European ministers take sobering look at social impact of crisis

Tue Apr 1, 2014 4:02pm EDT
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By John O'Donnell

ATHENS (Reuters) - The economic crisis in Europe has put 6 million people out of work and driven others into poverty, according to a think-tank study looking into the social impact of the slump that was examined by EU finance ministers for the first time on Tuesday.

As host, Greece, the first euro zone state to be bailed out during the crisis, put the study on the agenda of a regular meeting of EU finance ministers that has more usually focused on appeasing financial markets with tough spending reforms.

The gathering was taking place a short distance from Syntagma Square, the focus of often violent clashes over austerity measures imposed by the terms of Greece's bailout, although protests had been banned for this meeting.

Defying the ban, about 5,000 people gathered in central Athens earlier on Tuesday to protest against a new wave of reforms Greece passed this week to qualify for more bailout loans from the European Union and the IMF.

A few demonstrators tried to penetrate the cordoned off area around the meeting venue but police repelled them with tear gas.

After six years of recession that many blame on international lenders such as euro zone heavyweight Germany for exacerbating tax hikes and spending cuts, about a quarter of Greeks are jobless, including over half of those aged under 25.

The study presented to ministers by the influential economic think-tank Bruegel outlined how unemployment had risen to 11 percent of the European Union workforce last year, as governments slashed spending.

The axe fell hardest on the young, the study found, with children in families of the unemployed also bearing the brunt.   Continued...