BRUSSELS — European austerity measures to tackle the soaring debt crisis have sparked “despair” and will cut too deep, a senior trade union official warned Friday, as he announced a protest action day.
John Monks, head of the European Trade Union Confederation, who met EU and employers’ officials in Brussels, said there was “despair and alarm at the prospects of growth in Europe as all countries, not just those in distress, move to cut their budgets, cut public expenditure.”
“We don’t want a bleak mid-winter for the unemployed,” he added, pointing out that already there was “quite a bit of social unrest in some countries” over the kind of deep cuts in public spending, including salaries, pensions and benefits.
Rioting has been particularly fierce in Greece where the government is making deep cuts after being afforded a multi-billion euro bailout by the EU.
Monks said plans were underway for a European “day of action” on September 29, with the focal point a protest at a meeting of EU finance ministers scheduled the same day in Brussels.
Work stoppages were a possibility on that day “to keep pressure on the growth agenda,” he stressed.
EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said the talks had been tough and “very open” but insisted on the need for the austerity measures as Europe emerges from the worst recession since World War II.
“I underlined the need for fiscal consolidation and structural reforms,” he told a joint news conference with Monks.
“Only if we are serious about getting our house in order, and only if we really do our best to work for a sustainable future, will we be able to re-establish confidence in our economy and growth,” he added.
“Without determination to act now, we put our European model of society at risk,” he told reporters.
Philippe de Buck, director general of the Business Europe employers’ group, called for restraint and social dialogue.
“The last thing we need is continued social unrest This is a way to undermine confidence,” he warned.
Bernard Thibault, head of France’s main union federation the CGT, said workers were “the main victims of a crisis which they were not responsible for,” something which he said justified their protest action.
He said dialogue with Barroso was not fruitful as the EU leader justified the austerity plans due to national debts.