15th Dec 2019

Thousands protest outside ECB's new headquarters

  • Burnt out car at ECB protests (Photo: jluster)

Thousands of protestors demonstrated in front of the European Central Bank's (ECB) new headquarters in Frankfurt Wednesday (18 March), but the bank's chief said it ins’t "not fair" to blame it for austerity policies undertaken by governments.

"As an EU institution that has played a central role throughout the crisis, the ECB has become a focal point for those frustrated with this situation. This may not be a fair charge - our action has been aimed precisely at cushioning the shocks suffered by the economy," said Mario Draghi at the inauguration ceremony for the €1.3 billion premises.

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  • German police in action in Frankfurt (Photo: jluster)

"Solidarity is central to European integration and it is right that countries have supported each other during the crisis. But the euro area is not a political union of the sort where some countries permanently pay for others."

He noted that the 19 euro countries must be able to "stand on their own two feet" and are "responsible" for their policies.

Outside the building, which has housed ECB staff for four months already, thousands protested against the bank's and Germany's eurozone policies.

“In the past, we protested against things like the rescue of the banks in Europe," said Werner Renz, a representative of protest group Attac, according to Reuters.

"The focus of our protests this year is on Greece. We need more of Athens in Europe and less of Berlin. There is no way Greece can repay all its debt. The situation can't be solved by austerity alone."

Greece's radical-left government, in power since January, has been trying to reach a deal with its eurozone partners on what reforms it needs to make in order to get the next tranche of bailout money.

It came to power on the back of election promises to stop austerity - but its creditors have refused to release money until Athens commits to certain reforms.

Greek banks lenders have been cut off from regular ECB finance lines and are taking emergency credit from the country's central bank.

Finance minister Yanis Varafakis has characterised the bank's approach to Greece as "asphyxiating".

Draghi, for his part, recently launched a €1.1 trillion plan to boost inflation and the economy and was credited with taking the heat of out of the eurozone crisis in 2012 with this “whatever it takes” promise to save the euro.

In return he has repeatedly asked eurozone governments to undertake structural reforms, saying fiscal or monetary stimulus will not be enough to revive the economy.

In his speech on Wednesday, Draghi said that the more economic decision-making powers move to EU level, the more democracy must move too.

"Making policy without adequate representation and accountability does not work. So we need to deepen our economic union and our political union together," he said, referring to the European Parliament.

"Inevitably European democracy will be different," he said but added he was certain that "in giving up some formal sovereignty, people will gain in effective sovereignty".

The ECB will contribute to a paper on deepening economic and monetary union to be presented at an EU leaders summit in June.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who is leading the further-integration debate, recently said the report was "essential" as the outside world does not know where the eurozone is heading.

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