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Portuguese teddy bear makers plead with Merkel

Published: 12 Nov 2012 15:28 GMT+01:00

It would be a "tragedy" if the Steiff Teddy Bear factory leaves Oleiros, a village 200 kilometres north of Lisbon, José Marques told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper on Sunday.

The company employs 103 workers and is the fourth largest employer in the region but is mired in rumours that the German owners want to move production to Tunisia where costs are lower.

The Steiff company, which has its headquarters in Baden-Württemberg, has neither confirmed nor denied rumours that it is planning the move, although "the company wants to produce more cheaply," factory director Narciso Guimarães told the Portuguese Jornal de Negocios newspaper.

"I will deploy all methods open to me to share our concerns with Merkel during her visit to Lisbon on Monday, so that she will change the company's mind," Mayor José Marques told Hamburger Abendblatt.

"I want Mrs Merkel to understand how desperate the families of the workers are, how much they are worried about their future and the future of their children," said Marques. If Merkel is serious about wanting to help Portugal, he said, she must act "and make sure German companies stay in our country."

Merkel said she was prepared for this kind of reception in Portugal.

"I think a lot of people will voice the difficulties they face because of the austerity measures," Merkel said in an interview with Portugal's RTP television on the eve of her visit.

The 2,300-strong community in Oleiros is just one of thousands in bailed-out Portugal who are deeply worried over Lisbon's sweeping austerity cuts.

Merkel's trip to defend these cuts in the face of swelling street protests coincides with a review of Lisbon's €78 billion international bailout, and comes at a time of a growing outcry in the eurozone over the impact of austerity measures and a pivotal time in the euro crisis.

Police were deployed in large numbers during Monday's protest, blocking off some streets and holding at bay demonstrators who booed Merkel, accusing her of seeking to dominate Europe by demanding austerity policies to fix state finances.

Portugal's biggest union CGTP said it planned a protest "in defence of national sovereignty" while activists from the "indignant" movement said they would rally under the slogan "Merkel out!"

Despite the hardship, the German leader said there was no need for a renegotiation of Portugal's stringent programme, which has already been relaxed, and no need for a second bail-out.

"Of course a programme of this kind sparks major debate but the government has shown great courage in taking these measures and I have the greatest respect for what this country is doing," she said.

"At this stage there is no reason for a renegotiation. Portugal is respecting its commitments with courage."

Merkel will meet President Anibal Cavco Silva before holding talks with Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.

At the same time, the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund will conduct a quarterly review of Lisbon's progress in meeting the terms of its bailout. The one-week mission will decide whether to release the next €2.5-billion payment from the programme.

During its last visit, the powers behind the bailout relaxed Portugal's deficit targets in part because of the damage the cut-backs had wrought on the economy, which is in recession with record unemployment.

Portugal has already swallowed the budget pill. Its centre-right coalition last month adopted an austerity budget for 2013 that includes swingeing public spending cuts and sharp tax increases.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho has undertaken to lower the public deficit to the equivalent of 4.5 percent of gross domestic product next year, from a target of 5 percent this year.

His government is seeking €5.3 billion in savings in the 2013 budget, 80 percent of which will come from tax hikes.

AFP/The Local/jlb

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

16:20 November 12, 2012 by lucksi
And I thought that Steiff was a German company. So, on paper they are and are just producing their German goods somewhere outside of Germany. Figures.
16:43 November 12, 2012 by puisoh
It is heart-breaking, only 103 employees and the 4th largest employer in the region.. I really can feel how these people treasure their job.
16:45 November 12, 2012 by MrNosey
@lucksi

So what? Take a look at other famous companies. It doesn't matter if they're based in Germany, UK, US, Japan, etc. They all produce in low-wage countries.
17:58 November 12, 2012 by Englishted
I worry that Portugal's wage level is already low yet in there greed firms look for even cheaper workers ,where will it end we in Europe simply cannot compete with China on the wage front yet firms are still going there ,sooner rather than later they will destroy Europe .In another article today the rise of the right in East German is highlighted but if governments and capitalists keep shoving austerity down the peoples necks something will crack ,wake up to the fact that bulling Southern Europe is only a trial till they turn on us and it has started but only in a small way,like a cancer it will grow if not checked.
01:43 November 13, 2012 by grazhdanin
What 'crisis'?
19:02 November 15, 2012 by yllusion
This is what the European Union and its members should be fiercely fighting against now. How do they think they will solve the crisis if they allow companies to move abroad and take the jobs and the money to other countries, therefore forcing europeans to unemployment? China is strong today because of 20+ years of neoliberalism, which saw huge companies moving to asia in order to EXPLORE cheap labour and consequently profit more. The basis of our crisis is no other but GREED. The asians, the poor countries were once again explored, while the west suffered the consequences, with only a handful of "smart guys" making millions and billions. And ironically, if we want to impose taxes and sanctions on the east countries to restablish trade balance, the political class will suffer pressure from these big economical players with their production lines settled there. It's clearly a fight against the greedy top layer of our societies and the politicians tied to their parties, which are often financed by those big players, don't dare to take the necessary measures to contain and punish them, and shift the flow of money once again to the workers and to the middle class. Greed tied to corruption is what is dooming us today, and Europe lacks the balls to take serious, paradigm changing measures to fight it.
20:43 November 15, 2012 by Englishted
@ yllusion

Nearly correct but it wasn't "neoliberalism" it was rampant capitalism and it is still there and getting stronger look at the gap between rich and poor world wide is there anywhere it is getting less ?.
14:26 November 16, 2012 by yllusion
I stand by the argument that it was "neoliberalism", which is a child of capitalism anyway, because in the past 30 years many countries have opened their doors and implemented policies to welcome big international companies without safeguarding human and labour rights, without strong economic, financial and judicial policies, thus allowing corruption, and without ensuring that those companies would not only profit but also bring real human development to the communities where they were installed. The wealth of the companies have to be distributed among its employees. It's not acceptable to have workers at minimum wage and shareholders making tens of millions per year each. With power comes responsibility, but responsibility was not demanded. In the past kingdoms were lands, today kingdoms are companies with their wealthy elite.
03:09 November 17, 2012 by soros
The problem with countries like Greece and Portugal is not that they don't work "hard" or can't produce quality, but they don't work smart. Skills need to be taught in trade schools, value needs to be added to a capable workforce, and higher-value products need to be produced. Many countries have unions that have been demanding more while giving less. This includes France and Spain. You want more social benefits, you need to produce more value to pay for it, not borrow money from international lenders.

But, how to get out of this mess?
15:15 November 17, 2012 by steel jaws
The importance for German companies to stay in Germany is of absolute necessity for all of us who wish to stay permanently in this country. Not only do these concerns pay the taxes which keep the nation going, but they also provide the jobs which provide the basis for a contented and peaceful society.

This responsibility is unfortunately being avoided by the owners and managers of ever more enterprises. Only this week, was to read in a local Bielefeld newspaper, that one of the largest Button-making factories in Europe is sacking off 55 employees.

At the same time, the general manager is visiting Asia. Rumours have it, that there a new factory may be established.

Already the firm is increasing its production in other overseas countries, despite the fact that such produce is often of much lower quality than that which is made in Germany.

This short sighted management may over a short period seem an ideal way of avoiding German taxes. The end result however, due to poorer quality and less service, will almost certainly lead to loss of customers and less trust in German Companies as a whole.

It is therefore quite understandable when young employees, working in German firms, are worried about their future chances.
07:38 November 19, 2012 by mitanni
The average German can buy computers for a few hundred euros, have paperthin televisions that fill a wall, get a smartphone for less than a hundred euros, fly around the globe, have nearly free and unlimited phone service around the globe, can get entire libraries for free, live longer and healthier than ever before. Unemployment in Germany is 5%. Yes, that's what capitalism, neoliberalism, and free trade have brought you, and if people don't wreck it with socialist policies, this will continue. You're free to complain about it, but frankly, doing so makes you look rather silly.
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