Unions staged a general strike in Belgium today in protest of austerity measures. The strike coincides with a summit by EU leaders in Brussels.
The Guardian reports:
The issues behind the strike are the same as those on the agenda for the summit. Greece's desperate plight hovers over the meeting, although formally there is no mention of Greece on the agenda or in the statements drafted for the meeting.
Instead the leaders of the 27 governments will discuss how to underpin an EU recovery – of which there is absolutely no sign – with "smart growth" policies, which would entail medium-term structural reforms, cutting labour costs, reshaping labour markets and redirecting surplus EU budget funds towards the eurozone periphery, where the debt crisis is hitting hardest.
The leaders are also to finalise two new treaties directly dealing with the euro crisis.
The first is the German-led "fiscal compact" which supersedes the currency's rulebook, the stability pact, by enshrining debt and deficit ceilings across the eurozone, giving Brussels greater powers to enforce compliance and penalise offenders, and making the fines imposed on delinquents more automatic and less open to political abuse.
The second treaty sets up the eurozone's new permanent bailout fund, the European stability mechanism (ESM), which is to come into operation a year earlier than planned in July with a kitty of €500bn (£420bn). The two treaties are explicitly linked, at Berlin's insistence. From March next year, a country in need will not be able to tap the bailout fund unless it has signed up to the other treaty and the stiff new fiscal and budgetary rules.
Reuters adds this voice from a protester:
"We are angry because they want to attack our pensions," said Philippe Dubois, a railway union member outside Brussels' Midi station. "We want to make some noise."
"And you don’t get growth when you suck the oxygen out of the economy by austerity, austerity, and then some,” said Christian Democrat union leader Marc Leemans.
And the Associated Press adds this from a protester fighting austerity:
“What we need is growth. Growth creates jobs. And you don’t get growth when you suck the oxygen out of the economy by austerity, austerity, and then some,” said Christian Democrat union leader Marc Leemans.
“At this stage, the poor members states are left in misery and the rich stand by and watch,” said Leemans.
Euronews has video: