Austerity protests sweep across Europe as governments cut budgets

austerity protests sweep across europe

Austerity measures aimed at deficit-financed social programs drew mobs of protesters in 12 European capitals Wednesday. Image: CC Teemu Mantynen/Flickr

Europe roiled with strikes and marches as citizens protested austerity measures — which cut government spending, benefits and public services and could increase taxes —  taken by governments trying to climb out of the European debt crisis. Europeans are upset that while governments spent billions to rescue banks, ordinary citizens were being forced to accept the consequences of austerity. Meanwhile, a top U.S. Treasury official warned European governments that economic recovery, not austerity, should be the priority.

Austerity draws a crowd

In a day of austerity protests on Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of people marched across Europe. Reuters reports that the protests were led by trade unions, which say austerity will slow economic recovery and punish the poorest citizens. Trade unions organized protests in 12 European capitals to demonstrate against spending cuts and pension and labor market reforms. In Brussels, Belgium, a crowd of about 60,000 gathered from across Europe, waving union flags and carrying banners saying “No to austerity” and “Priority to jobs and growth.”

Austerity targets social programs

The austerity protests in Brussels coincided with a proposal from the European Union Commission for new penalties that punish member states gripped by unemployment for running up deficits to fund social programs. As reported in the Huffington Post, the EU proposal, sponsored primarily by Germany, is receiving stiff resistance from France, which wants politicians to decide on sanctions, not a set of rules carved in stone. Elsewhere in Europe, Greek doctors and railway employees walked out. Spanish workers shut down trains and buses. In Ireland, a man blocked the Irish parliament with a cement truck in protest of the country’s massive bank bailouts.

U.S. urges Europe to go light on austerity measures

Amid all the austerity protests, a top U.S. Treasury official visiting Frankfurt implored European officials to exercise restraint. The Wall Street Journal reports that Americans and Europeans disagree about whether stimulus or austerity is the solution to a weak global recovery. The U.S. is urging more stimulus as Europe heads further toward tax increases and spending cuts. U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard said with weak global demand and low inflation, supporting a lasting recovery, not austerity, must continue as the primary objective.

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