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Pic: Guy Smallman


By Jasper

The first person you will hear talking about the EU summit in Belgium last December, may well be the country's prime minister Guy Verhofstadt. He'll soon announce it was so great, we contained all the protesters and from now on all EU summits will be there. As to prevent this, here's a read up on what actually happened.

For the general public, the first sign of mayhem became apparent when the Mayor of Brussels, Freddy Thielemans, assured the viewers of the state television news that the first coach of violent Dutch and Belgian ecoterrorists had been intercepted. He had ordered confiscation of illegal radio and cellphone bugging devices, as well as the usual ski masks and knives.

The broadcast rather forgot to mention that this illustrious group had just occupied the European chemical industry lobby headquarters (CEFIC). A day before the start of the summit, it was a successful attempt to disrupt that stressful final effort a lobbyist needs to make, in order to get that "Yes, Prime Minister" sounding just right.

CEFIC is one of the largest and most powerful lobby organisations but has managed to stay out of the public eye until now. It has a record of opposing the most meagre attempt at environmental regulations for the chemical sector. Some files accidentally misplaced by the chaos also revealed efforts to undermine EU restrictions on animal testing.

Eco-radical disorganisations from Holland and Belgian co-operating in the action stated they had discovered that direct action is a much more enjoyable way to spend your summit hopping holidays than a dull march. And hey, if you hide a camping knife and short wave radio in your coach you will surely make the papers as well!

Something very astute in the Belgian activist scene, where action strategies of big NGO's and four fiercely competing flavours of authoritarian socialism make a meal of potato pie, potato soup, mashed potatoes and potato custard. French fries were also originally a Belgian invention.

After chains and lock-ons were cut and all activists arrested, deportation was imminent for the foreigners participating. Dutch deportees stopped their coach from leaving the city by climbing out of the roof windows. After a good row with their riot police broke out, they were brought back to the police station hall to negotiate, which they then occupied. They refused to be deported until their comrades from Spain and Italy were sent to Holland as well. In the end the Belgian foreign department requested it's Dutch counterpart that these would be allowed on Dutch ground. The Dutch government refused and the deportations took place.

At the union members march the day after, the chemical workers union confided to Radio Bruxxel it very much supported the occupation. The union had recently been to Toulouse, France, where bad safety had caused the death of several in an explosion in a chemical plant. Investments in work conditions are dropping and companies are lobbying to downgrade safety and health regulations.

The unions had their demonstration on the Friday the 13th, but there was neither bad luck for the weather or the number of people in the march - with 80.000 people it was the largest demonstration in Belgium for years.

The next day saw the main parade of the "anti-globalisering" movements, in Brussels renamed "anders-globalisering" ("anders" meaning different), around 25.000 people, neatly divided in thirteen different blocks with subcategories as well.

When the demo came together in a manifestation, police sealed off the area. After body searches and ID checks, police violently attacked people sitting around a campfire on the street. Officials refused to tell what happened to them and a demonstration was staged around the jail, where the solicitor of the earlier arrested people was arrested himself and charged with conspiracy to form a violent organisation.

On Sunday the anarchist demonstration converged with a wild Reclaim the Streets set up by libertarians and artists, who had earlier squatted an old train station and set up independent radio all under the name Bruxxel. Instead of choosing the obvious target of the conference centre, the street party situated it's autonomy throughout the poor district of St. Giles. Police then sealed off the entire block for several hours. This standoff ended when protesters confronted the black block clad undercover police who were trying to provoke them. Their identities were revealed by activists and then broadcast on television.

In the run up to the climax of the Belgian EU presidency different organising groups could not get along at all. Unions split off from the main d14 platform, as well as Bruxxel and the anarchists. Of course, reformists asked the anarchists to help them with the socialists again. At EU ministerial council meetings in Leuven and Gent, well sorted street parties were staged. While the previously very fragmented anti-authoritarian groups, took over the streets and connected with each other, the ministers - politically and literally on the defensive - had to lock themselves up in fortresses, shielded off with nasty barbed-wire.

In Belgium protests were not taken up much in mainstream media, let alone internationally. While a few banks and a police station were seriously trashed, there were few other confrontations. One interesting sight was some Brits in black with those lovely Socialist Workers Party bandanas having a go at a few Mercedes. Well, they aren't all bad.

The Belgian and Brussels governments and police went to an enormous effort to look like they are the mister cools of handling big summits, so they can be in charge of hosting all the EU summits in a year or two. This is now likely to happen, and it was the message the media followed. While the brutal images of Göteborg and Genoa did lead to some representations of the ideas behind the protests in the media, without violence, content isn't very interesting for most editors.

However, effectively penetrating a summit's 'red zone' is becoming nearly impossible unless you manage to airdrop in unseen (or mysteriously all have security passes, like the 60 people who disturbed the climate conference in The Hague in 2000). Not being represented by the media makes stopping the work of corporate lobby groups an attractive strategy. After lobbyists were stalked in The Hague in October last year Paris also saw lobby buster action at the inauguration of Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD)*. In Belgium, the year before the summit the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) was occupied. The Barcelona EU summit in April 2002 saw a whole day of proper lobby busting activity as affinity groups roamed the city having a go at various headquarters.

While you can equally doubt the legitimacy of national governments and the EU, corporates do not (yet) have a crate of tear gas grenades behind the reception desk.

So if you have a conference haunting your town, who are ya gonna call...

Some interesting links:

www.anarchy.be - portal for libertarian Belgium
www.bruxxel.org - Bruxxel coalition
www.groenfront.nl/english - eco-activism across the Channel
www.aseed.net/cefic-action - backgrounds on CEFIC

* The BASD is a joint effort by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to undermine any binding regulations at the Earth Summit taking part in Johannesburg, August/September 2002. Their slogan is, take a deep breath here it comes: people, planet, profit! Web: www.basd-action.net. It is not yet clear when they will be naming their events with letters and numbers.