Mon, Dec 11, 2023 5:31 AM
By SAMUEL PETREQUIN, Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) — Thousands of protesters are expected to gather in Brussels on Tuesday to protest what they perceive as new austerity measures as the 27 European Union countries discuss ways to overhaul rules on government spending.
Finance ministers from the bloc have been negotiating for months a reform of the EU's rules limiting debt and deficits for member states, known as the Stability and Growth Pact, which would curtail the options of nations seeking to spend their way out of a crisis and potentially force them into austerity. The rulebook, which has often proved difficult to enforce and has served as a source of tension, was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic but should be reactivated next year.
Current rules stipulate that member states’ total public debt must not exceed 60% of their GDP, and their annual deficit must be kept below 3%.
According to the EU latest figures, the highest rates of government debt to GDP were in Greece with 166.5%, Italy with 142.4%, with four other nations also breaking the 100%, mark.
Amid tensions between Germany and France, an agreement on the revised rules has yet to be found.
But the European Trade Union Confederation, which represents 45 million members, claims that under the current draft proposal for a reform, 14 member states will be forced to cut a combined 45 billion euros from their budgets next year alone.
“Under the current proposal, member states with a deficit above 3% of GDP will have to reduce their budget deficit by a minimum of 0.5% of GDP every year,” the ETUC said. “That would lead to fewer jobs, lower wages, stretched public services and leave most EU member states unable to make the investments needed to meet the EU’s own social and climate targets.”
With next year's European elections looming and a rise of the far-right across the continent, the ETUC also warned that “the far-right is the main beneficiary of the type of fiscal policies being proposed.”
It said unions will use the protest in the capital city of the EU's institutions to call for measures excluding investments for social and climate targets from spending limits.
They will also ask governments to keep in place solidarity mechanism introduced during the coronavirus crisis such as the Recovery and Resilience Facility multi-billion euro plan of loans and grants devised to help the EU’s 27 countries breathe new life into their virus-ravaged economies.