Tags: EU | Europe | Paying | for | Retirement

Europe Bristles at Paying for Greek Retirement

Monday, 17 May 2010 09:22 AM

In Greece, trombone players and pastry chefs get to retire as early as 50 on grounds their work causes them late career breathing problems. Hairdressers enjoy the same perk thanks to the dyes and other chemicals they rub into people's scalps.

Then there are masseurs at steam baths: they get an early out because prolonged exposure to all that heat and steam is deemed unhealthy.

Until the Greek debt crisis, northern Europeans looked at Greek early retirement with an amused roll of the eyes. But more and more such loopholes are angering them: they bristle at being asked to pay for their laggard southern neighbors' early retirement.

When Germany's top-selling newspaper Bild asked readers in that fiscally prudent nation how they felt about coughing up hard-earned money for this kind of luxury, the daily's website lit up with comment.

In a bloc with a shared currency but no power to enforce budgetary restraint and keep members from spending themselves into messes like Greece's, the retirement quirk illustrates another fault line that crept to the surface with the debt crisis that began in Athens and is threatening to spread across the euro zone.

Germany, making available as much as 22.4 billion euros for the joint EU and IMF bailout of Greece, and which not long ago raised its retirement age from 65 to 67 to offset a shrinking, aging population, is being made "the laughing stock of Europe," one reader wrote to Bild.

Another said of the Greeks: "Why don't they call upon their gods? They seem to have enough of those."

Like many EU countries, the general retirement age in Greece is 65, although the actual average is about 61. However, the deeply fragmented system also provides for early retirement — as early as 55 for men and 50 for women — in many professions classified as "arduous and unhealthy."

The vast majority seem reasonable, like coal mining, but others, like the bakers and wind-instrument musicians, might strike some as a tad silly.

Greek pensions are low but the system is widely abused, and as part of a drive to reduce Greece's huge debt the government is trying to simplify the labyrinth of rules governing pensions and abolish early retirement rights for some categories of workers. In the end, Greeks will have to work more years, pay a bit more into the system and receive smaller pensions.

However, Greece is not the only EU country that goes easy on some professions. Spain offers early retirement not only to miners, firefighters and police, but also to singers and dancers at 60. Because of the occupational hazards, bullfighters get to hang up their capes at 55.

Some northern Europeans are less than thrilled.

"They have to decide for themselves what to do, but they cannot have Swedish expenses and American taxes, that doesn't add up," Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg told reporters this week, referring to the troubled countries in southern Europe.

"It is not reasonable to think that they should have a retirement age of 40 or 50 years and then send the bill to someone else."

Also in Stockholm, 22-year-old security guard Jenny Lindstrom, called the Greek system unfair to other Europeans and said the bloc should have a single set of rules. "I also would like to retire earlier. I don't want to work for a long time to pay for others' to retire early in other countries."

But to frame things as hardworking north vs. laid-back south is simplistic, said Vincenzo Galasso, a Milan-based professor of economics who specializes in social security systems and is affiliated with the Center for Economic Policy Research, a London think tank.

Lots of people take early retirement in Italy, but so do workers further north in Belgium and France, he told The AP.

And while Italy once pushed for introduction of a uniform EU policy on retirement pensions, the various countries systems and retirement ages differ so much that this would be a real challenge.

"We are not going to go in that direction because that would be very complicated," Galasso said.

He agreed, however, that Greece has to reform its system, saying it is just not sustainable to allow women to retire at, say, 58, and pay them a pension well into their 80s. Along with early retirement, Greece has one of Europe's highest longevity rates — with an average life expectancy of 77.1 years for men and 81.9 for women.

Amid all the recrimination, there has been some soul-searching as well. Austria, for instance, has a retirement system that is very generous — especially to public servants and those in the semi-public sector. Railway workers, for instance, can retire at just 52.

"It's easy these days to point the finger at 'the Greeks' — easy and unfair at the same time," columnist Sylvia Woergetter wrote in the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper. "It's true that the Greeks have a pension system that is brimming over with absurd privileges. But in Austria there are also pension privileges."

Still, as far away as Finland, where the government has also tried to push up the retirement age to make up for a lack of skilled workers, there is resentment over paying for early retirement in the EU's sun-baked south.

"No way. It would be really unfair on a Finnish taxpayer who is still at work at the same age as someone in the same profession in another country retires," said 60-year-old Pirkko Toivonen, perhaps with extra reason. She is a hairdresser.

© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 
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In Greece, trombone players and pastry chefs get to retire as early as 50 on grounds their work causes them late career breathing problems. Hairdressers enjoy the same perk thanks to the dyes and other chemicals they rub into people's scalps.Then there are masseurs at steam...
EU,Europe,Paying,for,Retirement
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2010-22-17
Monday, 17 May 2010 09:22 AM
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