European leaders meeting in Brussels were met with protests against austerity as they try to work out a way to tackle the debt crisis crippling the Eurozone. Some of the protestors were arrested by police.
Thousands of protestors in Brussels were also demanding that EU leaders bring austerity measures to a close and focus on boosting growth and reducing unemployment.
The protests were led by the European Trade Union Association, and the direct action groups For A European Spring and Bloccupy.
Around 1,500 protesters rallied at the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels, according to police on the scene. Although more were seen gathering close to the European Council Summit at the Place Shuman. There have reportedly been 25 arrests by police.
The police banned protesters from marching past the banks and the seats of government in Brussels, to the dismay of many of the protesters.
“We want to be marching past the seats of government, past the people who actually have a say in what is going on, I think it’s an outrage,” Pascoe Sabido told New Europe Online.
100 of the protesters occupied the Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs in Brussels (DG ECFIN), and the headquarters of European Commissioner Oli Rehn, to make a stand against his role in austerity.
The DG ECFIN provides most of the staff whose job it is to go to indebted European countries to impose austerity measures regardless of public opinion.
Unemployment in the Eurozone is now just under 12%, while youth unemployment is at 24.2%.
Even some EU leaders acknowledged that the current situation cannot continue indefinitely and that action is needed.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the social emergency in some of our countries”, said EU president Herman Van Rompuy during the summit.
The Irish Prime Minster went further, saying, “No leader can be happy with the situation where 26 million people are out of work in the European Union. That is why we are here,” said Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
But the EU’s Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn insisted that austerity works and said that fiscal consolidation was working in Ireland.
His views were echoed by the Finish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen.
“Structural reforms don’t bear fruit overnight, but they are the best sustainable economic stimulus. Accumulating excessive debt is not,” he said.
Lode Vanoost, the former deputy speaker of the Belgian Parliament, explained that the gulf between the citizens of the EU and their governments is widening and that what is happening now “is a clash between what the public wants and what the governments and the EU are doing,” he told RT.
“There is no real willingness to hear what these people have to say. I mean it’s always about austerity, it’s always about privatization and cutting down public services. But the voices that say that exactly the opposite should be done to revive the economy are not being heard,” the international consultant observed.
He also warned that the continuing austerity drive may fuel extremism.
“People who are desperate – especially young people will look for answers on the extremes. If you want to really prevent this from happening – there is only one way out: you have to invest in jobs, especially for the young,” he said.
The general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, Bernadette Segol, said that efforts to get the EU out of recession are being borne by working people.
“The policies that have been put in place have failed; we are in a double dip recession. We see that the efforts have been put on the shoulders of the workers,” she said.