Austerity Fight in Europe: EU Meets, Greeks in the Streets

Battlelines drawn as EU bailouts demand more and more from struggling nations

As ministers and heads of state from EU member countries met in Brussels on Thursday, tens of thousands of Greeks--including angry citizens, students, and workers--took to the streets of Athens marking the clear division lines between one Europe demanding ever deeper social cuts and those poised to continue their fight against a top-down austerity regime that has frayed the very notion of a unified Eurozone.

The Guardian is providing ongoing live coverage of the day's events, already reporting that riot police have attempted to clear Syntagma Square, firing off toxic teargas cannisters. Some protesters have responded with molotov cocktails and petrol bombs.

"Enough is enough. They've dug our graves, shoved us in and we are waiting for the priest to read the last words," Konstantinos Balomenos, a 58-year-old worker at a water utility whose wage has been halved to 900 euros and has two unemployed sons, told Reuters.

"This austerity is making all of Europe's south rebel, the euro will be destroyed," he said.

Reuters adds:

Greece is stuck in its worst downturn since World War Two and must make at least 11.5 billion euros of cuts to satisfy the "troika" of the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, and secure the next tranche of a 130-billion-euro bailout.

"Agreeing to catastrophic measures means driving society to despair and the consequences as well as the protests will then be indefinite," said Yannis Panagopoulos, head of the GSEE private sector union, one of two major unions that represent about 2 million people, or half of Greece's workforce.

In Brussels, a centerpoint of debate will be around proposals by Germany that would give the EU more robust and interventionist authority over the national budgets of member countries.

"We have made good progress on strengthening fiscal discipline with the fiscal pact but we are of the opinion, and I speak for the whole German government on this, that we could go a step further by giving Europe real rights of intervention in national budgets," Merkel told the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament.

Merkel's largest adversary on this point--not counting the thousands of people who have marched in the streets in Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere--is newly-elected president of France, Francois Hollande, who in an interview with European newspapers this week, arguedthat Merkel's push for a more centralized European system would be an erosion of democracy in the Eurozone.

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