|Some of Europe's richest economies sunk into a period of austerity that has threatened the lifestyle of millions [Reuters]
Although many economies around the world have faced tremendous economic uncertainty since the financial crisis in 2008, several major European countries remain in danger of being subsumed by a quickly spreading sovereign debt crisis.
This sovereign debt crises has sparked fresh debate over the viability of the Eurozone, and has caused some of the world's traditionally more wealthy countries to introduce tough austerity measures.
A move that has lead to considerable public dissatisfaction.
The most vulnerable countries include European Union (EU) members Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain (PIIGS), as well as the UK and Belgium.
These previously strong economies continue to struggle with difficult fiscal conditions, and wealthier economies such as Germany feel mounting pressure to rescue fellow EU nations.
An estimated 23 million EU workers have become unemployed during the last three years.
This year, European government debt downgrades have rattled markets from Paris to Hong Kong, as budget deficits and public debt levels remain stubbornly high.
Europe's debt crisis initially focused on Greece, for whom the Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a May 2 loan of $146bn on condition of harsh austerity measures.
European finance ministers in May also agreed on a $600bn lending vehicle - the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), which was made permanent in December.
And in November, Ireland agreed to receive an $89bn EU/IMF bailout, prompting further worries about the 16-nation Eurozone's long-term economic health.
The bottom line is that leaders - faced with financial and demographic obstacles - are being forced to raise taxes, cut spending, and figure out a way to ensure future economic prosperity. Thier actions have significantly trimmed down the social benefits that many of Europe's average citizens take for granted.
A round of fresh austerity protests kicked off across Europe on September 29, and demonstrations have continued throughout autumn. December 15 was slated to be a day of coordinated anti-austerity throughout the continent, but Greek protesters again proved to cause the most significant disruption.
In reponse The EU has moved slowly to implement crucial new policies that could help prevent future crises.
Europe's age of austerity has meant that some of the planet's most developed nations and some of her most priviledged citizens have to now rethink their way of life.