Thursday, 24 March 2011

Anti-austerity protests shut down EU Quarter

As one of the last remaining Socialist governments in Europe collapses today, the left is taking to the streets in Brussels in what seems like a last-ditch effort to stop the massive austerity cuts to government spending taking place across Europe.

This morning I had the arduous task of trying to make my way to work through the massive union demonstrations by the European Trade Union Confederation that have closed off the EU Quarter. While some parts of the protests seemed relatively peaceful and good-natured, I could already observe danger signs. The security forces are wearing body armour, riot gear and gas masks. Youths with bandanas around their faces were everywhere, particularly on the side streets. Many of the older demonstrators are already intoxicated. I saw eggs being pelted at the windows of buildings on Rue de la Loi. Firecrackers were exploding all over the place (my suitcase got hit by one in fact!). My friend tells me a window in her office was smashed by a rock. It's going to be a fun day…

The protests are surrounding today's European Council summit of all EU leaders in Brussels, where they will be discussing the 'competitiveness pact' of austerity cuts designed by Germany and France to stabilise the euro. The meeting will be held in the shadow of yesterday's bombshell news that the government of Portugal has collapsed after that country's Socialist prime minister was unable to pass the austerity cuts demanded of him by the conservative governments of Germany and France. It is the second government to fall as a result of the eurozone debt crisis.

Portugal will now almost certainly be forced to seek a bailout from Brussels, the third euro-using country to have to do so after Greece and Ireland. The fact that it will have to do this while it has no government will no doubt be alarming to the other EU leaders as well as to the debt markets. Though EU leaders were expected to come to an agreement on the future of the euro at today's meeting, it now looks like this new development will complicate things to a degree that will make any agreement today impossible.

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