EU seats- protesters’ divide

The 19-20 summit followed the street demonstrations. New sign to the EU

Three big tractors parked a block a away from the venue of the summit, in Rond-point Schuman, are the most evident – albeit non-threatening – sign that Europe is knocking on the doors of EU palaces, voicing protests against the Fiscal compact, austerity measures, unemployment, banks and finance, common rules on agriculture and on services. The rallies marking the opening of the European Council meeting of December 19-20 in Brussels brought to the streets of the Belgian capital city young people and labourers, farmers, feminists, consumers and independent movements, unions and associations alike. Unrelenting crisis.  To say the truth, the marches along Rue Royal, boulevard du Jardin botanique, Belliard and rue de la Loi, up to parc du Cinquantenaire, were far from being of great consequence. Yet, they sent a message that was echoed in other European capitals: people’s Europe is restless, the crisis impacted certainties and hope, while politics – at national and supranational level – proved incapable of responding to citizens’ expectations. “This summit is illegitimate. It’s at the service of banks, multinationals and armaments”, emblematically declared Felipe Vankeirsbilck, general secretary of the Belgian employees and executives union: an indirect reference to the agenda of the European Council, during which EU28 Heads of State and Government were called to discuss banking union, security Policy and defense. Fires and elections. The EU has thus become the catalyst of all dissatisfactions. Among the protestors a group of youths from Athens distributed leaflets “against Greece’s EU presidency” due to take office as of January 1st. “We are against social barbarity and devastating austerity”, said a young woman with her face covered by a woollen scarf. It’s cold along the streets of Brussels, people keep themselves warm with improvised bonfires along rue Belliard, not far from the seat of the European Parliament. “And don’t tell me to go and vote in May’s European elections”, cut short the young Greek girl, who before leaving mildly added that she is without a job “despite a degree in economics.” A few meters’ ahead two men in blue overalls beat empty bins with their clubs shouting “for democracy”, “for jobs.” Employed and the unemployed. Conversely from similar protests that broke out a few days ago in other European countries, the march in Brussels brought together organized unions and manufacturers’ organizations, youth associations and NGOs. The vehicles of the national delegations carrying the EU leaders to the summit – Angela Merkel, the object of the loudest protests, as well as François Hollande, Herman Van Rompuy, Enrico Letta, José Manuel Barroso… passed through Toison d’Or and avenue d’Auderghem. Loud police helicopters kept watch. Further down another roadblock was monitored by riot Police. A young man on a Sushi shop express motorbike who crossed the block on the side of the protestors was chased and shouted at with unpleasant words. New tensions risk being sparked off between those in and those out of employment. A growing divide? Once the demonstrations waned away, the activity in EU seats returned to gain centre stage. At the European Council seat, located in the Justus Lipsius Building, debates focus on monetary and banking union, security strategy and defense industry, enlargement – eight EU governments endorsed a proposal on Albania’s candidacy to EU adhesion, while others voiced their opposition -. On the eve of the summit, President Herman Van Rompuy outlined the achievements of Community policy in the past months, which include the Multiannual Financial Framework, set to encourage 900 billion-worth investments across Europe, in a seven-year period. He highlighted a set of hanging issues, notably regarding the economy: “Completing banking union is our priority. It is essential for the stability of the European financial sector and the banks’ ability to grant loans to our economies.” Eurogroup and Ecofin, which preceded the summit, gave their go-ahead for the joint management of banking crises. But the impression is that the news did not even reach the ears of Europeans. The divide separating corridors of power and citizens is still too wide.”

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