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Today in Euromess: Austerity Lost?

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Milos Bicanski GETTY IMAGES In Greece, it’s deja vu all over again: Unions are staging a new round of strikes and work stoppages against the austerity measures put forward by the new interim government. Not incidentally, those would be the same austerity measures that have to pass if Greece wants to receive a bailout from the E.U.

Greek Unions announced today that they will kick off December with a one-day strike to protest the austerity measures that the parliament will begin debating a few days later. This comes after a four-hour work stoppage today by workers in the Athenian subway system.

No matter who implements it, austerity isn’t that popular. “The government has changed but the unjust and ineffective policy hasn’t changed at all,” Greek union head Yiannis Panagopoulos told the Associated Press. “For as long as this policy, which leaves social corpses in its wake, continues, we will stand firm against it.”

Austerity isn’t popular, but it’s necessary. At least, that’s the message that the European Union is doubling down on. Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker is demanding Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos’ written word that his government will implement new austerity measures to cut the country’s debt before sending over the next installment of last year’s bailout package. Without that next installment, Greece would likely default before Christmas.

Austerity challenges aren’t unique to Greece and, even after they’re passed, can prove challenging. United Kingdom prime minister David Cameron admitted today that, under the weight of public and private debt, tackling his country’s debt has been “proving harder than anyone envisaged.”

Greece’s new, technocratic government is walking a challenging tightrope on austerity, caught between the demands of the European Union and its own citizens. There is, as Charalambos A. Vlachoutsicos of the University of Athens points out, “very little margin for error” for the country’s leaders. In a Harvard Business Review piece, he lists nine objectives Greece needs to accomplish to survive the financial crisis. He includes both “implement the structural reforms and complies with the other conditions required by the EU” and getting labor unions to “finally stop boycotting the reforms.” Pulling off those twin objectives at the same time will prove a difficult balancing act in the weeks to come.

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