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Brussels burns as more than 100,000 protesters clash with police during march against EU austerity measures
by Peter Allen - Mail Online

--Fighting broke out after the end of largely peaceful trade union march
--New right-wing government was elected in Belgium last month
--It wants to raise retirement age, cancel wage rises and cut welfare benefits

Violence broke out on the streets of Brussels today as more than 100,000 people marched against EU-enforced austerity.

Water cannons and tear gas were used in the centre of the Belgian capital as riot police tried to bring the situation under control.

Fighting broke out soon after the end of a largely peaceful march organised by trade unions and left wing politicians.

For two hours, the demonstrators had peacefully marched down the main thoroughfares of central Brussels to protest government policies that will raise the pension age, contain wages and cut into public services.

But violence broke out at the end of the demonstration as police fired tear gas and water cannon in an effort to clear the streets. No casualties were immediately reported.

'Metal barriers were thrown at the police, together with stones, and then the situation rapidly got worse,' said demonstrator Gilles Broussard.

'Hundreds of riot police were involved in trying to bring the situation under control - it all got very nasty.'

A new government was elected in Belgium last month and immediately pledged to raise the retirement age, cancel wage rises and cut social security benefits. This was all in line with strict guidelines from Europe, which views austerity as the key to the trading bloc's future.

Belgium has a long postwar tradition of collective bargaining between employers and workers, and successive coalition governments representing a full scale of public opinion often have been able to contain social disagreements.

But the current coalition, made up of three pro-business parties and the centrist Christian Democrats, is the first in decades that has been able to set such a clear neoliberal free-market agenda.

Marchers said the government, which hopes to save the equivalent of more than £10million, was attacking ordinary people, while avoiding higher taxes for businesses.

'They are hitting the workers, the unemployed. They are not looking for money where it is, I mean, people with a lot of money,' said Philippe Dubois, who came from the industrial rust belt of Liege.

The government says it has been forced to push through stringent austerity measures to keep the budget deficit within European Union constraints and insists that businesses need more lenient tax policies to become more competitive in the global market.

The trade unions object to government policies that promise to raise the pension age from 65 to 67, freeze the automatic link between wages and inflation, and cut public services in a way that would affect the entire population.

The ACV-CSC Christian trade union coalition boss Marc Leemans told Reuters: 'The signal is clear. People are angry, livid. This government's policies are totally unbalanced.'

ACV estimated that some 120,000 people had taken to the streets, with the police looking at a figure of more like 100,000.

Slogans on banners included: 'Eliminate the causes of the crisis, not the poor', 'Hands off the pension age', and 'human need not corporate greed'.

By late afternoon cars and other vehicles could be seen burning in the centre of Brussels. There were also reports of buildings being set on fire, and other property being damaged. 'There are disturbances in the centre of the centre,' said a Brussels police spokesman.

The unexpectedly massive march opens a month-long campaign by the trade unions against the business-friendly governing coalition and is to be capped with a nationwide general strike on December 15.

Despite the opening of government-led talks with employers and unions later Thursday, Socialist trade union leader Rudy De Leeuw vowed to continue the protests for weeks on end.

Britain cannot stay in an reformed European Union
by Matt Chorley

--Home Secretary ranges beyond law and order brief with attack on red tape
--Claims Brussels rules are holding the economies of member states back
--Warns politicians who want to stay in unreformed EU are 'wrong'
--Cameron promises to claw back powers before in-out referendum in 2017
--May also issues plea to MPs to back the European Arrest Warrant

Britain should leave the European Union unless it changes, Theresa May has warned.

The Home Secretary said politicians who argue that the UK is better off in the EU 'whatever the terms, are wrong'.

Ranging beyond her law and order brief – in a move likely to fuel speculation about her leadership ambitions – Mrs May also warned red tape and regulations from Brussels is holding back the UK economy.

Mrs May faces a major test in the Commons tomorrow when she urges Tory MPs not to vote against plans to sign Britain up to the European Arrest Warrant.

She insisted that the way it operates now is 'fairer' but it is still 'every bit as effective when it comes to protecting the public from serious crime and terrorism'.

She said: 'While access to the world's biggest single market is in our national interest, the EU's rules and regulations hold back not just our economy, but also the economies of every other member state. That is why we need to argue for changes that make the EU more competitive, more outward-looking and more open to global trade.

'These are the reasons I believe that the politicians who argue that we are better off in the EU, whatever the terms, are wrong. But I also believe that the politicians who argue that we are better off out, whatever the terms, are also wrong.

'Because if we can make Europe work differently - if we can work towards a more flexible union of sovereign member states who use treaties and institutions to trade freely and co-operate in the fight against crime and terrorism - it will surely be in our national interest to remain members of the European Union.'

Mrs May also issued a direct plea for MPs to back the EAW. 'If we want to stop foreign criminals from coming to Britain, deal with European fighters coming back from Syria, stop British criminals evading justice abroad, prevent foreign criminals evading justice by hiding here, and get foreign criminals out of our prisons, these measures are vital.

'Tomorrow evening, the House of Commons should vote to give the police, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies the powers they need to keep us safe.'

Tory backbencher David Davis accused Mrs May of 'scaremongering' with her claims the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) would lead to Britain becoming a 'honeypot' for fugitives.

The Tory leadership face a revolt from dozens of Tory MPs,who could defy the party leadership to oppose the measure because of concerns that it is too easy for UK citizens to be extradited on relatively minor charges to countries where they may have no guarantee of a fair trial.

Writing in the Sunday Times Mr Davis said: 'It is better to take a few weeks longer to return a terrorist to British justice than to take three years longer to recover a British citizen from a foreign injustice.

'The warnings that Britain will become a safe haven for criminals is an example of the sort of scaremongering that has become far too prevalent in the debates on justice and anti-terrorism measures.

'The UK was certainly no safe haven prior to the introduction of the EAW.'

The controversial power is one of 35 European Union police and criminal justice measures the Government wants to opt back in to, with MPs expected to vote on the package as a whole.

David Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU before holding an in-out referendum by 2017.

Efforts to secure concessions from Brussels were undermined by a shock demand for an extra £1.7billion from Britain last month.

On Friday Chancellor George Osborne boasted that he had halved the bill to £850million.

But critics accused him of 'smoke and mirrors', by bringing forward a rebate payment from 2015 which was always going to be paid.

Critics have claimed the reduction in the £1.7 billion bill had been achieved by bringing forward a rebate to which the UK would have been entitled anyway.

European Union Lowers Growth Forecasts as Business Confidence Sags

BRUSSELS — European Union officials on Tuesday sharply lowered growth forecasts as member states like France, Germany and Italy showed weak economic performance, and as business confidence suffered from heightened geopolitical risks.

Growth is expected to be a meager 1.3 percent in the 28-member bloc this year, instead of the 1.6 percent predicted in the spring, said the European Commission, the union’s executive arm. And the economy is not expected to get much better in 2015, when growth in Germany, the region’s economic engine, is expected to grind down to about 1 percent.

“The economic and employment situation is not improving fast enough,” Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission vice president for jobs and growth, said in a statement accompanying the closely watched economic

Unless there are additional signs of growth and job creation in the next five years, “people could despair of the European project,” Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The recovery on the Continent continues to lag those in the United States and Britain. Over the next two years, annual growth in Britain is expected to be close to 3 percent, and the unemployment rate is projected to be 5.5 percent in 2016, according to the data released Tuesday. The unemployment rate in the European Union is not expected to fall below double digits, where it has been since 2012, until 2016.

The gloomier outlook will most likely raise expectations for the European Central Bank to take additional steps to stimulate the economy, though economists said they did not expect policy makers to take action at a meeting on Thursday.

The report on Tuesday did not take into account how the European economy might get a boost from a 300 billion euro, or $375 billion, plan to invest public and private money into infrastructure projects. Jean-Claude Juncker, who took office this month as president of the European Commission, has pledged to present that package before the end of the year.

But how much of an effect that would have on lackluster growth remains to be seen. The spending program is unlikely to “change the whole world,” Mr. Katainen said, but “its contribution can be significant.”

The lower forecasts, especially in the 18-nation euro area, where the commission cut its projection for growth this year to 0.8 percent from an earlier 1.2 percent, are a measure of how quickly optimism about a recovery has dissipated. France has failed to grow as hoped, and Italy struggles to make overhauls. There are also signs that the German economy is stalling.

In one of the more drastic downgrades for 2015, the commission lowered Germany’s forecast for growth by nearly a full percentage point to 1.1 percent.

Among the problems facing European economies like Germany is the prospect of a “new cycle of sanctions and countersanctions” related to the restrictions that the United States and the European Union imposed on Russia in retaliation for its role in the Ukraine crisis, and reciprocal moves by Moscow, European Union officials said.

Those tensions “could pose a larger roadblock to European growth prospects than currently envisaged in the forecast,” the officials said in a report accompanying the forecasts.

The tensions might also “have triggered a wait-and-see attitude among firms,” the officials wrote in a section of the report that focused on Germany.

Germany is expected to post growth of 1.3 percent this year, down from an earlier forecast of 1.8 percent. The French economy is expected to grow 0.3 percent this year, down from an earlier estimate of 1 percent.

Italy appeared to stand out as a poor performer: Its economy was predicted to shrink 0.4 percent this year compared with a forecast in May for growth of 0.6 percent.

The commission also expressed concerns about inflation, which it said would remain very low this year and would not come close to the target of just under 2 percent anytime soon. It projected an annual inflation rate of 1.6 percent in the European Union in 2016.

“With confidence indicators declining since midyear and now back to where they were at the end of 2013, and hard data pointing to very weak activity for the rest of the year, it is becoming harder to see the dent in the recovery as the result of temporary factors only,” officials wrote in their report.

The commission said it expected growth rates to improve somewhat in 2015, rising to 1.5 percent in the European Union and to 1.1 percent in the eurozone.

Even so, weaker-than-expected growth this year is likely to make it much harder for countries like France and Italy to achieve the bloc’s mandated targets to keep budget deficits and government debt in check.

France and Italy could face disciplinary action and steep fines if they fail to show that they are making sufficient effort to bring their economies in line with European budgetary rules. Mr. Katainen said those recommendations would be published by the end of this month.

Over all, the commission said, the most recent figures indicate a slow fading of the legacy of the sovereign debt crisis, with many member states still weighed down by high unemployment, high debt and low output.

That prompted Mr. Katainen, the commission vice president, to call on member states to agree on the €300 billion spending plan to bolster demand.

“Accelerating investment is the linchpin of economic recovery,” he said.

Germany also “can play a significant role stimulating the euro area and E.U. economy” by saving less and spending more, Mr. Katainen said.
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