3rd Feb 2023

Strike: Minimal disruption to EU summit

  • EU leaders were planning to use a military airport, but the situation could still change (Photo:

Brussels' main airport was working as normal and access roads to the EU capital were open on Monday (30 January) despite a general strike on the day of the summit.

The main airport in Zaventem cancelled some flights as a precaution - from Washington, Frankfurt and Berlin among others - and warned of delays, but several early flights from African and European destinations landed as normal.

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A spokeswoman for the Belgian federal police told this website there are "no problems whatsoever" getting into Brussels by car.

She noted that protesters had planned to set up roadblocks on entry points, but one, in the Drogenbos district, had already been dismantled. "They can always try, but the police has the right to clear them," she said.

She added there are no big rallies scheduled in the EU capital. But the heads of three trade unions - the FGTB, CSC and CGSLB - aim to speak to press outside the summit venue at 11.30am local time.

An EU official noted that leaders had planned to use a military airport in Beauvechain, some 30km outside Brussels, and to transfer to the summit venue by helicopter if necessary. "The summit starts at 3pm, so we are taking stock of the situation as it develops," he said.

A spokesman for the Danish EU presidency said Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was coming into Beauvechain as things stood at 9am.

Meanwhile, Belgian press reports that journalists at the summit - the 14th in just two years as the EU tries to keep up with financial developments - will not get their customary free lunch due to problems with catering services, making do with water and sandwiches instead.

The glitch is in keeping with the Danish presidency, which earlier announced it would be serving tap water at its events as a symbol of hard times.

The general strike is the first in Belgium in 18 years and targets austerity measures designed to save €11 billion.

There will be no international trains. The country's second airport, in Charleroi, is closed. There is no public transport or postal services. Schools have suspended classes. Hospitals are offering basic services only and pickets are expected outside the Peugot car plant, big supermarkets and outside the Dexia bank and AG insurance headquarters.

For their part, FGTB trade union leaders said in a statement that the austerity measures unfairly hit rank-and-file workers and will harm growth: "The efforts of the banks have been limited [and] the fight against tax evasion has been left to one side ... this austerity plan has been designed to please the financial markets."

Anti-austerity angst in Belgium is not confined to the working classes, however.

"Who knows [economic affairs commissioner] Olli Rehn? Who knows where he has come from and what he has done? Nobody. Yet he tells us how we should conduct economic policy. Europe has no democratic legitimacy to do that," the country's enterprise minister, Paul Magnette said earlier this month after Rehn called for deeper cuts in the Belgian budget than originally foreseen.

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Besides a treaty on fiscal discipline, European leaders meeting in Brussels on Monday will also seek to adopt non-binding measures on employment. Their summit will come in the midst of a general strike expected to paralyse the EU capital.

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