Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Protests against 'austerity summit' turn violent

  • A protester hurling a rock at Belgian riot police (Photo: Leigh Phillips)

Trade union protests outside an EU summit in Brussels against the austerity being imposed across the continent by the bloc turned violent on Thursday (24 March), as riot police battled rock-wielding demonstrators with water cannon and pepper spray.

Four separate marches across the European capital comprising some 20,000 workers, according to organisers, converged on the meeting of European premiers and presidents. Police put the figure closer to 12,000.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The unions are protesting the imposition of the deepest level of economic integration in the EU's history - the delivery of 'economic governance' in the union that will require wage restraint, hikes in retirement ages, public sector cutbacks and limits on government spending, amongst other stringent measures.

"This happens while bankers and CEOs are continuing to receive huge and scandalous bonuses and pay and very little has been done to remove what really causes the crisis," ETUC said in a statement.

"The European trade union movement stands clearly against these policies and states that this is not only unfair because the burden is carried only by the ones who are not responsible for the crisis, but also wrong from a economic and strategic point of view."

Giant banners demanding: "Competitiveness Pact: No. Austerity Pact: No. Solidarity Pact: Yes" were draped by campaigners covering the centre of the roundabout at the top of the European quarter.

The violence kicked off after a few dozen red-dressed members of the Belgian socialist trade union, the General Federation of Belgian Workers (FGTB) attempted to break through police barricades and threw objects at the police.

According to police, 12 officers were injured in the clashes, which shut down traffic on much of the ring road surrounding the centre of the city. By mid-afternoon, the demonstrations had begun to wind down.

Similar actions were due to take place in Spain and Germany, according to trade unions, with a further major more nationally-focussed anti-austerity march to hit London on Saturday.

The demonstrations are part of a series of rolling actions across Europe. On 16 March in Bucharest some 50,000 workers hit the streets, according to the European Trades Union Congress and on 9 April in Budapest, Hungary's six trade unions are to descend upon a meeting of EU finance ministers.

Despite the violence, the protests in Brussels were actually scaled back from what the FGTB had originally threatened. Earlier this month, the union central had said it wanted to shut down air traffic control, the Eurostar train and all highways leading into the capital, but other unions felt such action went too far.

The anger highlights concerns expressed yesterday by one EU diplomat who told reporters that the cuts need to be imposed "as quickly as possible, very quickly when it comes to the most unpopular measures" in order to not get bogged down by such opposition.

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy denied that economic governance targetted working people: "To the people demonstrating outside, I say: 'We take your worries seriously, but what we do is not about dismantling social protection. It is about making sure that our economies are competitive enough to create jobs and sustain the standard of living for all our citizens."

Demonstrators stalk Greek ministers across Europe

The protest came after a group of demonstrators invaded an event in the European Parliament on Wednesday evening where the Greek culture minister, Pavlos Geroulanos, was speaking.

A group of young Brussels-based Greeks unveiled a banner denouncing the European Union and the International Monetary Fund during a celebration in Brussels of the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, when Athenians managed to resist an attack by the Persian Empire. Protester Yiorgos Vassalos interrupted a film about the historical event, describing the EU and IMF as an "occupation force" akin to the "barbarians" that fought the Greeks two and half millennia ago.

While organisers were not pleased with the invasion of their event, the protesters received applause from many of those in the largely Greek audience in the packed EU parliament chamber.

In the last week, protestors have organised flash-mob-type actions when Greek ministers have appeared in public in different countries, including interrupting a speech by Prime Minister George Papandreou at Humboldt University in Berlin and an event in Paris attended by deputy premier Theodoros Pagalos.

On Wednesday, the Greek minister of labour, Louka Kasteli, was confronted by a group of angry unemployed workers who shouted him down and took over a press conference in the region of Macedonia. Similar protests trailed visits by Papandreou to the island of Syros last week while Pagalos was also found himself trapped in a taverna for two hours in the town of Kalyvia as a crowd of 500 furious locals hurled insults and yogurt at the MP.

Aris Chatzistefanou a reporter with Skai media group in Greece told EUobserver the anger in the country is boiling over even amongst regular citizens: "Not a single person from each of the main two parties can walk through the centre of Athens without being assaulted."

"MPs have stopped going to restaurants they used to go to. Not just because they are worried they will be shouted at or attacked. The restaurant owners are telling them not to come because it's bad for business."

EUOBSERVER TV / BRUSSELS (23 March 2011) - Demonstrators unfurl banners during a speech by the Greek culture minister in the European Parliament.

Watch more EUobserver videoes here

US to put tariffs on European whiskies, cheese

After a 15-year legal battle, the US was given the green light to impose tariffs on EU products. The EU is threatening countermeasures but wants to negotiate. Transatlantic ties have suffered another blow.

News in Brief

  1. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder
  2. Erdogan accuses EU of 'standing by terrorists' in Syria
  3. Migrants riot in Maltese camp
  4. Spanish PM refuses dialogue with Catalonia president
  5. Putin: Russia will help Africa without 'conditions'
  6. Almost 200 arrests in Catalonia independence protests
  7. Report: Russian hackers used Iranian cover to attack UK
  8. Next EU economy chief calls for looser budget policies

Opinion

Why von der Leyen must put rights at core of business

Ursula von der Leyen's in-tray must include those European executives on trial for systematic workplace harassment, the break-up of European slavery rings, and allegations of European companies' abuse in palm oil, including child labour, land grabs, and deforestation.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  2. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  3. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  4. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  5. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls
  6. EU leaders spent just 12 minutes on climate
  7. Crunch Brexit vote in UK This WEEK
  8. EU envoy sheds light on weird US diplomacy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us