As European leaders gathered in Brussels Thursday for the EU summit, thousands of protesters marched through the streets, blocking roads and confronting police to express opposition to the free-market laissez-faire policies that have brought about harsh austerity measures, and to a pending trade deal they say puts corporate interests above those of the people.
Roughly 10,000 people gathered in central Brussels by midday in coordination with 50 citizens' groups and labor organizations know as "Alliance D19-20"—a reference to the dates of the two-day summit.
Agencia EFE reports:
Marches by demonstrators early Thursday clogged this capital's main thoroughfares, especially those leading to the neighborhood where the headquarters of several EU's institutions are located.
Some 10,000 demonstrators congregated around midday in Brussels' EU Quarter, where the heads of state of government of the 28-nation bloc will meet on Thursday and Friday.
Protesters have been live tweeting the events throughout the day:
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In addition to the anti-austerity message, protest organizers and participants also expressed opposition to a U.S.-EU trade agreement currently being negotiated known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
“There are big problems with the transatlantic treaty which will bring us meat with hormones and antibiotics,” said Luc Hollands from the MIG farmers’ union, expressing one of the many concerns with the potential trade treaty.
Others have issued dire warns about the implications the trade pact could have on the democratic process. As George Monbiot at the Guardian put it recently, the trade agreement could grant big business the ability "to sue the living daylights out of governments" if they attempt to defend citizens against the practices of corporations.
"It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections," wrote Monbiot. "Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing."
As the Wall Street Journal reports, protesters at one point used tractors to block main routes into the city, while others lit bonfires on Rue Belliard, one of the main streets close to the European Council building.
“They are pursuing policies for big business, the big bosses, whereas we need all that money for the people," one student at the protest told Euro News. "If we don’t fight we’ll be adopting the German model, where the situation of young people, having to work for little jobs, will always be precarious."
“What we see in countries with very strong austerity like in Greece, Portugal or in Spain, is that debt goes up, the deficit goes up, so does unemployment and the number of suicides. It’s economic poison,” said Felipe Van Keirsblick from the CNE trade union representing private sector employees.