17th Oct 2019

Europeans protest against wave of austerity

  • Christian union protests in Brussels on Tuesday (Photo: EUobserver)

Spanish public sector workers took to the streets on Tuesday (8 June) to protest against government announced pay cuts, while German trade unions called for mass demonstrations this coming weekend after Berlin unveiled its own four-year austerity package earlier this week.

The wave of government belt-tightening sweeping across Europe has already resulted in strikes in countries stretching from Ireland to Greece this year, with Brussels also seeing protests yesterday, although reports suggest turnout in Spain was below organisers' expectations.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Crowds gathered in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and elsewhere in the southern European state to show their discontent at the Socialist government's plans to shave €15 billion off the country's deficit over two years.

The measures include a five percent pay cut for public sector workers, the suspension of automatic inflation-adjustments for pensions, the scrapping of payouts to parents for the birth of children, and a reduction of €1.2 billion in regional funding.

Protestors accused the government of mismanaging the crisis, and said the planned measures would disproportionately affect public sector workers. "We are not responsible for this crisis," read one banner. "We're not the ones who'll pay for it."

Spanish unions said 75-80 percent of public sector workers had joined the day-long strike, although the labour ministry put the figure at 16 percent, with public transport largely unaffected. Roughly 2.5 million Spaniards work in the public sector.

More strike action may follow however, with Madrid set to announce unpopular labour market reforms on Wednesday that will make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.

The government is under intense pressure from financial markets and Brussels to turn its economy around after a recent credit rating downgrade dramatically increased the country's borrowing costs.

Like Ireland, Spain's property market imploded when the global financial crisis struck, plunging the country into an almost two-year recession and placing a huge strain on government coffers. Unemployment is currently hovering around the 20 percent mark, the highest in the eurozone.


In Germany the first labour protests at the government's €80 billion austerity package were announced by the Verdi public sector workers' union, with mass rallies planned in Berlin and Stuttgart on Saturday.

Its leader Frank Bsirske said the brunt of savings would fall on public sector workers and the unemployed, while the wealthy would continue to live in a "tax oasis."

Other unions later joined the call to arms, while German industry and economists have largely welcome the proposals due to their focus on spending cuts rather than broad-brush tax rises.

Announced on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's list of austerity measures is intended to show that Europe's largest economy will lead by example. The largest part of the cuts in the four-year programme will fall on welfare payments and benefits for the long-term unemployed.

A lower proportion will affect banks and other businesses, with the government intending to introduce a financial transactions tax and a new tax on flights leaving Germany.

Britain, the Republic of Ireland, Portugal, and Italy are amongst the countries to have unveiled austerity measures as governments feel the squeeze.

The announcement by the Romanian government that it plans a 25 percent cut in public sector salaries and 15 percent reduction in pensions has also seen people take to the streets in the east European country this week.

Automation threat to jobs will hit EU unevenly

New technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotics, have the potential "to displace some workers from their tasks, even causing some jobs to disappear entirely", affecting the work nature of millions of jobs in Europe, according to a new report.

And the world's heaviest drinkers are ... Europeans

Europeans still drink more alcohol than the rest of the word, according to a recently-released report of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Germany, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania are the heaviest-drinking EU countries.

EU parliament backs whistleblower law

MEPs backed an EU law to protect whistleblowers from retaliation in both the public and private sectors. EU states will have two years to transpose the directive.


FIFA's schools programme aims to reach 700m children

Football clubs today invest huge sums of money in youth development and court talented young players from an early age. Children are the future – not only where football is concerned, but also for society in general.


A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us