Thursday

23rd Mar 2017

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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

Eurozone chief in 'drinks and women' row

[Updated] The Netherlands' Jeroen Dijsselbloem faces calls for resignation after saying that crisis-hit countries in southern Europe spent "money on drinks and women" before being helped by others.

Greek bailout talks to 'intensify'

Greece and its creditors will meet in Brussels later this week to unblock negotiations needed for a new tranche of financial aid, amid concerns over the country's economic situation.

Varoufakis back in push for ECB transparency

The former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and German left-wing MEP Fabio De Masi want to know whether the European Central Bank overstepped its powers when putting capital controls on Greek banks in 2015.

MEPs demand stronger rules against tax evasion

MEPs in the civil liberties and economic committees voted in favour of toughening up EU wide rules on tax evasion, as they gear up for institutional talks in March on the EU's anti-money laundering directive.

Stolen Russian billions ended up in EU states

Illicit money flowing out of Russia ended up in almost every single EU state, an investigation has found, posing questions on the integrity of Europe’s banking systems.

News in Brief

  1. Russia invites EU diplomats to occupied Crimea
  2. UK parliament in lockdown after reported attack
  3. Brussels attacks remembered with minute of silence and noise
  4. Magnitsky's lawyer injured near Moscow
  5. Trump to travel to Brussels on 25 May for Nato summit
  6. Polish defence minister accuses Tusk of treason
  7. Fillon slips in polls as new allegations emerge
  8. Brexit summit for EU-27 will be on 29 April

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Advertisements
  2. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  3. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  4. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  6. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  7. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  8. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  9. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  10. Malta EU 2017Consumer Protection Laws to Be Strengthened by EU-Wide Cooperation
  11. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  12. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst

Latest News

  1. EU declaration to voice unity in troubled times
  2. Terror attack shuts down UK parliament
  3. Catalonia and Scotland at core of Europe's geopolitical conundrum
  4. La présidentielle française sous cyber-alerte maximale
  5. EU doing well in global energy ranking
  6. Child migrants endure 'abysmal conditions'
  7. French socialist woos Europe with new vision
  8. EU to Macedonia: 'Stop playing with fire'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  2. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  3. GoogleDigital Transformation in the Mobile Era: New Skills, Jobs & Growth - Debate 28 March
  4. UNICEFNew Law in Hungary on Detention of Migrant Children Raises Alarm
  5. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  7. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  8. Malta EU 2017Maltese Presidency and EP Agree on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine
  9. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Lead the Way on Women's Economic Empowerment
  11. Center for Data InnovationBuilding Smart Cities for Tomorrow's Data Economy – 28 March - Brussels