Sunday

21st Jul 2019

Street violence, trade union demos cast shadow on EU summit

  • Trade union chief Monks: 'There's something new going on' (Photo: Tilemahos Efthimiadis)

Fresh, extremely violent riots in which the Greek finance ministry was set ablaze and an ex-minister was beaten and left with blood streaming down his face rocked Athens on Wednesday (15 December).

Anger at EU-IMF-imposed austerity is boiling over in Greece.

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

Some 20,000 workers according to police and 100,000 according to organisers marched through the Greek capital and descended on the parliament as part of a union-co-ordinated 24-hour general strike. Furious protestors threw chunks of concrete, bottles and molotov cocktails in pitched battles with police, who responded with tear gas. Demonstrators launched fire bombs at the second floor of the Ministry of Economics, setting the entrance alight.

Former transport minister Kostis Hatzidakis from the conservative opposition party New Democracy was set upon by a 100-or-so strong group of young protesters after he exited the parliament building. Left bleeding from his head, Mr Hatzidakis sought shelter in a nearby building and was unable to reach hospital.

Violent rucks took place in front of the Athens Polytechnic, where police on motorcycles were attacked and thrown from their vehicles when they attempted to drive into the demonstration. A few thousand strikers attempted to occupy the main offices of the national trade union, the GSEE, complaining of the unions' close links to the governing Pasok party.

Protesters also attacked shop windows and banks across the capital city and set fire to cars, a riot police bus and rubbish dumpsters, as well as starting blazes near luxury hotels close to parliament.

Another 20,000 protesters struck the second city of Thessaloniki, with young people hurling molotov cocktails at a government building and attacking shops and banks.

The general strike itself has paralysed the country: flights are grounded, trains silent and ships stuck in harbours. Schools are closed, rubbish has not been collected, bank workers have been on strike since Tuesday and hospitals are providing minimal services only.

Splits emerging in Pasok

The violence comes after the centre-left Pasok administration won a crucial vote on Tuesday on labour market changes that will see massive pay cuts and severely limit unions' right to collective bargaining with private sector employers.

For much of the past year, the governing party has managed to hold itself together despite the draconian nature of its legislation.

Prime Minister George Papandreou is increasingly bleeding support amongst his own troops, however. He has been forced into meetings with opposition leaders as an insurance policy to get measures through and has resorted to an emergency procedure to pass the latest bill, a method which limits discussion in the chamber to just two MPs from the government's side.

"The way you are behaving is creating a crisis of confidence in the government among Pasok MPs," Pasok MP Costas Geitonas said in Greek daily Kathemerini this week.

Greek case not isolated

The Greek violence comes in the context of wider social unrest in Europe in recent days.

Also on Wednesday, anti-government student protesters clashed with police at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. On Tuesday 100,000 anti-government demonstrators took to the streets of Rome. Young people set cars alight, hurled rocks at police and hit officers with metal bars, causing an estimated €20 million of damage. Last week students fought police in London in anger over tuition fee hikes.

In a different set of well-organised and peaceful protests, trade unions on Wednesday also organised a pan-European day of action designed to fall ahead of Thursday's EU summit, which will tackle the latest EU response to the financial crisis.

Events were held in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Spain.

Another one-off day is planned for spring, but left-wing activists in Greece are calling for an indefinite pan-European general strike to oppose the EU-led austerity measures.

The head of the European Trades Union Congress, John Monks, speaking to EUobserver explicitly ruled out the strategy, saying that especially in Germany, France, the UK or the Nordic countries it could not happen.

"I understand if you're in Greece, you might feel: 'Hey, where are the rest of you [in Europe]?' But the reality is this is a multi-speed crisis, affecting countries differently. And countries have different cultural traditions and legal systems," he said.

Commenting on the recent upsurge in violence, Mr Monks warned that the EU's chosen path of austerity "will be marked by greater social unrest, more nationalism, more protectionism."

"There has been an upsurge in militancy and social unrest. There's something new going on," he said.

He added that he was sympathetic to the call for wider action but now is not the right time: "I'll call a pan-European general strike on my last day in office."

EU parliament backs whistleblower law

MEPs backed an EU law to protect whistleblowers from retaliation in both the public and private sectors. EU states will have two years to transpose the directive.

EU commission to map gender recognition

The European Commission will start looking at how EU states determine genders - as part of an effort to make it easier for people to determine their own identities.

EU to propose scrapping summer time change

Based on the preliminary results of an online survey in which mostly Germans took part, the EU executive is proposing that the whole EU stops changing times in March and October.

Stakeholder

FIFA's schools programme aims to reach 700m children

Football clubs today invest huge sums of money in youth development and court talented young players from an early age. Children are the future – not only where football is concerned, but also for society in general.

Opinion

A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Abortion Wars
  2. EU goes on holiday as new UK PM arrives This WEEK
  3. Survey: Half of EU staff 'don't know' ethics rules
  4. Von der Leyen signals soft touch on migrants, rule of law
  5. Timmermans: von der Leyen will be tough on rule of law
  6. Timmermans trolls 'idiot' Brexit negotiators
  7. Rudderless Europe: Will real Germany please stand up?
  8. PiS & Fidesz claim credit for von der Leyen victory

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us