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Tunisia anti-austerity protests turn deadly

Protests have broken out across Tunisia after anti-austerity measures came into effect on January 1. The country's main opposition party has said it will keep protests going until the government drops its 2018 budget. Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed on Tuesday promised to crack down on rioters after two days of anti-austerity rallies in the country. "What some Tunisian areas saw overnight could not be considered a way of protest, but acts of theft, looting and attacks on Tunisians' properties," Chahed said. "The only solution for confronting those involved in looting and attacks on Tunisians and their properties is applying the law." The details Protests broke out in more than 10 towns against price and tax increases put in place by the government in an attempt to stabilize Tunisia's economic crisis. About 300 people demonstrated in the streets of the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, the center of the country's Arab Spring revolution. A 43-year old male protester died in unclear circumstances in the town of Tebourba, 40 kilometers west of the capital Tunis. The Interior Ministry denied that the protester was killed due to police violence, but an autopsy would be carried out to determine the cause of death National Security chief Walid Ben Hkima said 11 officers were wounded in the clashes, some after being hit by stones and Molotov cocktails. Khelifa Chibani, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said 44 people had been arrested for carrying weapons such as knives,´setting government buildings on fire and looting shops. Read more: Seven years after Arab Spring, Tunisia's future uncertain Austere beginnings Tunisians have become increasingly frustrated since the government said it would increase the price of gasoil, some goods, and taxes on cars, phone calls, the internet, hotel accommodation and other items from January 1, as part of austerity measures agreed upon with its foreign lenders. Read more: Tunisia one year after: the beginning of change "What happened had nothing to do with democracy and protests against price hikes ... Yesterday protesters burned down two police stations, they looted shops, banks and damaged property in many cities," Interior Ministry spokesman Chibani said. The leader of Tunisia's main opposition party Popular Front, Hamma Hammami, said they would increase protests until the government dropped the "unjust" 2018 budget. Read more: Terror and tourism in Tunisia "Today we have a meeting with the opposition parties to coordinate our movements, but we will stay on the street and we will increase the pace of the protests until the unjust financial law will be dropped," Hammami told reporters. Roots in the Arab Spring Tunisia's economy has been in crisis since the 2011 uprising unseated the government and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged the country's tourism industry, which accounted for eight percent of gross domestic product. Read more: Tunisia declares state of emergency after massacre The January protests are much smaller compared to the previous turmoil seen in Tunisia since the overthrow of autocrat ruler Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, but past confrontations between government, labour unions, Islamists and secular forces have also started small before escalating.

Protests have broken out across Tunisia after anti-austerity measures came into effect on January 1. The country’s main opposition party has said it will keep protests going until the government drops its 2018 budget. Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed on Tuesday promised to crack down on rioters after two days of anti-austerity rallies in the country. “What some Tunisian areas ... Read More »

France’s Emmanuel Macron: Mixed reviews for first 100 days

He is the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic, and is popular abroad. Yet Emmanuel Macron has earned mixed reviews at home in the first 100 days after his election. DW looks at his presidency so far. Popularity The electoral honeymoon is over. Now, 100 days after his election, people in France are much more critical of Emmanuel Macron. The French opinion research institute Ifop shows that that only 36 percent of voters in the country are satisfied with their president. That makes Macron worse off after his first 100 days than his unpopular predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy (66 percent) and Francois Hollande (55 percent). This is alarming for Macron. Dissatisfaction has clearly grown in recent weeks, and the press have taken notice of his sinking approval rating. Apart from actual reforms, the 39-year-old president's personality, which comes across as authoritarian, has drawn criticism. Macron's public dispute with head of the French armed forces Pierre de Villiers, which resulted in the latter's resignation, did not make a good impression. New political culture Macron served as an advisor and minister of economic affairs under his predecessor Hollande. During his election campaign, however, Macron stressed he would dissociate himself from the French political class, an elite group that, in the opinion of many voters, uses the state for its own ends. Now, modesty and self-restraint have become the government's mantra. At the beginning of August, the National Assembly abolished many of its parliamentary privileges, including special conditions for pensions and unemployment insurance. Even the so-called parliamentary reserve, an old institution used to approve budgets for parliamentarians to implement in their respective constituencies at their own discretion, is now a thing of the past. The new law for the "moralization of politics" restrains more than just members of parliament in the National Assembly. Elected officials in other levels of government are no longer allowed to employ family members as parliamentary staff. The conservative opposition, however, intends to go through the Constitutional Council to stop the ban, as it supposedly violates anti-discriminatory principles. The judges will make their decision in September at the latest. Work in progress: Labor market reforms Parliamentary self-restraint implies that something has gotten out of control in Paris. But it is also supposed to make future cuts for citizens more bearable. The heart of the first round of reforms is a liberalized labor law. The government wants to withdraw its powers considerably and let unions and management make decisions. The loosened legislation is supposed to encourage job creation and curb the unemployment rates that have taken off in recent years. The details are still being negotiated, with a result expected by August 31, at the end of the summer holidays. The National Assembly has already cleared the way for the government to implement the liberalization without a parliamentary vote. Macron's plans to restructure pensions and unemployment insurance, however, will be postponed until 2018. Budget: Painful cuts After years of violating the rules, France wants to regain credibility in the EU. This was also one of Macron's major election campaign issues. But in order to meet the Maastricht criteria later this year, state spending will have to go down. Defense budget cuts are targeted, as are grants for France's regions and departments. But that is not enough, the government has also decided to slash social programs. A monthly 5 euro reduction of housing subsidies for people in need, to take effect in October, has unleashed a violent storm of protests - that certainly doesn't help the president's poor approval rating. Another unpopular measure is the increased social security contribution (CSG). This measure will hit retirees unfavorably, as they have no means of reducing their taxes. With an early retirement age of 62 years and large pensions when compared internationally, this part of society has been among the most privileged in France to date. Can Macron withstand the pressure from the street? Macron's predecessors wanted to implement reforms but pressure from the public and inner-party opponents ultimately stymied them. The current president is doing better in this regard. Moderate trade unions are involved in important reform projects, Macron's new but politically inexperienced La Republique en Marche is toeing the party line, and he has little to fear from the opposition. It will be interesting to see how many demonstrators the radical CGT union will draw when it organizes a nationwide protest day on September 12. The reaction to the relatively small, monthly 5 euro reduction of housing subsidies has already shown the government how quickly discontent can spread throughout the country. Pollsters have not given the all-clear signal yet: Almost two-thirds of the French public reject the labor market reform. That politicians have also had privileges taken away from them has not been enough to appease the people. A slim majority believes the "moralization of politics" is good. Security policy needs to be reformed The young president took over a country in a state of emergency, which has granted security forces special powers since November 2015. But Macron's government has extended it for the last time. On November 1, nearly two years after the attacks and bombings in Paris, the state of emergency will come to an end. However, a law extending some of the emergency expanded powers granted to the police, intelligence services and the judiciary is in the works. Europe Macron campaigned for France's own European finance minister and its own budget in the eurozone. Until Germany's September national election, however, nothing will happen in this area. There will probably be some movement when the new government in Berlin has been formed. The president's self-confidence on the Brussels stage and his dealings with the foreign heads of state and government are generally well received by the people.

He is the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic, and is popular abroad. Yet Emmanuel Macron has earned mixed reviews at home in the first 100 days after his election. DW looks at his presidency so far. Popularity The electoral honeymoon is over. Now, 100 days after his election, people in France are much more critical of ... Read More »

Greece approves controversial austerity bill

The Greek parliament has approved contentious new austerity measures and economic reforms. Outrage over the proposed budget cuts had sparked volatile protests earlier Sunday evening. Parliament narrowly passed the governing coalition's latest budget proposal, which includes more belt-tightening and economic reforms. The 153 lawmakers of the ruling Syriza/Independent Greeks government coalition all voted for the bill. All opposition members in the 300 seat parliament opposed the bill. The vote came on a day that police clashed with angry demonstrators on the streets of Athens - the latest in a series of ongoing protests and crippling general strikes that have beset the country. Many Greeks oppose the austerity measures that amount to $6.2 billion (5.4 billion euros). The law will increase social security and pension contributions and raise taxes for most people. The European Union and international creditors are demanding the tough measures in exchange for an 86 billion-euro ($95 billion) bailout agreed to last July. It is the third such bailout for debt-laden Greece since 2010. IMF wants debt relief But the Mediterranean country has struggled to pay back its loans, prompting the IMF and some European politicians to call for debt relief for Greece. The IMF warns that the mammoth debt payments currently made by Greece are unsustainable over the long term. Growth forecasts published by the European Commission last week estimated that Greece's public debt will rise to 182.8 percent of GDP this year - a record within the eurozone. The parliamentary vote came just hours before an emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels. The ministers from the 19 countries that use the euro - the Eurogroup - are expected to discuss debt relief for Greece , which the IMF is demanding as a condition for a new agreement. Now that the bill has been passed, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hopes the eurozone finance ministers will move on from approving the reforms to a discussion on debt relief for the country. Tsipras defends the bill The reforms will cut the country's highest pension payouts, merge several pension funds, increase contributions and hike taxes on medium and high incomes. The pension cuts are expected to save 1.8 billion euros, while the tax reforms are to bring in another 1.8 billion. The parliament will decide later on raising indirect taxes to collect the same sum again. Before the vote Tsipras defended the measures, saying they would spare the poorest, and also prevent the pension system collapsing in a few years. "The system requires root and branch reform that previous governments have not dared to undertake," he told lawmakers, adding that the reforms would not affect the poor, something that was the result of "long and hard negotiations with creditors."

The Greek parliament has approved contentious new austerity measures and economic reforms. Outrage over the proposed budget cuts had sparked volatile protests earlier Sunday evening. Parliament narrowly passed the governing coalition’s latest budget proposal, which includes more belt-tightening and economic reforms. The 153 lawmakers of the ruling Syriza/Independent Greeks government coalition all voted for the bill. All opposition members in ... Read More »

Greek farmers threaten to escalate austerity protests

Protesting planned pension cuts, Greek farmers have blocked key roads and border crossings with their tractors for weeks. Now they're threatening to stage a blockade of the government district in downtown Athens. Traveling by road to Greece's Peloponnes peninsula can be trying these days. Farmers have blocked the bridge on the Corinth canal with tractors for the past 18 days, forcing drivers to detour on rarely used country roads. Only ambulances and pregnant women are granted passage; trucks piled high with goods must turn back or take the rural route. On Tuesday, tractors also closed off the four-lane highway at Tempi Valley, near Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city. The farmers plan to continue their protest until the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras deals with their demands, which include canceling planned pension cuts, abolishing a new tax on wine and tsipouro brandy, and granting tax-free diesel for farmers - as well as a 12,000-euro ($13,400) tax exemption per year. Roadblocks at various checkpoints along Greece's border with Bulgaria have made international headlines. Witnesses report that trucks were backed up for 25 kilometers (15 miles) on the Greek side on Friday. Bulgarian shipping companies reported losing millions of euros. In the early morning hours of Tuesday, several truck drivers from Bulgaria tried to break through the blockade from the Greek side of the border. "Five trucks barged through the crowds," a farmer told Greece's Skai TV broadcaster. "They broke through the toll gate and almost seriously injured our colleagues." Witnesses later said that four trucks had managed to break through the roadblock but police managed to deter the fifth driver. Powerful lobby Agriculture contributes 4.5 percent to Greece's gross domestic product - not a huge amount, but significantly more than the EU average of 2.9 percent. The Greek farmers' lobby is traditionally strong. Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili repeatedly mentioned an alleged "destabilization plan" that includes conservative unionists - presumably a reference to the fact that farmers are seen as loyal supporters of Greece's New Democracy opposition party. The economic analyst Panagiotis Bousbourellis said the main reason for the farmers' uprising lay less in lobbying and more in the devastating consequences of the upcoming pension cuts. "In 2015, the farmers paid more than 400 million euros into the pension system - and from now on, they're expected to pay three times as much," Bousbourellis told DW. "That won't work, in particular because 600,000 people can't even pay their social security contributions anymore." Ever since capital transactions controls were introduced in June, the number of insurance payments made on time dropped by a third, Bousbourellis said. At the same time, the government is determined to raise social security contributions as far as possible in order to avoid cutting pensions. "It's a plan that doesn't add up," he warned. Undeterred, many farmers plan to continue their protest with a mass demonstration Friday in downtown Athens. It remains to be seen whether they will actually ride their tractors all the way to parliament. Government spokeswoman Gerovasili made it clear that tractors are not allowed in downtown Athens, adding that the police would react accordingly. Details of the operation aren't expected until the last minute: Greeks don't usually announce or apply for permission for public gatherings far in advance. The farmers' associations aren't unanimously convinced of the wisdom of converging on the capital. The northern farmers would prefer to continue their roadblocks at border crossings and tollbooths over the weekend, but farmers from the south and west of the country have opted to move on Athens. "I'm uneasy," the analyst Bousbourellis said. "I don't expect tractors to show up, but I'm worried about how the government and the police will react to an explosive protest."

Protesting planned pension cuts, Greek farmers have blocked key roads and border crossings with their tractors for weeks. Now they’re threatening to stage a blockade of the government district in downtown Athens. Traveling by road to Greece’s Peloponnes peninsula can be trying these days. Farmers have blocked the bridge on the Corinth canal with tractors for the past 18 days, ... Read More »

Portugal set to increase minimum wage despite concerns

Portuguese left-wing government announced it would decree a minimum wage boost, after employers and union groups failed to reach a deal. The increase could jeopardize the country's productivity, businesses warn. The monthly minimum wage is to rise from the current 505 euros ($544) to 530 euros on January 1, Labor Minister Jose Vieira da Silva said on Tuesday. The decision comes after bargaining between the unions and business representatives ended in failure. The government is willing to discuss ways to help companies absorb the increase, according to the minister. Portuguese businesses have pushed for a cut in their social security contributions. However, the authorities say that no immediate reduction is in the works. "Workers have to earn more, but companies cannot be overloaded with charges of this magnitude, which they cannot absorb overnight," said Antonio Saraiva, head of Portugal's main business lobby group. Reaching for 600 euro Portugal requested a 78-billion-euro bailout in 2011 and only left the scheme in May 2014, with the previous conservative government pushing through harsh budget cuts. The minimum wage was frozen at 485 euros until late 2014, before the center-right coalition raised it to its current level. Last month, Saraiva's Portuguese Business Confederation warned the newly formed Socialist government that the further increase could undermine productivity gains made during the bailout period. The Socialists, supported by the Communist Party and the radical Left Bloc, have campaigned on rolling back tax and pay cuts. They have also pledged to undo reductions on pensions and public services. At the same time, the current Prime Minister Antonio Costa pledged to stick with European budget guidelines, and many companies fear that the policies might translate into higher taxes. The government plans to gradually raise the minimum wage until it reaches 600 euros per month by 2019.

Portuguese left-wing government announced it would decree a minimum wage boost, after employers and union groups failed to reach a deal. The increase could jeopardize the country’s productivity, businesses warn. The monthly minimum wage is to rise from the current 505 euros ($544) to 530 euros on January 1, Labor Minister Jose Vieira da Silva said on Tuesday. The decision ... Read More »

Anti-austerity march draws 80,000 protesters to Belgium’s streets

Marking the second protest of its magnitude in less than a year, protesters have criticized the center-right government's labor policies. The demonstration was marred by violence when 200 protesters clashed with police. More than 80,000 people on Wednesday took to the streets of Brussels to protest austerity measures implemented during the first year of the center-right coalition government's tenure. The protest marks the second of its size within a year, with the last one occurring in November 2014. Three of Belgium's main unions joined the protests on a common platform that renounced policies implemented by the center-right government under the leadership of Prime Minister Charles Michel. The protest was a response to what unions said were cuts in social services and tax measures aimed at benefiting employers. The unions also cited an increase in retirement age along with a freezing of the link between wages and inflation. Violent turn While police estimated that more than 80,000 people participated in Wednesday's protest, organizers said they mobilized around 100,000 participants, just shy of last year's 120,000 demonstrators. However, similar to November's demonstration, Wednesday's protest was marred by violence when around 200 protesters clashed with police. At least three people were arrested and one officer injured, DPA news agency reported. Police responded to the attack by using tear gas and water canons. Belgium has witnessed several significant demonstrations by various groups, including taxi drivers and farmers.

Marking the second protest of its magnitude in less than a year, protesters have criticized the center-right government’s labor policies. The demonstration was marred by violence when 200 protesters clashed with police. More than 80,000 people on Wednesday took to the streets of Brussels to protest austerity measures implemented during the first year of the center-right coalition government’s tenure. The ... Read More »

Tight race as Portugal votes amid first signs of economic recovery

Voters in Portugal are deciding on a new government, for the first time since the country left an EU bailout scheme. Despite years of austerity, pre-election surveys put the ruling conservatives slightly ahead. The polls in Portugal opened on Sunday morning for a showdown between the current prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho and the main opposition challenger Antonio Costa, the charismatic former mayor of Lisbon. According to an average of latest surveys, the ruling "Portugal Ahead" coalition is expected to win around 37.5 percent of votes, while the Socialist Party led by Costa can expect some 32.5 percent of the electorate. The government has been gaining popularity during last few weeks, with Prime Minister Coelho campaigning on the fact that he steered the country out of recession. "We have had very tough times in past four years, with a lot of sacrifices. I am confident on the work I have done," Coelho told reporters after voting in a Lisbon suburb. "The right has recovered a part of the centre voter electorate and has succeeded in getting out its message that a return to power of the Socialists would lead the country to bankruptcy, like in 2011," political analyst Antonio Pinto told the AFP news agency. Looking up Portugal requested a 78-billion-euro ($88-billion) bailout at the height of the EU crisis, and only left the bailout scheme in May 2014. Years of harsh budget cuts now seem to have shown results: the economy has grown for 1.5 percent in the first half of this year comparing to the last, while the unemployment rate has fallen to around 12 percent, compared to 17.5 percent in early 2013. At the same time, the socialist claim that the austerity program has hit the middle class too hard. During his campaign, the Socialist leaders Antonio Costa promised to lower personal taxes and reverse the public sector pay cuts. "The Portuguese want a change of government and policies, and open a new cycle of hope," Costa said after casting his ballot. However, the main opposition party has also promised to stick to EU budget rules. Undecided voters None of the major parties seems set to win the absolute majority in the Iberian country of ten million people, and the grand coalition between Prime Minister Coelho's Popular Party and Costa's socialists is unlikely. A minority government, however, could open door to political instability and send a bad signal to the still fragile markets, analysts say. As much as 15 percent of the voters are still undecided, and many pollsters also predict a high abstention rate. "I don't vote anymore for anyone. It is always the same parties, the same promises, and nothing changes," said Herminio Batista, a 72-year-old pensioner. First results of the Sunday vote are expected around 08:00 pm local time (1900 GMT)

Voters in Portugal are deciding on a new government, for the first time since the country left an EU bailout scheme. Despite years of austerity, pre-election surveys put the ruling conservatives slightly ahead. The polls in Portugal opened on Sunday morning for a showdown between the current prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho and the main opposition challenger Antonio Costa, the ... Read More »

The dark side of Ireland’s economic recovery

It's seen as a shining light of European austerity, but despite Ireland's celebrated economic turnaround, the country still has a dirty secret: home repossessions. The problem could be set to get a whole lot worse too. The emotions are still raw when Andrew Bradshaw talks about what happened last year when he was evicted from his family home. "My girlfriend and I were leaving the house and, as I was driving out, a convoy of eight vehicles -- vans, jeeps and police cars -– came past in the other direction," he recalls. "I knew they were coming for me, so I turned back." Bradshaw's hunch was right. The convoy had been given the job of forcibly evicting the 40-year-old from his home in the small town of Mullingar, one hour west of Dublin. After he was unable to make mortgage payments on his home, Bradshaw had been occupying the house since 2012, only leaving the premises occasionally. "In the end, two bailiffs came either side of me and dragged me out. While I was still standing there, they were putting up barricades on the house." Trying to move on Since his eviction, Bradshaw has moved in with his girlfriend. If he hadn't, he'd probably be without a roof over his head. He says now, he "tries to put a positive spin on things" but that it is still "very difficult." It's a classic example of a story that is playing out across Ireland on a daily basis. Whereas previously repossession cases used to be dealt with in Dublin's courts, these days local court lists across the Republic are now full of repossession and eviction trials. There are reports of up to 40-50 repossession cases a day in some towns. It's a problem that has found its way into the mainstream in Ireland, but is often forgotten overseas. In 2011, Trish Burnett helped form the Anti-Eviction Taskforce, a nationwide organization that tries to stop repossessions taking place. She says that, despite all the good news about Ireland's economy, she still hears of many people losing her homes. "You might think that things are getting better, but when you speak to people, you realise that things are not better," says Burnett, who herself was forced to give up her home in 2010. "People are still losing their homes, they are just putting on a brave face." Outrage amongst Ireland's anti-eviction campaigners reached new levels recently after it came to light that Irish bank "Permanent TSB" incorrectly calculated interest on mortgages during the height of the global financial crisis. The mistake lead to around 1300 consumers paying too much on their mortgages and some families losing their homes as a result. "If TSB is just one bank that has done that, then what have the other banks done?" Burnett asks, before admitting that it's important that people still try to work with banks to solve any issues. The so-called "Celtic Phoenix" Meanwhile in Brussels, Ireland is being lauded as one of the success stories of Europe's austerity approach. In October of last year, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble praised the country publically, saying he was "envious" of its success. The country's recovery has been labeled by the media as the "Celtic Phoenix," a tongue-in-cheek reference to Ireland's initial "Celtic Tiger" boom period. But the turnaround has been unable to solve the long-term problems created by Ireland's property bubble, which saw consumers take out huge mortgages on over-priced properties for years. In these cases, once something goes wrong (for Andrew Bradshaw it was an accident that stopped him working) the mortgages often become impossible to service very quickly. "Ireland has stellar numbers at the moment," Dublin-based economist Constantin Gurdgiev acknowledges. "But three-quarters of the country's growth is thanks to the multinationals and tax optimization." "On the ground, I would score the recovery at around 4 out of ten," he says. A negative trend According to Gurdgiev, 27,000 repossessions have taken place in Ireland since the country first had economic difficulties in 2008, and the repossession rate has increased again in the first quarter of 2015. Gurdgiev, who also serves as a Director on the Board of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, says the problem is set to get worse before it gets better. He argues that, although banks have restructured mortgages for certain consumers, they have mainly dealt with the easiest cases meaning some mortgages are now heavily in arrears. And, since the Irish housing market is now finally recovering, Gurdgiev says some banks are deliberately delaying the repossession of homes so that they can get a better sale price for the property. "They are sitting pretty, waiting for the house prices to rise so that they can repossess into the higher property market," he explains. "In the meantime, the family is still paying unsustainable mortgages which are not getting them anywhere." For some, like Andrew Bradshaw, the best relief is when it is all finally over. "I'm kind of tired of fighting," says the former panel beater, who tried to save his house for five years. "That could change next month, or next year. But my feeling at the moment is that I should just leave it behind and try to get on with my life."

It’s seen as a shining light of European austerity, but despite Ireland’s celebrated economic turnaround, the country still has a dirty secret: home repossessions. The problem could be set to get a whole lot worse too. The emotions are still raw when Andrew Bradshaw talks about what happened last year when he was evicted from his family home. “My girlfriend ... Read More »

Greece poised to ratify accord with creditors

The Greek parliament is expected to take up a draft agreement with creditors. A vote has been scheduled for Thursday over country's third bailout deal. Greece's government and its creditors found common ground on a third bailout agreement late Tuesday ahead of a scheduled Thursday vote by parliament. The deal was the product of 23 hours of marathon talks and must be also ratified by some eurozone countries. Greece and its creditors - the EU, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund - are under pressure to finalize the deal by Aug. 20 when a 3.4 billion euro ($3.76 billion) payment to the ECB is due. Syriza to face backlash The deal has caused a rebellion within Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's left-wing Syriza party, forcing him to rely on opposition votes. A Greek Finance Ministry official said the pact would be worth up to 85 billion euros in fresh loans over three years with Greek banks receiving 10 billion euros immediately. But doubts remain about whether the leftist Syriza government, elected on a pledge to reverse austerity, can implement the punishing terms of this latest deal that critics say compromises the party's principles and platform. That's because the proposed bailout would be in exchange for imposing fiscal and other policy measures including a gas market overhaul, the removal of most early retirement schemes, the elimination of fuel price benefits for farmers and an increase in some taxes, none of which will be popular with voters. The government insists it has also gained concessions including greater control over labor reforms, avoiding a mass sell-off state assets and softer deficit targets. "It is a very tough deal. The left had to either escape or take huge responsibilities and prove it can help society," Health Minister Panagiotis Kouroublis told local radio, saying it will be up to Greek voters to weigh in. "After this deal the prime minister should call for elections, so that the Greek people can vote on whether they approve the program or want something else." Austerity drives unemployment The austerity programs imposed by previous governments to satisfy creditors have reigned in public spending. But the measures also compounded a deep recession and pushed unemployment to a record high. Figures next week are expected to confirm that Greece's recession deepened in the second quarter. Though the Syriza government was elected on a staunchly anti-austerity platform in January, it was forced to retreat from this stance after bailout talks came close to collapse last month. Greece has relied on bailouts worth a total 240 billion euros from eurozone members states and the International Monetary Fund since concern over its high debts locked it out of bond markets in 2010. To secure the loans, successive governments have had to implement austerity measures through spending cuts, tax hikes and other neoliberal reforms.

The Greek parliament is expected to take up a draft agreement with creditors. A vote has been scheduled for Thursday over country’s third bailout deal. Greece’s government and its creditors found common ground on a third bailout agreement late Tuesday ahead of a scheduled Thursday vote by parliament. The deal was the product of 23 hours of marathon talks and ... Read More »

Ireland’s crystal ball for Greek crisis

Ireland says it's possible to use austerity to a country’s advantage - and claims others should follow its lead. But should Greece really try to replicate the Celtic Comeback? Gavan Reilly reports from Dublin. "They want us to forget their debt," rages Liam, a caller to a radio phone-in show, hours after Greece is pressured into accepting a new package of reform measures in exchange for its third bailout. "Who forgot our debt? Nobody. Let the Greeks sink or swim... We got nothing off them." Greece's ex-Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed countries like Ireland had been his "most energetic enemies" as he sought debt relief for his government. People like Liam might explain why. Ireland's government, led since the 2011 election by prime minister Enda Kenny, has won gradual relief on its debt from the 2010 bailout. Repayment has been delayed several years; interest rates cut significantly; some politically difficult requirements like the sale of state assets have been delayed or abandoned entirely. Kenny's only failure has been in a half-hearted bid to achieve a debt write-off - which could have been reinvigorated by Greece's campaign for concessions of its own. Ireland has opposed those efforts for two related reasons. The first is reputational: Ireland has been held up by more hawkish nations as a model for how harsh fiscal medicine can restart a sluggish economy. The second is electoral: Ireland's due a general election within nine months and the main rival to Kenny's coalition is Sinn Féin, which mirrors Syriza's attitudes on debt relief. Success for Greece, where Ireland had failed, would be disastrous for Kenny. "Good pupil of austerity" Paul Murphy, an MP for the Anti-Austerity Alliance and a supporter of debt write-down, is furious with Ireland's stance. "If Syriza was to have gotten a good deal," he argues, "it would have shown that [Ireland's] approach of being 'the good pupils of austerity' had produced a worse outcome than an approach of confrontation and struggle with the EU." Kenny has instead used his resistance to remind voters of Ireland's relative success, and claim that Greece is now following his lead. Last month he told journalists in Brussels that, despite its austerity programme, Ireland "did not increase income tax. We did not increase VAT. We did not increase [social insurance charges] - but we put up alternatives to those measures that were proposed, in order to keep a pro-growth policy and make our country competitive." It might appear to have worked. The Irish economy is growing faster than any other in the Eurozone, by 4.8 percent last year; unemployment has fallen by a third in three years and stands at 9.7 percent; retail sales have left stagnation and are up 7 percent in a year. Five years ago the budget deficit stood at 32.4 percent of GDP; this year it will be 2.7 percent. There is an intangible sense that the economy, while far from its peak, has at least returned to stable growth. Beyond the figures But headline figures do not tell the whole story. Ireland has increased its tax revenue by 28 percent in five years - increasing VAT and social insurance charges (despite Kenny's claims), and through new taxes on property and domestic water. At the same time, state spending has been lowered by 10 percent, with aggressive cuts in health spending, while welfare payments for parents and the disabled have also been trimmed. Unemployment benefit has also been cut - particularly for those under 25, who now receive less than their elder peers. Ireland's government believes workers need 11.65 euros an hour to achieve a decent standard of living, but jobseekers under 25 receive just 100 euros a week. Many have felt little option but to emigrate, in greater numbers than at any time since the famine of 1847. A net total of 112,600 citizens have left Ireland since 2011; for every four people who have found a job in that time, five have left the country, perhaps never to return. This is perhaps best reflected in the impact on the number of officially registered clubs of two of Ireland's most popular sports: gaelic football and hurling. As Ireland's economy peaked in 2008, emigrants had established 291 clubs outside Ireland; today there are 398. Back at home, the number has fallen from 1,908 to 1,355 during the same period, with longstanding rival clubs merging simply to ensure they have sufficient players. Perhaps the best people to advise on Ireland's economic model are the Greeks who have seen it first-hand. "It is unfortunate that sometimes politicians do not appear to do politics from the basis of realism, but rather on the basis of vengeance," says Konstantinos Drakakis, the president of the Hellenic Community in Ireland. Drakakis can understand why the Irish government might block Greece from achieving a deal it couldn't gain for itself. "Having lived in Ireland, and knowing this sense of fairness of the Irish people, perhaps the government only voiced this concern: 'Why did we have to suffer when in fact Greeks don't?' "What we don't know is that Greeks suffered a lot as well, because of reforms that weren't carried out."

Ireland says it’s possible to use austerity to a country’s advantage – and claims others should follow its lead. But should Greece really try to replicate the Celtic Comeback? Gavan Reilly reports from Dublin. “They want us to forget their debt,” rages Liam, a caller to a radio phone-in show, hours after Greece is pressured into accepting a new package ... Read More »

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