Merkel under fire for 'lazy Greeks' comment

19.05.11 @ 17:44

  1. By Valentina Pop
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BRUSSELS - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under fire at home and abroad for suggesting that people in Greece, Portugal and Spain take too many holidays and retire too early.

  • Work more, relax less, says Merkel, pictured here with Greek PM Papandreou (Photo: Prime Minister of Greece)

Speaking at a rally in the western German town of Meschede on Tuesday evening, Merkel suggested southern Europeans are not working enough, while Germans are expected to bail them out.

"It is also about not being able to retire earlier in countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal than in Germany, instead everyone should try a little bit to make the same efforts – that is important," she said.

"We can't have a common currency where some get lots of vacation time and others very little. That won't work in the long term," the chancellor stressed.

Her government has no intention of letting the euro "go bust", but in order to step up the aid, "we cannot simply show solidarity and say these countries should simply continue as before."

"Yes Germany will help but Germany will only help when the others try. And that must be clear," she said.

Her comments sparked outrage on the German political scene, with the Social Democratic opposition calling her "populist" for giving a "coarse representation of Greek realities," while the European Greens ald labelled her remarks "absurd."

In Portugal, trade unionist were also angered by the suggestion that southern Europeans are having a nice time on the beach while the Germans are working hard for their bailouts.

"This is the purest colonialism," Portuguese trade union chief Manuel Carvalho da Silva said, as quoted by DPA. He blasted Merkel for showing "no solidarity" and supporting a system where "the rich continue to live at the expense of the poorest countries in a disastrous system of exploitation."

Germany has voted to gradually increase the retirement age to 67 from 2012 on and is currently evaluating a proposal to hike it even further, to 69 years. Greece raised its retirement age to 65 last year, while Spain lifted it to 67 in January this year. In Portugal, the retirement age is 65.

But statistics published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - a club of the richest 34 states looking at employment and economics figures - show that, in reality, Germans retire earlier than their southern European counterparts.

The average "effective retirement age" table shows that in 2009, German men retired when they were 61.8 years old, the same as Spaniards and slightly earlier than Greeks (61.9), but Portuguese stayed on until they were 67.

Greek women, meanwhile, retire a few months earlier than their German counterparts: at 59.6 years compared to 60.5 years. But Spanish and Portuguese women still work longer, for another three years on average.

Southerners also have a similar amount of holidays to those in Germany.

According to German law, workers can have at least 20 holidays a year, but these vary from state to state and can go up to 30 days. Greek workers are also entitled to 20 days of vacation and once they have worked for more than 10 years, they get another five days on top. Portuguese workers go on holiday for 22 days and Spaniards for 21.