EU expects more Portugal austerity, unions march in protest

* EU finance ministers urge Lisbon to commit to more reform

* Finmins say austerity in Europe necessary to ensure growth

* Thousands of European workers to protest against austerity

By Marton Dunai

GODOLLO, Hungary, April 9 (Reuters) – EU finance ministers
on Saturday urged Portugal to commit to structural reform and
defended the region’s austerity steps, as thousands of European
workers gathered in Budapest to protest against spending cuts.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the 27-nation
bloc held a second day of informal talks outside the Hungarian
capital on their reponse to the euro zone debt crisis after
Portugal on Wednesday became the third euro zone country to ask
for EU and IMF financial aid.

EU ministers said that in return for an estimated 80 billion
euros in emergency loans over three years, Lisbon would have to
commit to further structural reforms to bring down its budget
deficit and debt in a sustainable way.

“The rules are very clear. Whoever needs assistance by other
European member states and member states of the euro zone, he
has to deliver sustainable measures for reducing the deficits
because the deficits are the reason why they need help,” German
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) expects some
30,000 people from all over Europe to march in central Budapest
later on Saturday in protest against austerity policies imposed
in most EU countries, which ETUC believes are not necessary.

Schaeuble said the protests were wrong and that austerity
was needed to ensure sustainable economic growth.

“I can understand, but I think it’s wrong because what we
are doing is to work for a sustainable framework for growth and
for sustainable growth a stable currency is a pre-condition, and
stable budgets are a pre-condition — if we run too high
deficits (we are not upholding) our responsibility to future
generations,” he said.

The ETUC said on its website that the austerity plans exerted
pressure to reduce wages and interfered with the independence of
collective bargaining.

“These social regression measures are taken whilst
scandalous bonuses continue to be paid,” the ETUC said. “The
European trade unions are against these policy choices.”

European Union leaders agreed last month that all EU
countries would start consolidating their budgets this year as
Europe seeks to reassure financial markets that its fiscal
policies are sustainable and draw a line under the year-long
debt crisis.
“We know that the decisions that are being taken assume
efforts and are difficult. But (these decisions) are necessary
because we need to grow and we need to reduce our deficit to
keep funding the welfare state,” Spanish Economy Minister Elena
Salgado told reporters.

“So, we understand their position (of trade unions) but we
would also like that they understand ours,” she said.
(Reporting by Ecofin team, writing by Jan Strupczewski, editing
by Susan Fenton)

EU expects more Portugal austerity, unions march in protest