Thousands march in Paris against 'austerity'
Chanting "resistance", demonstrators took to the streets of Paris on Sunday to protest against austerity policies and Europe’s new budget treaty, in the first major demonstration since President François Hollande took power four months ago.
Tens of thousands of people marched through the sunny streets of Paris on Sunday to protest against an EU fiscal treaty requiring governments to commit to stricter economic practices, in the latest in a string of anti-austerity rallies across Europe.
The march, which organisers say drew 80,000 people, weaved its way across the east of Paris, near the historic Place de la Bastille, with demonstrators chanting “resistance, resistance”, while hundreds of flags and protest signs bobbed above the crowd. Others sang, “Hollande, do you know where we’re going to stick your treaty?”
Noé, who declined to give his last name, said he had made the five-hour journey from the southern city of Toulon by bus in order to protest against Europe’s new budget treaty.
“Politics have taken a back seat to finance,” Noé said. “This treaty was created to comfort the world of finance; austerity measures only fill bankers and financiers’ pockets. That’s what I can’t stand. I was never involved with politics before – today is my first protest.”
Despite the angry tone of some protesters, one of whom described Hollande as “Sarkozy light”, the rally’s organisers specified that the march was not intended as a criticism of Hollande, but rather of Europe-wide austerity policies.
“Today is the day the French people launch a movement against the policy of austerity”, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the famed firebrand leader of the far-left Front de Gauche party and a former presidential candidate, said at the march.
“I am opposed to a Europe based on banks and finance,” said Marie-Ange Bouies, a Front de Gauche supporter who travelled to Paris from Limoges, in central France. “There are protest movements all over Europe, and one day Brussels and politicians will have to take into account the opinion of those in the street.”
The demonstration comes after Hollande’s government unveiled its 2013 budget on Friday, which included an array of tax hikes and spending cuts in an effort to make up for a 37 million euro black hole in the country’s public finances.
Protesters say worse is to come, with Europe’s budget treaty requiring countries to commit to strict fiscal discipline.
Referendum on austerity
The treaty, which was negotiated during Sarkozy’s tenure as president, will be discussed in the French National Assembly starting on Tuesday. While some left-leaning lawmakers have vowed to vote against it, the treaty is likely to be approved with a comfortable majority.
But for the protesters in Paris, the choice should not be left to parliament.
“We want a referendum on this treaty”, Monique, who also declined to give her last name, told FRANCE 24, as she stood beside a friend brandishing a protest sign. “Hollande promised he would change it, but he hasn’t at all.”
The EU budget treaty has been criticised by figures on both the left and far-right as a threat to France’s sovereignty.
Speaking just hours before Sunday’s rally, Jérome Cahuzac, France’s budget minister, said protesters were “committing a fundamental error in thinking that the policies we are following are weakening France, when in fact these policies are strengthening it".