Strikes in Belgium as EU leaders meet


Belgium was hit by nationwide strikes in protest at austerity measures today as leaders met for the European Union summit in Brussels.

Unions called on the EU to move away from austerity measures and start boosting growth and employment.

The 27 EU leaders converging on Brussels for their informal summit appeared to have been unaffected by a train and public transport paralysed by the action.

Belgium's three main unions have called for efforts to reinvigorate the European economy by centring on taxing multinationals 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.

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% 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 Mr Leemans.

After two years of centring 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.