• Trade unions burn wooden crates near the EU summit in Brussels (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Protesters call for EU reform near summit venue

19.12.13 @ 20:30

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
  2. Nikolaj email
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BRUSSELS - As EU leaders descended upon Brussels for the summit, trade unions and members of the public have staged protests against what they describe as erosion of democracy.

“Democracy is nothing without the control of the budget by the people,” Raf Verbeke, one of the organisers, told this website on Thursday (19 December).

Verbeke said demonstrators had gathered to air grievances on the EU's fiscal compact on national budgets, secret negotiations on the EU-US free trade pact, loss of jobs, and increased financial insecurity in general.

Organised by the "D19-20" alliance of trade unions and NGOs, the protests took place in five different areas in Brussels, chosen to cause maximum disruption to traffic.

The demonstrators then came together in a street close to the EU summit venue, where people built a large pile of wooden crates and set it on fire.

Verbeke said they can no longer accept “as citizens, as a people” to have no control over ever more powerful, but unelected, EU officials. “The new debate is that politics cannot function without our help, that is the essence of the movement. We are the people,” he shouted.

Verbeke’s statement drew the attention of a small crowd and some reporters.

One Belgian diary farmer, who had brought his tractor to block the street, chimed in.

Antoni van Hyfte has 100 diary cows on his farm in Hainaut, a province in Wallonia. He is worried about what the EU-US free trade pact might mean for his livelihood.

Another demonstrator, Veronique Lorge, who works at a hospital in Brussels and who is a member of the CGSP trade union, fears the pact could further harm the EU social welfare system.

“I don’t want an American social model, otherwise I’d just migrate to the US,” she said.

The protests are set to continue until around midnight on Thursday and to restart near the European Parliament on Friday. Some 2,000 are said to have participated with around 50 arrested.

But for their part, some of the EU summit delegates have little sympathy for the demonstrators' views.

"I don't know why all these farmers are protesting today.There is nothing about agriculture on the summit agenda," one EU source said.

Protestors arrested

Meanwhile, around 14 people were arrested at a separate protest at the European Defence Agency (EDA).

Doused in fake blood, activists from Vredesactie and Agir pour la Paix, two NGOs, locked themselves in the lobby of the building for about an hour and a half before the police forced them out.

The organisers oppose what they see as the militarisation of Europe and undue influence of the arms and security industry on EU policy.

“We oppose, as a peace movement, the military approach to conflict solutions,” said a spokesperson.

He said the protest was staged at EDA because it backs the defence industry.

“The policies are not made at the summit itself, but at different EU associations that are involved in policy making,” he noted.

Similar protests, organised by the two groups, also took place at the European Commission's enterprise and industry department and at the European Parliament.

EU leaders on Thursday are set to discuss joint defence plans to strengthen the “strategic autonomy” of member states.

The idea is to reduce their dependence on US military might by creating a fleet of air-to-air refuelling tankers and surveillance drones.

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