Belgium strikes on day of EU summit

January 30, 2012 - 10:15 AM
Belgium Europe Financial Crisis

A protest banner is seen below a banner for the euro currency during a demonstration outside of a EU summit in Brussels on Monday, Jan. 30, 2012. The eurozone crisis will dominate an EU summit on Monday, with an emphasis on growth and budget discipline. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian trade unions organizing a nationwide strike Monday called on leaders attending the European Union summit in Brussels to move away from austerity measures and start boosting growth and employment.

The 27 EU leaders converging on Brussels for their informal summit were largely unaffected by a train and public transport strike, even though some had to come through a small military airport instead of the main one in Brussels.

"We used our military plane — very small — but it functions. It is quite cold, but nevertheless we came," said Finland Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen.

Belgium's three main unions have called for efforts to reinvigorate the European economy by centering on taxing multinationals and boosting public investment instead of slashing public services and imposing a pension reform that forces people to work longer and cuts payments in some cases.

One of the country's airports was closed and Brussels' international airport suffered cancellations, delays and diversions. Traffic delays were limited since many people either worked from home or took a day off.

Trade union leaders converged at the summit building for a small demonstration, demanding a better deal for the workers.

"What we need is growth. Growth creates jobs. And you don't get growth when you suck the oxygen out of the economy by austerity, austerity, and then some," said Christian Democrat union leader Marc Leemans.

Overall, 23 million people are jobless across the EU, 10 percent of the active population.

As part of the demonstration at the summit building, union leaders delivered a symbolic "eurobond" — pressing for a joint pooling of debt in the eurozone, a measure that has been steadfastly opposed by Germany. Struggling member states like Greece, Portugal and Ireland would benefit most from such bonds.

"At this stage, the poor members states are left in misery and the rich stand by and watch," said Leemans.

After two years of centering summit efforts on austerity and ways to keep debt down, the leaders are assessing ways to spur employment on Monday.

"Only now, we are talking about work and employment. It is too late, but better now than never," said socialist trade union leader Rudy De Leeuw.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said both could go hand in hand.

"Restoring growth that is what is essential for us. Also, we need more budgetary discipline. Together these two elements offer a way out of the crisis," Di Rupo said.

To help jump-start the EU toward more growth and employment, the EU Commission is proposing to the summit leaders to redirect euro82 billion in existing funds toward countries in dire need of help to fix their labor market.