Sun, May 05, 2013 - Page 13 News List

Portugal unveils package of spending cuts

AFP, LISBON

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said late on Friday that the government aimed to slash 30,000 public-sector jobs as part of a sweeping package of spending cuts to satisfy international creditors.

In a speech to the nation, Coelho said that the full pension age would be pushed back from 65 to 66 years old and civil servants would be expected to work 40 hours per week instead of 35.

The measures were announced in order to keep the small debt-hit eurozone member eligible for another slice of its much-needed bailout.

Coelho was unveiling the contents of the center-right government’s new “medium-term program,” under which Portugal is hoping to save a total of 6 billion euros (US$7.9 billion) by 2016.

His measures, which promise to be deeply unpopular, included plans for a special pensions contribution that would spare the least well-off.

In all, the package would bring in about 4.8 billion euros by 2015, Coelho said.

“To hesitate now would harm the credibility that we have already won back,” Coelho said, adding that the measures were aimed at avoiding a second bailout.

With the cuts, Portugal’s public deficit is anticipated to narrow to 5.5 percent of GDP this year, to 4.0 percent next year and finally to 2.5 percent in 2015, under the EU’s ceiling of 3 percent.

The plans will need to get the green light from its troika of international lenders — the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF — which granted Portugal a 78 billion euro bailout loan two years ago.

The Portuguese economy is expected to shrink by 2.3 percent this year with unemployment poised to breach a record 18 percent.

Last month, the government was forced to revise its austerity plans for this year when the country’s Constitutional Court rejected several projected cuts it now has had to find elsewhere.

“We will not raise taxes to correct the budgetary problem resulting from the Constitutional Court’s decision,” Coelho said. “The way must be through the structural reduction of public spending.”

However, Coelho is struggling for support. Austerity policies to meet bailout conditions have grown deeply unpopular and sparked several protests.

Portugal’s main Socialist opposition party, which was in power when Lisbon sought the bailout in 2011, has accused the government of applying “excessive austerity” that has made recession and unemployment even worse.

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