Right after the daily briefing at the EU Commission I heard clapping hands and raised voices, something of a rarity in the customarily calm and cool-headed corridors of the EU Executive’s building.
As I got closer to find out what all the fuss was about I saw maybe two or three hundred people gathering around a microphone between the restaurant and the cafeteria (something for all budgets!). It didn’t seem an official event, speeches were excited; it was all a bit too boisterous for Brussels, so I asked what was going on.
“It is a demonstration,” a woman told me. “The public workers of the EU are protesting for better conditions.”
The meeting happened few minutes ago as I write. If I understood correctly, it was the so-called ‘inter-institutional General Assembly’ of the staff of EU institutions. They are upset at the Commission’s new staff regulations, announced with no negotiations with the EU workers unions. They also denounce the precarious employment conditions of some colleagues. Their unions are threatening the Commission with a strike if their requirements are not met.
Automatically I thought about what’s going on in my own country, Spain, with the ‘Indignados’ protests, and in Greece, where while the demonstrations get smaller and smaller, the indignation persists. euronews’ Olaf Bruns, who has just come back from Athens, says there is a feeling of collective depression among the Greek people.
We will follow closely this social movement within the EU’s own institutions, but I’m not sure that many Europeans will understand why the EU’s public workers, sometimes considered as passengers on the ‘gravy train’, are threatening to go on strike.
It would also be somewhat embarrassing for the EU itself, which already faces a Union-wide mumbling of discontent.
*Just after I finished this post, a small group of protesters which have, just as in Spain, branded themselves as the “indignados”, gathered in Schuman Square. Like the EU workers this morning they had a General Assembly.