Thursday, July 15, 2010

Europeans on the age of austerity

Europeans on the age of austerity

Governments across Europe are forcing through tough austerity measures to tackle huge budget deficits.

Here, people across the continent explain how they will be affected by cuts and voice their opinion on this age of austerity.

MARIEKE MARTIN, 30, PHD STUDENT, LUNEBURG, GERMANY

I am 30 and live with my parents. I could claim benefits but I don't want to. When I finish my studies, I will have to look all over the world for a job because I know I won't find one in Germany.

Marieke Martin

Start Quote

Life is going to be much harder for Germany's poorer people”

End Quote Marieke Martin Student

I want to go into education but the state is cutting back in that area. Job opportunities in my field just don't exist in my home country.

I feel very frustrated. I decided to study for a PhD in England and so have paid 17,000 euros ($21,000, £14,000) in tuition fees and had to cover living expenses on top of that. I have worked in a supermarket to help pay some of the costs.

The cutbacks are bad and they affect the poorest people. People on benefits are having their support cut.

Heating allowances are also being cut. People will struggle even more now to get work because the government is taking money out of training and employment schemes.

Life is going to be much harder for Germany's poorer people.

ELENI HONDROU, 38, PUBLIC SECTOR WORKER, ATHENS, GREECE

I went on strike in February over the government's planned cuts. But it didn't make any difference so I haven't been on strike since.

Hard Times graphic

This week, the BBC is taking a look at austerity measures across the world with our correspondents reporting for the BBC World Service, World News TV and the BBC News website.

Reductions in my allowances mean I have lost 20% of my annual income. I have had to cut many things out of my life. Many items that I once considered to be essential have become luxuries.

I don't eat out, I buy fewer clothes and when I meet friends we only have a coffee.

I can see that people are only buying the essentials in the supermarket and it is obvious that shops are less crowded.

Many people have given up going to work by car and there is now less traffic in Athens. It's really strange. I never would have thought that anything could disrupt the special relationship Greeks have with their cars.

I am relatively lucky. I have a mortgage but no loans. Many people ran up huge credit card bills and loans over the last 10 years which they may not be able to afford as incomes drop.

I think most people are still in a state of shock. Will people accept these measures or will they take to the streets again? It will be a while before we know.

ANGELES RODRIGUEZ DE CARA, 36, PUBLIC SECTOR WORKER, MADRID, SPAIN

I joined the public sector strikes because I believe the government is making cuts in the wrong way.

Angeles Rodriguez de Cara

Start Quote

The measures are being carried out too late and in a hurry, due to pressure from the markets and the EU”

End Quote Angeles Rodriguez De Cara Research scientist

Rather than focusing on public sector workers, the government should have raised taxes for everyone and especially for the rich.

I am a research scientist at a publicly funded centre. My salary will be cut by 5% - about 75 euros a month. My husband will also lose about 100 euros as he is also a public sector worker. Although we won't know for sure until we get our payslips in a week or so.

I don't even have the luxury of a permanent job - I am on a fixed term contract - and still I am subject to the cuts. It's going to be harder for us to save for our children now.

The government are also making it more difficult for public sector workers to retire early. This has resulted in many people retiring quickly before the system changes, leaving gaps in public posts. The headmaster of my daughter's school has retired and it will be a while before they fill his job.

The measures are being carried out too late and in a hurry, due to pressure from the markets and the EU.

VLADIMIR PETROVIC, 41, ENTREPRENEUR, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

The issue of cuts was central to the last election in the Czech Republic. It seems the centre right parties were able to persuade people these measures are necessary as they won the poll.

Vladimir Petrovic

Start Quote

I feel cuts are necessary. The European welfare model is unsustainable”

End Quote Vladimir Petrovic Entrepreneur

Spending cuts have been talked about for a long time, but the Greek crisis has made more people aware of the problems we face.

I will be affected indirectly by the cuts. As people will have less spending power I'm likely to lose contracts and therefore money. I will be able to get by, but will have to cut back on luxury items like holidays.

Personally I feel cuts are necessary. The European welfare model is unsustainable and the only way we can ensure a prosperous future is to make cuts now. If we don't cut, Europe will no longer be competitive in a globalised world and we'll end up on the upper tier of the third world.

People in the east of Europe may be more open to this kind of change than the west, because we have seen the evil associated of an over-bloated state.

DENISE FREITAS, 25, UNEMPLOYED, FUNCHAL, PORTUGAL

I am currently looking for a job. I studied creative writing and film studies in the UK and then returned home.

Denise Freitas

Start Quote

There are many people in my generation who have recently graduated and find it very hard to find a job”

End Quote Denise Freitas Unemployed

I think the austerity measures are needed because Portugal is in the red. But some of the plans are very tough on poorer people and the unemployed.

And I think the government needs to rethink the measures so they are less focused on the poorer section of society.

It is now very difficult to get a job as a civil servant. This affects young people looking for work. There are many people in my generation who have recently graduated and find it very hard to find a job.

The prime minister promised a lot of things when he came to power - as leaders usually do. Now that he has introduced the cuts people are not happy and his popularity is falling.

CHRIS DRAPIER, 59, TRAINER, PARIS, FRANCE

The cuts will affect me directly. I work in a training centre and most of our funding comes from the state. So we will have to start looking for more contracts from the private sector.

Start Quote

If there are real cuts the left-wing parties and the unions will take to the streets”

End Quote Chris Drapier Trainer

But I still think the cuts are necessary and believe the government should have made these cuts a long time ago. If they had taken this course 20 years ago we would have been in a much better state now.

The problem in France, like other European countries, is that the state acts like an entrepreneur. But it doesn't create wealth, it just soaks it up.

I believe in free market economics, so I have a different view on this than many in France.

My real fear is that the government will claim they are making efficiencies but not really carry them out because they are too afraid of opposition. If there are real cuts the left-wing parties and the unions will take to the streets, pushing the country towards revolution.

Usually I am an optimist. But I can see now Europe becoming, little by little, one of the poorer continents on the world.

ANDREA BUCCI, 43, BUSINESS OWNER, TORINO, ITALY

I own a business in the field of automation and renewable energy.

Andrea Bucci

Start Quote

I agree that we are in a crisis”

End Quote Andrea Bucci Automotive and renewable energy

The austerity measures are affecting many Italians. One of the changes was presented as a way to fight against tax evasion but in reality is hitting small and medium businesses in Italy.

The government makes a presumption of income for companies. And if your turnover doesn't reach the level of income they think you should make, they assume that you are evading tax. So they are claiming tax payments and imposing fines on businesses.

But I agree that we are in a crisis. Since China and India entered the World Trade Organization, their imports were liberalised and Italian companies are in a very bad position.

This is unfair competition.

A lot of people are also now starting to think that joining the euro was not a good idea. We didn't vote for it, we didn't decide to join it.

I am the regional secretary of the "no-euro" party and the number people that would like to abandon the Euro currency is rapidly growing.

RONAN REYNOLDS, 58, SELF-EMPLOYED IT WORKER, COUNTY DUBLIN, IRELAND

People's disposable income has been cut dramatically in Ireland as a result of government efficiencies. As a result my business has been hit and our standard of living has dropped.

Start Quote

I think we'll have 18 months of pain before things really start to turn around”

End Quote Ronan Reynolds IT professional

My wife works as a teacher and she has also seen her income drop.

We have changed our lives. We certainly don't go out as often. We watch more carefully what we spend. We now shop in cheaper supermarkets and we don't eat out as often.

Many people have had to make similar changes. I see less people in the pubs and I notice that every restaurant in my town has cheap meal deals.

The cuts are necessary. Our state had become bloated. In some areas management had not imposed rigorous discipline.

I think we'll have 18 months of pain before things really start to turn around.

Some people are a little worried about the UK budget. If that results in big hit on British pockets it might have a knock on affect here because we are such close trading partners.

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