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Valls' austerity package under fire

Valls' plans foresee cuts of roughly 21 billion euros in the social welfare system. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

 

France wants to cut its public spending by around 50 billion euros by 2017. Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls will present a corresponding austerity programme today, Wednesday, which has been heavily criticised by members of his party. But fears of a voter backlash have watered down the package, commentators fear, and urge Valls to hold his course.

Handelsblatt - Germany

Socialists will spare their voters once more

Many MPs from Prime Minister Manuel Valls' own party are protesting against the austerity package. The liberal business daily Handelsblatt fears that this will translate into a half-hearted implementation of the programme: "Whenever it comes to cost-cutting at the expense of the French population's accustomed privileges, and above all those of the ruling party's voter base, France's governments have often backtracked in the last decades. This is precisely why France's reliability is doubted abroad. ... The argument against the numerous austerity measures: they reduce purchasing power. But as so often in France's past, the real issue is the assets of the civil servants and the fear of reductions in social benefits. Opinions are divided on whether the targeted 50 billion euros in spending cuts should be reduced or not. This debate alone fuels doubts about whether Hollande really has the political leeway to get serious on austerity." (23/04/2014)

Le Figaro - France

Valls must not heed critics

Socialist Party colleagues have criticised Manuel Valls' austerity plans as too harsh. But the prime minister should hold his course, also in the interests of France's European neighbours, the conservative daily Le Figaro urges: "If Manuel Valls must say no to all opponents in his own camp, it's also because he's being closely watched. By Brussels, by our European neighbours, by the rating agencies, who have legitimate doubts about France's capacity to pursue a serious budget policy. Any weakness on the part of the executive and any ambiguous remarks will be interpreted as back-pedalling and seen as a confirmation that Paris definitively refuses to subject itself to the same rules as its neighbours. Fifty billion is not enough, but for the Socialist critics it's already too much. There's no point listening to them. The term 'financial rigour' simply isn't part of their vocabulary." (23/04/2014)

La Vanguardia - Spain

French facing Spanish fate

The austerity policy announced by the new French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is dividing the ruling Socialists, the conservative daily La Vanguardia comments, and points out how badly the Spanish Socialists fared after they pushed through their austerity programme: "The shadow of the Spanish Socialists' election debacle - after then prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero launched a 15 billion euro austerity programme in May 2010 - now looms over French socialism. ... Clearly it would be too great a risk to put the programme to vote in plenary session with the Socialist Party in its current divided state. For this reason it's likely that Valls will have to make a few more small concessions by the day of the vote. If he manages to get the policy approved this will help the prime minister's image. Whether it will really work is another matter entirely." (23/04/2014)

POLITICS

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Der Standard - Austria

Eastern Ukraine needs prospects, not tanks

The Ukrainian military on Tuesday resumed its operations against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, which had been suspended over the Easter weekend. But the leadership in Kiev won't win over the eastern Ukrainians with tanks, the left-liberal daily Der Standard warns: "What they want is real participation and prospects. And for that, a decentralisation of power with elected governors and regional autonomy is indispensable. ... But Ukraine must also offer its population - despite the upcoming painful economic reforms - social and economic perspectives. Kiev can't do that alone. And this is where Europe and the US - if they are interested in a Ukraine with Western values - must step in to help, financially and in the fight against corruption. The overthrow of Yanukovych must not end with the country being ruled by another clique of oligarchs. That won't be cheap. But it will be more effective than sanctions against Russia." (23/04/2014)

Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy

Renzi's labour market reform loses its edge

After cutting taxes for low-income earners and introducing an upper limit for managers' salaries, Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is now pressing ahead with his labour market reform. It is to be put to vote in parliament today, Wednesday. But any reform truly worthy of the name has fallen victim to the campaign for the European elections, the liberal business paper Il Sole 24 Ore laments: "The labour market reform compromise that will emerge from the parliamentary debate has a fundamental ideological flaw: the belief that sanctions can create jobs. This is all the more glaring in that it is increasingly clear that the opposite must be done to give the market a boost: regulations must be eased and tax relief introduced. Unfortunately, in the course of the parliamentary debate more weight has been given to the requirements of the election campaign than those of the economy. ... The reform compromise is the tribute that is being paid for May 25." (23/04/2014)

Dagens Nyheter - Sweden

Sweden must be able to defend itself again

The leaders of Sweden's conservative four-party government on Tuesday presented a joint proposal for upgrading the Swedish military, which has been hard hit by cuts. The liberal daily Dagens Nyheter welcomes the plan, but would like to see even more consistency: "More important than the current investments, the proposal represents a paradigm switch regarding how the army is viewed. A growing number of decision makers concede that you sleep better when the front door's not wide open. At the same time, however, one gets the feeling that there's still a certain amount of waffling going on. You can't change your country's defence policy after every border conflict. ... Hopefully Tuesday's announcement will once again make Sweden more able and willing to defend itself. And hopefully the next step will be in the direction of Nato. That would be the best guarantee for a sustained state of readiness, and the best protection against expansive, authoritarian regimes." (23/04/2014)

Adevărul - Romania

European elections: EU should invest rather than budget

The European elections in May will also determine what economic policy the EU pursues in the next five years, political analyst Marian Dumitrache writes in the blog of the liberal-conservative daily Adevărul, commenting that the EU can no longer afford its current drastic austerity course: "If you look at the decisions taken by the authorities of the most important countries after the 1929 crash, you recognise exactly the EU policy of today's conservative EPP. But the Great Depression was only overcome after the states invested massively in their economies - the kind of measures backed today by the European socialists. ... So the EU elections are not necessarily about who gets to be the new Commission president, but rather about what vision the EU will be based on in the years to come. Europe cannot afford to lose another five years with a narrow-minded economic policy that fails to achieve the desired results." (23/04/2014)

ECONOMY

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Hospodárske noviny - Slovakia

Single market an empty promise

Shortly before the tenth anniversary of Slovakia's accession to the EU, the transition period during which there was a ban on foreigners buying agricultural land in the country comes to an end. But even then the EU will still be far from the goal of becoming a community without national restrictions, the liberal business daily Hospodárske noviny complains: "In the EU, all kinds of things are still subject to restrictions. We tend to forget this all too quickly, for example the years of restrictions on freedom of movement within the EU. But we, too, have sealed ourselves off. ... Yet other countries, for example Austria, also have restrictions on the purchase of agricultural land. The same goes for Germany, Poland, Hungary and France. Everywhere, the local population has right of first refusal. On the one hand we have the single market. On the other hand every country does as it likes. When we look back on the expansion of the EU in a week's time, we will hear a lot of big speeches. But in reality we should remember ten years of exceptions and transitional periods." (23/04/2014)

Diário de Notícias - Portugal

Troika leaves Portugal facing uncertain future

A few weeks before Portugal exits the international bailout programme, the creditors of the troika arrived in Lisbon on Tuesday for their twelfth and final inspection visit. There are still far too many question marks over what will happen in the period after the bailout programme ends, the liberal-conservative daily Diário de Notícias comments worriedly: "It is above all the contradicting messages on a daily basis. You know that the country is shortly before the end of an unprecedented chapter in collective life, but without knowing exactly what comes next. It seems to be clear that the efforts to bring the public finances under control will continue, but in what form? After four consecutive quarters of good news about the economy, one asks when these improvements will be felt in everyday life. No one dares give an answer." (23/04/2014)

Gazeta Wyborcza - Poland

EU not ready for common energy policy

In a commentary for the Financial Times, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has called for an energy union for the EU to reduce Europe's dependency on Russia. The member states should base their energy policy cooperation on the model of the banking union, he argued. But with his proposal Tusk is far too ahead of his time, the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza believes: "For now, such a suggestion can only be considered a dream for the future. Because for the time being the EU is miles away from a common energy policy. The Commission has just criticised some member states for signing a contract with Russia for the construction of the South Stream Pipeline, which circumvents Ukraine. This contravenes EU law, Brussels says. ... Before we create an energy union, we should first make sure that we're all standing shoulder to shoulder politically. Otherwise such a policy initiative will be based on shaky foundations indeed." (23/04/2014)

Tages-Anzeiger - Switzerland

Work less to reduce high unemployment

The city of Gothenburg has announced plans to test the 30 hour working week without cutting its employees' pay. This prompts the Tages-Anzeiger to recall economist John Maynard Keynes' prediction back in 1930 that by the year 2030 people would only be working 15 hours a week: "Keynes was an economist, not a dreamer. He thought out the promise of industrialisation right to its conclusion. At some point machines would relieve people of most of the drudgery. ... This mechanism works if redistribution is in play. In recent years however the rationalisations have often worked against the employees. Their jobs have been unnecessarily axed, and the higher profits this generated have been pocketed by investors. Society only benefits from increased productivity if the decrease in work and the rise in profit are shared out among many employees. ... The choice of the future is: less work for everyone. Or no work for many combined with a lot of work for a few." (23/04/2014)

SOCIETY

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NRC Handelsblad - Netherlands

Paedophiles have right to form associations

The highest court in the Netherlands banned the paedophile association Martijn on Friday. But bans are the wrong way to take action against paedophiles, the liberal daily NRC Handelsblad criticises: "In a free society it must be possible for people with undesirable, shocking and even harmful outlooks to form associations - as long as the members' goals and activities remain within the framework of the law. ... As a matter of principle, the courts should not infringe on basic rights like the freedom of association. The balance between civil freedoms and criminal obligations is valuable, and the difference minimal. And there's a point to that. In a free society, the legality, and consequently also the visibility, of groups with undesirable ideas and activities can be useful. That puts a large responsibility on society, which can then demonstrate its powers of resistance." (23/04/2014)

Duma - Bulgaria

Same rights and obligations also for Roma

Illegal buildings in Bulgaria's biggest Roma neighbourhood Stolipinovo are to be torn down on Friday and the inhabitants resettled in other areas, the city of Plovdiv announced on Tuesday. The socialist daily Duma calls for a consistent Roma policy: "If this is supposed to be a state policy on Roma, so be it. But then the state should do the same in all other parts of the country. ... Before it resettles the Roma from the ghettos in new flats, it should make up for what it has neglected to do for them in terms of education, work and legislation. The Roma must not be discriminated against, but they must also not be given preferential treatment. The state must establish clear rules for them, and not budge an inch. In that way the Roma will have the same rights but also the same obligations as all Bulgarians. Everyone must abide by the law and know that if they don't, they can be held liable." (23/04/2014)

SPORT

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Ir - Latvia

Latvian ice hockey teams up with Putin

Latvia's national ice hockey team played two friendly games against Russia last week in preparation for the Ice Hockey World Championships in Belarus in May. The weekly paper Ir is appalled: "At a time when Russia is challenging Europe to a new Cold War, Latvia organises a friendly game against Russia. This is friendship with a state that supports terrorism. ... The Russian players should be treated as personae non gratae and our players shouldn't have gone on to the ice. ... Any sport fan who went to watch the game has helped Putin to corroborate his legend that all is well in Russia. The viewers in Russia are also led to believe that all is well and that the Latvians approve of Putin's regime when they see the Latvian ice hockey fans with Latvian flags on the stands. ... We don't need this kind of ice hockey, certainly not on Good Friday." (22/04/2014)

Heti Világgazdaság - Hungary

Football fan Orbán's megalomania

A new football stadium was inaugurated in Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán's home village of 1,800 inhabitants last weekend. It seats 3,800 spectators and is located right next to Orbán's weekend home. The left-liberal weekly Heti Világgazdaság advises Orbán to find other ways of satisfying his passion for football: "Dear Mr Prime Minister! Instead of conjuring up absurd stadium projects we would heartily recommend that you turn your attention to the big world of computer games, where you can really act out your obsessions. It would be better for all of us. Because then there would be enough money left for the construction and renovation of schools for many clever pupils, rather than for primitive football hooligans. Half the world is laughing at Hungary's unrestrained warlord who has a stadium built in his own backyard just because he feels like it." (22/04/2014)

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