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European Austerity Measures Draw Protests

  • Lisa Bryant

A petrol bomb explodes among riot police during clashes with protesters in Athens, 15 Dec 2010

A petrol bomb explodes among riot police during clashes with protesters in Athens, 15 Dec 2010

A new wave of strikes in Greece disrupted transportation and closed schools, banks and courts Wednesday, while similar protests took place in other European Union countries against government austerity measures.

Greeks took to the streets for the second day of strikes and protests during the seventh general strike this year against new government austerity measures to reduce the high public debt and budget deficit. Protests are also taking place in France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Czech Republic at the calling of European trade unionists.

The common theme: widespread public discontent against spending cuts and other tough measures European governments are adopting to turn around their sagging economies and prevent the debt crises that have hit Greece and Ireland from spreading further.

John Monks is general secretary of the Brussels-based European Trade Union Confederation:

"I think that the message we are trying to send out today is that European Union governments are all embarking in varying speeds on the road to austerity," Monks said. "And that austerity will really begin to bite generally in the New Year, and at that time there is a real risk of the European economy plunging down into a recession."

Portugal and Spain are also battling high debts and deficits, and ratings agencies warned this week they may cut Belgium's credit rating along with Madrid's.

But Monks believes the solution for Europe is fiscal stimulus, not more cuts.

"When we got growth into the European economy, then the debts become relatively easy to manage," he added. "That is what we need at the moment, and that is what our message is today across the many capitals of the European Union."

The protests occurred on the eve of a European summit in Brussels, in which leaders are expected to approve a permanent bailout fund for ailing countries sharing the euro currency.