Demonstrations amid ongoing euro zone debt fears

A mass anti-austerity protest, called by unions, took to the streets on Saturday, as European Union (EU) ministers cut short talks on the euro zone debt crisis a day after Washington told them to end their bickering.

With trade unions from across the 27-member EU aiming to draw tens of thousands of demonstrators to the south western Polish city of Wroclaw, police cleared barriers outside the Centennial Hall conference centre.

“The ministers will leave early,” said an official with the talks’ Polish hosts at the centre where the final press conference was also brought forward.

Despite the early end to fractious debt crisis talks already marred on Friday by a clash between top European figures and United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, ministers had never planned to take binding decisions at the informal talks.

Europe’s crisis has made ministerial meetings a more frequent target of protests than ever.

Precautions
European Trade Union Confederation spokesperson Patricia Grillo raised the numbers organisers said were attending to 40 000 on Saturday morning, similar in scale to another such protest in Budapest, Hungary six months ago.

Wroclaw police said cleared barriers around the talks’ venue as a precaution.

As ministers focused on tighter enforcement of deficit and debt ceilings across EU borders, a union statement said, “Other choices have to be made. We have to agree on European economic governance centred on solidarity and employment”.

Ministers from the 27 EU states arrived shortly before 9:00am for a session at which Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders said he would push France and Germany for the euro zone to implement a financial transactions tax.

On the Greek and wider euro zone debt crisis, Luxembourg’s Finance Minister Luc Frieden told reporters it was time for deeds, not just words, about fiscal responsibility and economic coordination, primarily within the EU’s 17-nation euro zone.

“I think we have not yet arrived where a full currency union should be and the crisis has shown that it’s not enough to have club rules, they need to be enforced, and everything that can contribute to that is absolutely necessary,” he said.

At Friday’s talks, euro zone nations decided to postpone until October a decision on whether to hand over the next tranche of an agreed emergency loan package to Greece — the euro zone member in the eye of the storm — worth €8-billion.

At loggerheads
Athens, desperately trying to show its austerity drive meets bailout conditions, has warned it will run out of funds by the middle of October, endangering pensions and state salaries while awaiting a breakthrough.

Renewed aid for Greece, after an earlier bailout proved insufficient, has been mired in rows with Finland over its demand for collateral for loan guarantees and with Slovakia which has threatened to delay parliamentary ratification.

“We have to continue the negotiations,” Finland’s Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen said. Asked if there had been progress, she responded: “There’s nothing new”.

“Governments and central banks need to take out the catastrophic risk to markets,” Geithner said on the sidelines of the talks, although Washington later denied he was writing “prescriptions” for Europe.

Geithner and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble clashed sharply on Friday over the way forward.

Geithner urged euro zone leaders to bolster a €440-billion rescue fund for troubled member states but saw that demand instantly rebuffed by Germany.

Berlin demanded Washington drop its opposition to a global financial transactions tax — resisted by Geithner.

Europeans have sought to implement either a tax on profits or turnover from the financial sector since governments were forced to bail out banks caught up in the 2008 credit crunch that started in the US. — AFP

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