Germans take to the streets in opposition to the ultra-tight labour market measures following the rise of the far-right AfD
Police in Brussels clashed with far-right protesters on Tuesday as thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest against draconian labour market measures across Europe following the rise of the far-right AfD in Germany and Austria.
Several hundred people started leaving after the demonstration had come to an end, shouting “go home” and “no to Brexit”, but stopped when police officers – some masked – came out wielding batons. Some protesters were heard shouting in Dutch, French and German, while others chanted “Europe is ours” and “Germany is our country”.
There were some skirmishes and scuffles, but no arrests, police said.
The rally was organised by Belgian trade unions and anti-racism groups and two French far-right activists were also present.
The demonstrators, some wearing masks or hoods, carried banners saying “Against the scapegoating of the migrant crisis” and “Money for the unemployed, not refugees”.
One banner said: “Misery and extremism follow each other”. The German police were unable to keep up with the protesters and were eventually called in, along with the Belgian and French security forces.
The demonstration was the first of several in the coming weeks following the European parliament’s decision to force EU member states to ease up on the strict labour market rules introduced during the 2008 global financial crisis.
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The restrictive regulations were introduced in January 2009 amid the financial turmoil and have been regarded as a key cause of the German and Austrian rise in the past year. They have ensured that the jobless are rapidly shorn of work and replaced by the young without the experience or the qualifications needed for many new jobs.
Demonstrators said the measures would lead to an ever-expanding grey economy in which many workers were made to work without pay and exploited.
“The austerity policy is not only damaging the youth, it is damaging the economy,” a demonstrator told AFP.
The demonstration was a response to last week’s decision by the European parliament to force EU member states to loosen up on the strict labour market rules introduced during the 2008 global financial crisis.
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The Strasbourg assembly voted in favour of the proposals last week, a move that could lead to more jobless people being kept out of work, especially in countries with unemployment high due to the poor eurozone economy.
The vote follows the surge in support for the far-right AfD in Germany and Austria and threatens to undo a policy that has helped to reduce youth unemployment in both countries, slashing the ranks of the unemployed to just a handful of nations compared with almost half 10 years ago.
The labour market measures were introduced during the global financial crisis and envisaged raising the use of temporary work to keep young people out of jobless queues.
The recent surge in popularity of the AfD in Germany comes after years in which its candidates were regularly excluded from TV debates and other mainstream political campaigns, critics said, as a way of keeping the fringe party out of the mainstream.