Belgian protesters: Europe should be for its people
by Anadolu Agency
BRUSSELSMar 13, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Anadolu Agency
Mar 13, 2015 12:00 am
"The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury," John Maynard Keynes, one of the most influential economists of the 20th Century, declared in 1937. More than 70 years later, European Union leaders appear to not have heeded Keynes's advice, as focus on so-called "austerity measures", not jobs, continues to sweep across the 28-nation bloc. With Greece on the edge of going bankrupt amid its struggle with such economic policies imposed by the Troika of lenders, Belgian workers have also grown increasingly frustrated with their new center-right government's plans to cut spending on healthcare and delay the indexation of wages in relation to prices. "The government is taking away everything we always have struggled for," Jean Aspeslagh, a 60-year-old bookkeeper in the Belgian capital Brussels, told The Anadolu Agency.
Aspeslagh was one of thousands of other workers who gathered in Brussels this week to protest against the Belgian government's two-year extension to the age of retirement, cuts in spending on healthcare and delays to the indexation of wages in relation to prices amid calls by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for a European army to be established. Laurence Salengen, a public service employee, said: "I think that Europe should be more the Europe of the people." "Since the bank crisis there have been (many) attacks on acquisitions we have made for social systems." "There have been a lot of attacks through different European governments that are more conservatıve," she added.
Wednesday's protest, attended by up to 10,000 people, came a day after EU finance ministers approved the details of a controversial €315 billion ($388 billion) EU investment plan meant to revive the 28- nation bloc's economies. However, the heavily trailed plan, presented by Juncker last November, has been widely criticized after it was disclosed that only €21 billion of money was actually available - reallocated from existing funds. "I don't think (€315 billion investment plan) is going to do something for the people - for the workers," Aspeslagh said. "It's not going to have the effect it has to have so that everyone can work again," he added.
Juncker said in November the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) was based on reallocating funds and luring private investors into the scheme instead of taking on new debt in an effort to revive the struggling EU economy. He said the three-year scheme, starting in June 2015, would use public "seed money" of €21 billion, with the EU financing €16 billion from its budget and the European Investment Bank (EIB) providing the remaining €5 billion. It is understood the "seed money" would come in the form of guarantees to be used to rise private funding for investment in higher-risk projects valued at the estimated €315 billion. Juncker's presentation to the European Parliament on November 26 came a day before he and the European Commission faced a no-confidence vote in the European Parliament over the corporate tax avoidance furor dubbed "Lux Leaks". The vote was sparked by an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in early November which reported more than 300 big-name corporations such as Pepsi, IKEA and FedEx had secured secret tax deals with Luxembourg during Juncker's time as prime minister and finance minister there. He and the EC comfortably survived the motion.