Why is Europe Out in the Streets?

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Millions of workers spread across the European Union are holding a string of strikes and demonstrations on Wednesday to protest the widespread unemployment and government spending cuts in the continent. Trade unions blame the austerity policies for the drop in living standards across the region. The European Trade Union Confederation said that about 40 unions in 23 countries were scheduled to take part in a “day of action and solidarity.”

Highest turnouts were seen in countries such as Spain and Portugal, which are the worst hit by the measures. Workers in the two countries closed schools and universities, halted public transport, and disrupted air travel. Courts and government services were also affected, while hospitals were providing only essential services. Unions in Greece and Italy also planned work stoppages, while marches and demonstrations were scheduled in France.

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Spain, Portugal, and Greece have cut spending on pensions, public sector wages, hospitals, and schools in an attempt to meet higher interest payments on the national debt. But new economic data suggested that Europe is failing to sort out its problems. According to numbers released on Wednesday, output in the 17-member euro zone fell 2.5 percent from August and was worse than the predicted 2 percent decline. In Greece, gross domestic product fell 7.2 percent in the third quarter compared with the same period last year. The debt-struck country is headed to its sixth year of depression. In Portugal, unemployment rose to a record 15.8 percent, Spain has a 25 percent jobless rate.

The International Monetary Fund and EU leaders clashed publicly this week on Greece’s timeframe for meeting budget targets. There are clear divisions between the region’s governments and international creditors over how strictly to impose austerity conditions on states that are being rescued. Spain’s Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told reporters on Wednesday the government was set to continue the spending cuts despite the strike, Reuters said.

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