Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Nations 'must end brutal austerity'

EU finance ministers have been warned to abandon 'brutal austerity' as the answer to the sovereign debt crisis

EU finance ministers have been warned to abandon "brutal austerity" as the answer to the sovereign debt crisis and instead give struggling countries a chance to restore collapsing economies.

An emergency resolution agreed at the start of a conference of trade union leaders in Athens said the drastic measures so far taken in the form of financial bailouts for Greece and Ireland in return for severe domestic public spending cuts were plunging the countries further into debt.

John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, said the ETUC was in Greece for its congress because the country was "in the eye of the storm" and to show solidarity with Greek public sector workers demonstrating against deep wage cuts and job losses.

The solidarity did not impress Greek demonstrators who welcomed the union leaders with posters outside the conference centre proclaiming "ETUC bureaucrats go home!".

Inside the building Mr Monks told 500 union delegates from 36 countries: "We are not bureaucrats on holiday as some posters proclaim in the streets of Athens. Greece was the first country in trouble but it is not the last."

Mr Monks acknowledged that the Greek crisis was partly the fault of the Greek authorities but added that the EU-IMF bailout terms were too tough.

The resolution was targeted at EU finance ministers meeting in Brussels to formally approve an economic bailout package for Portugal of 78 billion euro (£67.75 billion) over three years, with similar terms and conditions to the one granted to Ireland.

In a letter to the ministers accompanying the resolution, Mr Monks said: "The ETUC calls on you to immediately change course. Brutal austerity, both in terms of public finance and in terms of wages, is not working but is instead undermining the economies of countries such as Greece and Ireland."

The crisis was a financial market failure which was now being used as an alibi "to provide European policy makers with the power to intervene in wages and national wage formation systems".

Mr Monks added that the answer was to "change the logic" of the current financial bailouts, "allowing the countries involved to grow out of debt".

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