Massive Austerity causes Wave of Protests in Europe

Is this the beginning of a mass wake up against the tyranny and irresponsibility of the bankers and elites of the planet?

AP

Anti-austerity protests erupted across Europe on Wednesday – Greek doctors and railway employees walked out, Spanish workers shut down trains and buses, and one man even blocked the Irish parliament with a cement truck to decry the country’s enormous bank bailouts.

Brussels International Airport stop to a halt on September 26. (AP)

Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into Brussels, hoping to swell into a 100,000-strong march on European Union institutions later in the day and reinforce the impact of Spain’s first nationwide strike in eight years.

All the actions sought to protest the budget-slashing, tax-hiking, pension-cutting austerity plans of European governments seeking to control their debt.

In an ironic twist, the march in Brussels comes just as the EU Commission is proposing to punish member states that have run up deficits to fund social programs in a time of high unemployment across the continent. The proposal, backed by Germany, is expected to run into strong opposition from France.

“It is a bizarre time for the European Commission to be proposing a regime of punishment,” said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, which is organizing the Brussels march.

“How is that going to make the situation better? It is going to make it worse,” Monks said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.

Unions fear that workers will become the biggest victims of an economic crisis set off by bankers and traders, many of whom were rescued by massive government intervention.

Several governments, already living dangerously with high debt, were pushed to the brink of financial collapse and have been forced to impose punishing cuts in wages, pensions and employment – measures that have brought workers out by the tens of thousands over the past months.

Transportation has been affected in Spain, where workers decided to protest against cuts. (AP)

“There is a great danger that the workers are going to be paying the price for the reckless speculation that took place in financial markets,” Monks said. “You really got to reschedule these debts so that they are not a huge burden on the next few years and cause Europe to plunge down into recession.”

In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist government is under severe pressure because of the hugely unpopular measures put in place to save Europe’s fourth-largest economy from a bailout like one that saved Greece from bankruptcy.

The cuts have helped Spain trim its central government deficit by half through July but the unemployment rate stands at 20 percent, and many businesses are struggling to survive.

The strike Wednesday was Spain’s first general strike since 2002 and marked a break in the once-close relationship between unions and the Socialist government.

Whistle-blowing picketers blocked trucks from delivering produce at the main wholesale markets in Madrid and Barcelona. Strikers hurled eggs and screamed “scabs” at drivers trying to leave a city bus garage in Madrid.

The salary cuts for civil servants, pension reforms and new laws that make it easier for companies to fire workers were rushed into law quickly in Spain, without traditional negotiations between management and workers.

Greece, which had to be rescued by the euro-nations this spring to stave off bankruptcy, has also been forced to cut deep into workers’ allowances, with weeks of bitter strikes and actions as a result.

Bus and trolley drivers walked off the job for several hours while Athens’ metro system and tram were to shut down at noon. National railway workers were also walking off the job at noon, disrupting rail connections across the country, while doctors at state hospitals were on a 24-hour strike.

Greece has already been suffering from two weeks of protests by truck drivers who have made it difficult for businesses to get supplies. Many supermarkets are seeing shortages, while producers complaining they are unable to export their goods.

Truck drivers’ unions voted late Tuesday to continue their protests against plans to liberalize their tightly regulated profession, despite a government threat to force them back to work or cancel their licenses.

Greece’s government has imposed stringent austerity measures, including cutting civil servants’ salaries, trimming pensions and hiking consumer and income taxes. Several other EU nations are also planning actions.

In Dublin, a man blocked the gates of the Irish parliament with a cement truck to protest the country’s expensive bank bailout. Written across the truck’s barrel in red letters were the words: “Toxic Bank” Anglo and “All politicians should be sacked.”

Police arrested a 41-year-old man but gave few other details.

The Anglo Irish Bank, which was nationalized last year to save it from collapse, owes some euro72 billion ($97 billion) to depositors worldwide, leaving Irish taxpayers with a mammoth bill at a time when people are suffering through high unemployment, tax hikes and heavy budget cuts.

Many experts say, no matter what unions try, the towering government debt across the continent will force drastic changes in Europe’s labor situation.

“The party is over,” said former EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein at the financial Eurofi conference in Brussels. “We shall all have to work longer and harder, more hours in the week, more weeks in the year, and no state pension before the age of 67.”

The unions say, however, the party was only there for society’s upper crust, and workers are being forced to pay the bills. The crisis has left 23 million people unemployed in Europe, Monks said.

As Predicted, Spain on the Brink of Collapse

The tentacles of the international banking cartel are about to envelop the fifth most important economy of the old continent

The Independent

European leaders meet in Brussels today amid growing fears that Spain, Europe’s fifth-largest economy, is preparing to ask for a

The horns of the depression are in Spain's rearview mirror. An aid package is in the works to rescue one more failed State.

bailout which would dwarf the €110bn (£90bn) rescue plan for Greece.

The Spanish government yesterday dismissed reports that it was already in discussions with the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury for a rescue package worth up to €250bn.

Officials in Madrid, Brussels and Paris were forced to deny that a Spanish bailout – which would take the European debt and euro crisis into a potentially dangerous new phase – was on the Brussels summit agenda.

“Spain is a country that is solvent, solid and strong, with international credibility,” said its Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The European Commission spokesman said: “I can firmly deny [that a Spanish rescue is under discussion]. I can say that that story is rubbish.”

Brussels diplomats have been at pains to send out feel-good signals ahead of a summit in which Europe’s leaders are supposed to take the first steps towards more disciplined and co-ordinated, control of national finances. Those reforms are meant to restore confidence in the euro and underpin the €750m EU and IMF safety-net, created last month for euroland countries that lose the confidence of the financial markets.

However, it is proving hard to shake off persistent market fears about Spain, which, if it needed a lifeline, would swallow up a large part of the emergency fund. Worryingly for the EU, the doubts about Spain – whether real or driven by speculation – are eerily similar to the gradual seeping away of confidence that sent Greece into a financial death spiral in March and April. The Spanish government’s cost of borrowing hit a new record yesterday. The interest rate gap, or spread, between 10-year Spanish bonds and their German equivalents, rose by more than 0.10 of a point to 2.23 percentage points.

A senior Spanish banker, Francisco Gonzalez, chairman of the BBVA financial services group, confirmed that foreign private banks were now refusing to provide liquidity to their Spanish counterparts. “Financial markets have withdrawn their confidence in our country,” he said. “For most Spanish companies and entities, international capital markets are closed.”

As a result, the European Central Bank is said to have provided record amounts of liquidity to Spanish banks in recent days. The closure of bank-to-bank credit to Spanish institutions recalls to some market commentators the ripple of crisis through the global financial system after the fall of Lehman Brothers in the Autumn of 2008.

The IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is expected in Madrid tomorrow to see Mr Zapatero – but brushed off speculation of a crisis. “It’s a working visit,” he told reporters in Paris. “I am in France [today] – are there such rumours about France?”

Fears over Spain’s finances checked the recovery of the euro on money markets yesterday. The single currency lost much of the gains it had made in the past seven days.

One of the proposals on the table at the Brussels summit is public “stress tests” to force banks to reveal the state of their books. The Spanish government offered yesterday to open the books of its own private banks unilaterally to prove that they were sound.

Today’s summit in Brussels was intended to be a time for the EU leaders to catch their breath and discuss ways of restoring the euro’s long-term credibility. The threatened Spanish crisis may blow all that out of the water.

Despite an apparent rapprochement between Paris and Berlin this week, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel remain deeply divided on how to prevent the currency and debt crisis from dumping Europe back into recession. Mr Sarkozy has agreed to drop his proposals for new institutional machinery for a political “government” of the euro by its 16 member states. Ms Merkel prefers to talk of a vague “governance” of the euro, and European state spending, by all 27 EU governments.

More fundamentally, Paris is deeply concerned that the austerity plans announced by Berlin last week could – on top of budget cuts in other countries – plunge Europe into crisis.

The French fears were echoed yesterday by the billionaire investor, George Soros, who warned that Europe would almost certainly face a recession next year which might generate “social unrest” and the kind of populist nationalism seen in the 1930s. “That’s the real danger of the present situation – that by imposing fiscal discipline at a time of insufficient demand and a weak banking system… you are actually… setting in motion a downward spiral,” he said.

The collapse of Spain’s housing boom has helped fuel a deep downturn which has sent unemployment spiralling to 20 per cent, the second worst in the EU. Mr Zapatero introduced a range of measures last month, including spending cuts of €15bn over two years and reductions in public sector wages and spending. Unions have called a general strike over labour reforms.

Europeans are fed up with the elites and get to the streets

Spain’s parliament has passed a €15bn (£12.7bn) austerity package by just one vote, leaving the Socialist government nakedly exposed to popular fury.

Telegraph

Its glaring lack of political solidarity is the latest sign of rising resistance to deflation policies across the eurozone.

Prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero had to rely on the abstention of Catalan nationalists to push through public sector wage cuts of 5 percent this year and a freeze in 2011.

The 1930s-style pay squeeze was effectively imposed upon Spain by Brussels as a quid pro quo for the EU’s €750bn “shield” for euro zone debtors. It is a bitter climb-down for a workers party that vowed to resist salary cuts. Public sector unions have called a strike on June 8 to protest an act of “ultimate aggression” against the people.

The conservatives voted against the measures, prompting a fiery rebuke from finance minister Elena Salgado. “Unpatriotic, irresponsible, and hardly very European: one day they will pay for this,” she said.

The measures include cancellation of the €2,500 “baby cheque” and lower pension benefits. Mr Zapatero hopes to cut the deficit by an extra 1.6pc over GDP over two years, though unemployment is already 20 percent. The deficit will fall from 11.2pc in 2009 to 6pc this year.

Raj Badiani from IHS Global Insight said cuts may not be enough. The government is relying on growth projections that are “far too optimistic” to do the heavy lifting of the deficit reduction.

In Italy, the main CGIL trade union is launching two sets of strike in June to protest “unjust and unsustainable” cuts announced on Tuesday night, claiming that axe falls squarely on ordinary workers. “Those who earn over €500,000 won’t have to put up a single cent,” it said.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi said the sovereign bond scare sweeping the euro zone had forced Italy to build up a security buffer. “This crisis has been provoked by speculation and is like no other. These sacrifices are necessary to save the euro,” he said.

The €24bn austerity package (1.6pc of GDP) over two years aims to cut the bloated bureaucracy, chiefly by reducing grants to regional governments.

“Italy’s spending is out of control: this irresponsible system worked as long as we could devalue the currency,” said Mr Berlusconi. “