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By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
Six weeks of vacation a year. Retirement at 60. Thousands of euros for having a baby. A good university education for less than the cost of a laptop.
The system known as the European welfare state was built after World War II as the keystone of a shared prosperity meant to prevent future conflict. Generous lifelong benefits have since become a defining feature of modern Europe.
Now the welfare state - cherished by many Europeans as an alternative to what they see as dog-eat-dog American capitalism - is coming under its most serious threat in decades: Europe's sovereign debt crisis.
Deep budget cuts are under way across Europe. Although the first round is focused mostly on government payrolls - the least politically explosive target - welfare benefits are looking increasingly vulnerable.
"The current welfare state is unaffordable," said Uri Dadush, director of the Carnegie Endowment's International Economics Program. "The crisis has made the day of reckoning closer by several years in virtually all the industrial countries."
Germany will decide next month just how to cut at least 3 billion euros ($3.75 billion) from the budget. The government is suggesting for the first time that it could make fresh cuts to unemployment benefits that include giving Germans under 50 about 60 percent of their last salary before taxes for up to a year. That benefit itself emerged after cuts to an even more generous package about five years ago.