Trade Unions Protest Brussels, Fearing Return to Austerity in EU Fiscal Reforms

Paolo D'Aleo

Trade unions led by FGTB-ABVV protest in Brussels against EU fiscal reforms, fearing austerity measures and significant social spending cuts. Around 2,000 participate, with cross-border unionists joining.

Today,` Trade unions are taking to the Brussels streets in demonstration of a Europe-wide “return to austerity.” They express that EU fiscal reforms will cause Belgium to cut social spending, which will “inevitably affect a lot of people.” Socialist union FGTB-ABVV led a protest at the Schuman roundabout from noon on Tuesday. Around 2,000 people including trade unionists from France, Italy, and elsewhere are attending.

In February, EU Member States approved fiscal reforms that seek to maintain budgetary deficits. The Parliament will vote on the reforms this spring, ahead of which unionists are keen to voice their concerns. The current recommendation would require Member States to take significant cuts to social spending, which the FGTB states spells trouble for Belgium, which would include saving €4 billion a year for seven years, or €7 billion a year for four years, to hold a total of €28 billion by 2028.

“Almost €30 billion is 10% of the Belgian Government’s budget,” FGTB President Thierry Bodson described media. “That is an enormous amount. We can’t accept it.”

“This is how the (social) government is dismantled. You do not need to be an economist to know that our rights will come under heavy pressure.”

Decided to reach an agreement before European elections in June, 16-hour talks between the European Parliament and Member States were carried out in February to propose currently on the table.

The reform strives to modernize the EU Stability and Growth Pact, which displays a state’s budget obligation cannot exceed 3% of GDP and national debt cannot exceed 60% of GDP. However, the SGP has never been quite respected as it is considered too stringent and therefore impractical.

The new text constructs the rules more flexibly and allows Member States to determine their course of action for handling debt. However, the bill’s opponents challenge a clause introduced by “frugal” nations such as Germany. It seeks to charge a “minimum effort” on Member States to rein in their debts.

As a result, Belgium would be under tension to significantly cut spending to meet the targets. At current rates, the federal budget deficit is on a path to 5% of annual GDP in 2025 – especially more than the 3% limit defined by the SGP.

The FGTB claims that the resulting cuts to spending would indicate a return to austerity: “We would be forced to take extreme measures with serious social consequences. But at present, Belgium is a fairly resilient economy compared to its neighbors. In our view, there is no explanation for accelerating the pace of change.” Politically speaking, the FGTB worries that a return to austerity would be a “fast track” for far-right groups to garner backing during elections in June. It urges the Federal Government to either vote against the reforms or refrain from the vote altogether during the next European Summit.

Belgium’s elections in June, it urge the next government to present an alternative fiscal reform that is slightly socially damaging. On a European level, the union expects to see much more budgetary flexibility.

Belgium’s standing on the reforms remains ambiguous. In February, Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem (CD&V) stated that the EU would not be permitted to control the country’s fiscal policy but he realized that reform of some sort was essential to avoid this scenario.

“We are still behind the rotation but we must avoid ending up in the liability box with Europe imposing things on us,” Van Peteghem stated. He also stressed the importance of preserving social protection and the welfare state.

A spokesperson for Van Peteghem’s office stated that the FGTB assertions are “unfounded” and rejected that the new regulations constitute a return to austerity. The office urges that the new fiscal framework “takes into account the significance of investments” whereas the earlier EU stipulations had “concentrated only on bringing down national debt.”

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Paolo D'Aleo is a journalist at Brussels Morning News, covering Belgium news and Brussels news there. Born in Sicily, he then found his second home in Rome, where he currently lives. His Mediterranean nature mixes with the cosmopolitan soul of the Eternal City, creating a combination of passions and culture that fuels his work and his vision of the world. He is a freelance journalist and political commentator. Registered in the Register of Public Journalists, he has collaborated with various newspapers and web publications, offering his lucid and timely analysis on political and current events. His philosophical training has nourished his intellectual rigor and his ability to criticize and analyze political and social issues in depth. His PhD in Political Philosophy allowed him to acquire a solid base of knowledge and to develop autonomous and original thought. In addition to his journalistic activity, he has published articles and scientific essays in specialized magazines. His research focuses on issues of political philosophy. His experience and skills make him a versatile professional capable of facing various challenges. He is an effective communicator, a keen analyst, and a critical thinker. His passion for politics and culture drives him to seek knowledge and share it with the public. He is never satisfied and he is always ready to test himself. His goal is to continue to grow professionally and to actively contribute to the public debate on topics of collective interest.