(Bloomberg) — Anti-austerity protesters seeking to spoil
the inauguration of the European Central Bank’s new headquarters
in Frankfurt’s east end set vehicles alight, erected barricades
and left a trail of destruction across the city.
Police deployed water cannons to restore calm and keep the
demonstrators at bay in the area surrounding the 1.3 billion-euro ($1.4 billion) tower, after setting up barbed wire and road
“European unity is being strained,” ECB President Mario
Draghi said at the inauguration ceremony on Wednesday. “The ECB
has become a focal point for those frustrated with this
situation. This may not be a fair charge — our action has been
aimed precisely at cushioning the shocks suffered by the economy
— but as the central bank of the whole euro area, we must
listen very carefully.”
The police estimated about 10,000 protesters would descend
on the currency bloc’s financial capital and home of the common
currency under the Blockupy banner, and several thousand police
officers are on duty. Demonstrations and sit-ins are planned at
several locations throughout the city by groups and
organizations sympathizing with the plight of Greece.
The first incidents occurred “shortly after 6 a.m.,” said
Claudia Rogalski, a police spokeswoman. “There have been
violent outbreaks at several locations in which police have been
attacked.” Eight police officers were injured in the
altercations, she said.
Rioters set several cars, including seven police vehicles,
and garbage containers alight, set off smoke bombs and threw
stones, glass and corrosive substances, police said in Twitter
postings. Some arrests have been made, the police said, without
providing a number, and have detained about 350 people “who
prior to this rioted and committed criminal acts.”
Protesters said police deployed tear gas.
“We were moving toward the ECB and then tear gas
cartridges were fired from the police lines,” said Martin
Dolzer, a member of the Left party from Hamburg. The smoke
“spread over a broad area; it was a very strong irritant.”
Police are equipped with pepper spray and
they used the substance in defense, said Rogalski.
Nine days after the ECB started buying sovereign debt in a
1.1 trillion-euro plan to revive inflation and rescue the
economy, protesters are laying the blame for recession and
unemployment in the 19-nation euro area at the doors of Draghi
and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A new government in Greece, led by the leftist Syriza
party, is preparing emergency measures to raise cash as the
country braces for more than 2 billion euros in debt payments on
Friday. The country is unable to access bailout funds as it
haggles with euro-area governments over the terms of its aid
program. Its lenders have been cut off from regular ECB finance
lines and pushed onto emergency credit from the Greek central
“In the past, we protested against things like the rescue
of the banks in Europe,” Werner Renz, a representative of
protest group Attac, said on Tuesday. “The focus of our
protests this year is on Greece. We need more of Athens in
Europe and less of Berlin. There is no way Greece can repay all
its debt. The situation can’t be solved by austerity alone.”
The inauguration ceremony includes guests such as Frankfurt
Mayor Peter Feldmann and Tarek Al-Wazir, economy minister of the
German state of Hesse. The ECB’s 25-member Governing Council is
also scheduled to hold a non-monetary policy meeting where
Greece will be on the agenda. The central bank plans to be fully
operational, a spokesman reiterated on Wednesday.
Draghi said that with some protesters arguing that Europe
is doing too little and populist parties saying it is doing too
much, the answer lies in further, though pragmatic, integration.
“The answer is not to unwind integration, nor is it to
hold out an unattainable vision of where integration should
lead,” he said. “It is to complete our monetary union in the
areas where it can and needs to be completed.”
Dozens of groups, including Syriza followers, are joining
in the rally. The demonstrators planned to blockade the area
around the ECB in “transnational actions of civil
disobedience,” Blockupy said on its website. The ECB issued
guidance to staff on dressing to avoid drawing attention.
“Expansive monetary policy serves the financial markets
and the wealthy first and foremost,” Sahra Wagenknecht, a
lawmaker for the Left party in the Bundestag in Berlin who will
address the crowds, said in an e-mail. “The money doesn’t reach
the real economy as investment.”
A rally outside the city hall at the Roemerberg,
Frankfurt’s medieval square, is scheduled to run from 2 p.m. to
5 p.m., ending with a march through the city to the Alte Oper
near Deutsche Bank AG’s headquarters into the evening. Some
public transport services will be disrupted or diverted, and
traffic will be rerouted.
“We are monitoring the situation and are informing our
employees,” Klaus Thoma, a Deutsche Bank spokesman, said by
phone from Frankfurt on Tuesday.
Protesters in November scaled fencing at the ECB’s
headquarters and hurled paint bombs at the glass facade while
trying to gain entrance to the building after a small group of
about 2,000 demonstrators taking part in an organized rally
broke away. The organizers called an end to that march after the
While social unrest is relatively rare in Germany, Europe’s
biggest economy has been the scene of several mass protests in
recent months as a wave of anti-immigration sentiment sparked
demonstrations by the Pegida movement opposing what it calls the
Islamization of Europe. The biggest of these attracted as many
as 25,000 people in the eastern city of Dresden in January.
In October, more than 4,000 soccer hooligans and neo-n***s
raged through the streets of Cologne, hurling bottles and stones
at police, in a protest rally that spiraled out of control.
Traditional May Day protests, to mark the May 1 Labor Day,
frequently erupt in violence.
The police are required to strike a balance between
protecting citizens and upholding the freedom of assembly rights
anchored in Germany’s constitution.
To contact the reporters on this story:
Angela Cullen in Frankfurt at [email protected];
Jeff Black in Frankfurt at [email protected]
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Fergal O’Brien at [email protected]
Paul Gordon, Jeff Black