German Chancellor Angela Merkel has this week sparked a wave of outrage across Europe by calling on Portugal, Spain and Greece to raise their retirement ages and reduce their leave. She warned that German aid to these countries could be cast into doubt should southern European countries fail to adopt the work ethic of her countrymen.
“It’s not just about getting any further into debt in countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, people should not be allowed to receive pension before their German counterparts”, Angela Merkel told supporters at a political rally in Germany.
“We all have to put in some effort. This is important, we cannot have the same currency, yet some have an abundance of holiday leave and others have very little”, reasoned the German Chancellor.
“We cannot stand by these countries and allow them to act the way they have up until now. Germany will help, but only if these countries demonstrate they are putting in the necessary effort”, added the Chancellor.
German workers are entitled to a minimum of 20 days leave, though a large number of companies agree to leave which in many cases exceeds 30 days.
The current retirement age in Germany is 65, the same as Portugal, though this will be gradually raised to 67 between 2012 and 2029.
Portuguese union representatives and leftist parties were swift to condemn Chancellor Merkel’s comments, with many parties in Germany coming out in support of Portuguese workers.
“It is not the workers and the pensioners of these countries who are responsible for the financial crisis. It is the speculators in the stock markets and the large investment banks. But the German Government doesn’t touch them and continually blocks attempts to tax financial transactions”, charged Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the SPD social democrats.
He also accused Angela Merkel of unnecessarily casting doubt over the European ideal and stirring up Germans against these countries as opposed to using objective arguments.
The German Greens were also critical of the Chancellor’s comments, saying they have put further strain on the instable economies in southern Europe.
“Her comments have only served to damage Greece, Portugal and Spain and do not reflect the reality”, said Cem Ozdemir.
In Portugal, the Communist Party (PCP) led the attack, saying that if the German Chancellor was so intent on comparison, she should start with the wages paid to Portuguese workers, which PCP leader Jer¢nimo de Sousa argues are “four or five times lower” than those paid to German workers.
The Left Bloc was also quick to condemn Angela Merkel’s words.
“For some time now Germany has had one single rule: always impose your will on others”, accused Francisco Lou‡a.
“We need generosity and not the pettiness of Mrs. Merkel”, added the Left Bloc leader.
Leader of Portugal’s largest trade union, Carvalho da Silva, went one step further, accusing Angela Merkel of assuming “a clear colonialist stance”.
The CGTP leader reasoned that these “postures allow wealthy countries to survive in a system that allows the exploitation of poorer countries”.
He recalled that for a Portuguese worker to qualify for a full pension, he/she needs to work to very close to 66, which is higher than the current retirement age in Germany, while leave entitlements in Portugal (22 days) are usually fewer than the number of days Germans enjoy away from the workplace.
Despite the criticism of the Chancellor, German Government spokesperson Christoph Steegmans said Mrs. Merkel was unrepentant.
“The Chancellor stands by her comments, which are not populist, but very serious indeed.”
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