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Just what is a European Socialist these days?

Last night, Greece’s parliament approved a controversial pension reform plan which would raise the retirement age to 65 — many Greeks currently retire around 50 —  reduce payouts, and make it easier for companies to fire workers. Just how upset are Greek workers about this? “Nobody expected this — this is worse than the occupation ...

LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images

Last night, Greece’s parliament approved a controversial pension reform plan which would raise the retirement age to 65 — many Greeks currently retire around 50 —  reduce payouts, and make it easier for companies to fire workers. Just how upset are Greek workers about this?

“Nobody expected this — this is worse than the occupation under the Germans,” said Nikos Stathas, 60, a plumber who is just retiring now. He says he has just got his pension, but he is worried about his children and grandchildren. “This will demolish their retirement,” he added.

About 300,000 people died of starvation in Athens alone, during the German occupation, but that was nothing compared to forcing future generations of Greek workers to retire at the same age as the rest of the developed world

Hyperbole aside, cuts like these are always painful for any government to make, and it’s a particular irony that they’re being made by Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou. It was his father Andreas Papandreou, who, as prime minister during the 1980s, largely established the Greek benefits system that his son is now dismantling. 

In the current print issue of FP, I write about some new research suggesting that in post-Communist Eastern Europe, Socialist government have been more likely to enact spending cuts and privatize assets than their right-wing rivals. In the response to the financial crisis, we’ve seen Socialist governments in both Eastern European countries like Hungary and Western European countries like Spain pushing through dramatic spending cuts and labor reforms to avert crisis. 

I suspect this has less to do with an ideological switch — the conservative French and British governments are pushing austerity as well — than with mainstream European parties largely reaching a concensus on the best way to respond to the crisis. The old joke about the U.S. foreign policy debate is that it’s a (American) football game played between the 40-yard lines. European economic policy is starting to look more like halfcourt basketball — both teams trying to get more points by doing the same thing. 

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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