEE that would benefit MNCs in the FMCG space.
Second, anti-austerity sentiment in CEE is part of a broader European backlash against belt-tightening. CEE’s new governments are more likely to push for a strategy of growing out of the eurozone crisis, the only viable way for Europe to break the vicious circle of high debt and low growth in which it has been trapped. In giving in to their populist tendencies, CEE’s new governments may well push Europe toward the most viable way out of protracted recession.
Finally, CEE’s political turmoil is weakening local currencies, creating opportunities for cheap investment. With local valuations depressed due to the eurozone crisis and CEE governments aggressively seeking to attract foreign investors, MNCs are well-positioned to acquire local assets at a discount that will be compounded by currency depreciation in response to CEE’s turbulent political landscape.