Europe enters era of belt-tightening

Amid cries of outrage and expressions of disbelief, a new age of austerity has arrived in Europe.

Published on 14 May 2010 at 09:40

As governments across the eurozone impose cuts on a scale unseen in decades, Greece – widely seen as the centre of the crisis – has already seen violent demonstrations and general strikes. Now there is growing concern that such displays of public anger will become more widespread.

Spanish trade unions were on Thursday threatening nationwide walkouts and protests. The shock is palpable in countries which have moved from poverty to prosperity during the decades of almost uninterrupted growth since the second world war and have always enjoyed the material benefits of European Union membership.

“Two things are hard to believe: I can get laid-off and that I’ll have to work to 65 to get a pension,” says Yannis Adamopoulos, who is a security guard at a state-controlled Greek corporation. Another Greek, Fotis Magriotis, a self-employed civil engineer, has put his sports utility vehicle up for sale. Work is hard to find and taxes on petrol have twice been increased. “There’s no alternative to downsizing,” he says.

Such statements provoke grim humour in the northern half of Europe, where job insecurity, retirement at 65, small cars and high petrol prices are not unusual. In the end it was the financial markets, not the austere German paymasters of the eurozone, that exposed the vulnerability of Greece, Spain and Portugal and triggered a €750bn rescue package unveiled at the weekend. Read full article in the Financial Times

Spain

Union fury over Zapatero plan

The plan presented by Spanish PM José Luís Zapatero on 12 May to curb the Spanish public deficit and calm markets has not been welcomed by unions. “2 June, first strike against Zapatero,leads El Periódico de Catalunya. The gulf between the government and labour movements widened yesterday after the two main Spanish unions met the PM, expressing “absolute disagreement” with a decision that includes a 5% reduction of public sector salaries in 2010, the freezing of pensions and other stringent austerity measures. The response: a public strike on 2 June. The daily notes that unions “are avoiding radicalisation” and are “restrained” concerning the possibility of a general strike, but are “angry” with Zapatero´s “social cuts” and “concessions” to the markets. The Spanish government needs to save €15 billion, reports El País, as part of a drive to tackle its deficit which stands at 11% of GDP.

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