Europe's trade unions set to meet in Athens
European trade unions gather Monday for their confederation's 12th congress, held this year in Athens because of its economic crisis with unionists saying austerity measures are not working.
"We selected Athens as the venue for our 12th Congress because it is the eye of the storm which threatens Europe and the euro," confederation secretary general John Monks, a British national, told journalists Sunday.
"Greece was the cradle of Western civilisation, now it's the cradle of Europe's economic crisis," Monks, 66, added.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) includes 82 confederations from 36 countries and 12 continental federations. The grouping meets every four years.
Europe's trade unions largely reject the assessment of the continent's financial and economic crisis adopted by leading politicians in Brussels, London and Frankfurt.
Political leaders are increasingly calling for a tough restructuring of Greece's debt just one year after implementing an emergency aid package that was supposed to give Greece the help it needed to avoid default.
"Some of the reasons can be laid at Greece's own door -- the problems with tax collection in particular," Monks said, regarding the country's struggles to meet its loan obligations.
But, he argued, the terms set out by the EU and the International Monetary Fund "have been too tough. The debt repayments are too much, too soon."
In May 2010 Greece received a 110-billion-euro (156-billion-dollar) loan, initially scheduled to for repayment in 2013.
Speculation has mounted in recent days that Greece will need an additional 60 billion euros ($85 billion) over the next two years as it won't be able to return to financial markets next year as expected to re-finance its debt.
A severe recession has hampered the country's efforts to stabilise its finances.
Monks said his solution to the Greek crisis includes "some debt restructuring" and "some easing of the austerity terms," adopted by Athens to cut state expenditure and favoured by creditor governments and the IMF.
"What is already evident is that the austerity measures are not working. Growth in Greece ... is very stagnant," he said.
Monks lambasted credit rating agencies who "circle the country like sharks around a wounded victim," faulting the EU for waffling on "whether to launch another lifeboat."
He also scolded Europe's more stable economies, who, while offering assistance to troubled countries like Greece, treat them "as feckless spendthrifts, requiring punishment much as any help."
"That is unacceptable to us," he said.
Monks, who has headed the confederation for eight years, will be replaced at the conference by Bernadette Segol of France, head of a federation of European workers in the banking and communication sectors.
© 2011 AFP