Belfast Telegraph

Mass protests as ministers meet to agree Portuguese rescue package

By Staff Reporter

Some 30,000 anti-cuts protesters descended on Budapest this weekend, where European finance ministers were thrashing out the details of Portugal's €80bn (£71bn) bailout.

The EU's Ecofin (Economic and Financial Affairs Council) meeting on Friday and Saturday, held in a castle just outside the Hungarian capital, was dominated by the Portuguese financial crisis. On Thursday Portugal finally bowed to the inevitable and asked for international help.

The deal will see the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hand over money in exchange for the deep austerity cuts that have so angered protesters.

The European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF have sent a delegation to Lisbon to agree technical aspects of the bailout by mid-May. This is similar to the way negotiations panned out for Greece and Ireland.

Greece has seen civil servants forced to take pay cuts of up to 30%, while Ireland is expected to see consumption fall by 4.5% this year. The cuts imposed on Portugal are likely to be tougher than those the country's parliament rejected last month.

Protesters argued that these bailouts and other public-sector cuts across Europe risk destabilising the economy. A spokeswoman for the European Trade Union Congress (ETUC), which arranged the demonstration, said: "We represent the same message: 'no to these austerity measures'."

Former Trade Union Congress boss Lord Monks is now the general secretary of ETUC and said of Ecofin discussions on public sector pay: "It's always about pushing wages down, never about condemning policies that squeeze wages to the bone."