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30/09/2016

Frankfurt braces for anti-austerity demos as ECB opens new HQ

Social Europe & Jobs

Frankfurt braces for anti-austerity demos as ECB opens new HQ

The new ECB building in Frankfurt.

[Jonas M Luster/Flickr]

When the European Central Bank officially inaugurates its new headquarters in Frankfurt on Wednesday (18 March), as many as 10,000 people from around Europe are expected to show up to join an anti-austerity demonstration.

Organisers say protesters will converge on Germany’s financial capital to march against austerity policies which the ECB – as part of the much-hated “troika” of creditors – helps to oversee in return for bailout money for crisis-hit eurozone countries.

“We’re expecting several thousand people from all over Europe in a clear sign against these crisis policies,” said a spokesman for German anti-capitalist group Blockupy.

Frankfurt police are bracing for possible violence, using barbed wire and barriers to erect a security zone around the ECB’s spectacular 1.3-billion-euro twin-tower skyscraper in the east of the city.

At the height of Wednesday’s rally, thousands of officers will be deployed with water cannons, helicopters and aircraft standing by in case the situation turns violent, police said.

“While most marchers are politically moderate and are expected to remain peaceful, there was a ‘high possibility’ that there could be violence,” the regional state police warned on its website.

‘Scaremongering’

The organisers, grouped together under the Blockupy banner, have accused the police and city authorities of “scaremongering”.

One of the movement’s spokesmen, Frederic Wester, said police were drawing up an “absurd civil war scenario”.

Another spokesman described the massive police deployment – one of the largest ever in Frankfurt – as “a scandal”.

But Hannah Eberle for the Interventionistische Linke (Interventionist Left) vowed that demonstrators “will not allow the police to get in their way”.

“We’re fighting for a different, a democratic and social Europe,” said Roland Suess of the anti-capitalist group Attac.

In a rally in Frankfurt in March 2012, a policeman was seriously injured when violent protesters went on the rampage in the city centre, causing around one million euros worth of damage.

At a subsequent demonstration in May 2012, there were around 20,000 marchers, but the rally remained mostly peaceful as more than 5,000 police sealed off large parts of the city.

Until last year, the ECB, which took over monetary policy in the single currency area in 1998, has been housed in a skyscraper, known as the Eurotower, in downtown Frankfurt.

But work began on a new headquarters – designed by Vienna-based architects Coop Himmelb(l)au – in 2008.

Incorporating the historic Grossmarkthalle, a wholesale food market, in the east of the city, the building was completed late last year, and the ECB actually moved into the premises not long after.

Low key celebrations

Given the anticipated protests, the central bank has decided to keep the celebrations relatively low key with only a modest number of invited guests, including Frankfurt’s mayor Peter Feldmann.

In the current times of crisis, it was decided that the size of the inauguration would remain “appropriate”, an ECB spokesman said.

Against the backdrop of tense talks over a Greek debt deal, the ECB is a favourite target for anti-austerity protesters.

Earlier this year, the ECB stopped accepting Greek bonds as security in return for funding, when Greece’s new hard-left government under Alexis Tsipras was elected on his promise to scrap the reform-for-aid bailout programme.

Blockupy brings together anti-capitalist and anti-austerity protestors from across Europe.

They camped out in tents at the foot of the ECB’s Eurotower headquarters in Frankfurt for months in 2013.

Background

The European Central Bank (ECB) is the EU institution which administers the monetary policy of the 19 eurozone members. The bank is located in Frankfurt.

The EU institutions and national governments are bound by the treaties to respect the ECB's independence.

However, the bank's autonomy has repeatedly come under fire, especially in France where policymakers see monetary policy as a tool for economic policy.

As the sovereign debt crisis swept across Europe, the ECB progressively took a more political role, buying up debt on the secondary market to prevent fragile eurozone countries from going bankrupt.

This culminated in January 2015 when the ECB launched an unlimited government bond-buying programme, which will pump hundreds of billions of new money into the sagging eurozone economy.

>> Read: ECB rolls dice on quantitative easing

The ECB also won sweeping new regulatory powers as part of Europe's Banking Union aimed at addressing the weaknesses of the monetary union.

>> Read: ECB finalises euro zone bank rules

Further Reading