By BARRY HATTON
LISBON, Portugal (AP) â¿¿ Serving a frugal lunch in their kitchen not much bigger than a bathroom, Pedro and Elena Baptista spoon stewed chicken feet onto their boiled potatoes and leave the slightly meatier wings for their 12-year-old daughter, Vania, and 7-year-old son, Joao.
The Baptista family counts itself among the casualties of an unrelenting financial crisis that is squeezing the life out of some European Union economies, including Portugal. Pedro Baptista, a stocky 37-year-old, has found work as a part-time window cleaner but his wife Elena, 35, has been on welfare for almost a year after losing her job in a school canteen. Scraping by on a monthly household income of â¿¬650 ($840) and constantly going cap-in-hand to charities and family members has sapped their confidence.
But Pedro is determined to stay positive. "Ups and downs are part of life. Things will improve," he says. "We just have to hold on."
Exactly how long is hard to say, however, as Portugal's prime minister warns his nation to harden itself for more austerity.
It seems that every time Europe's leaders appear to have contained the continent's 3-year-old crisis over too much government debt, it erupts again â¿¿ witness the recent woes in Cyprus. Across Europe, the long-held belief that the state will always provide for its citizens' well-being is vanishing.
In return for rescue loans, governments across the region are slashing spending and raising taxes. However, the austerity has a knock-on effect of choking the growth needed to pull countries out of their nosedive. Despite the acute hardship, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said Sunday that his government must cut even deeper. That's because the Constitutional Court last week struck down some austerity measures aimed at government workers and pensioners, denying the government more than 1.3 billion euros in anticipated savings.