EU Perestroika

Let me paint you a picture. On leaving my office in the EU parliament building in Brussels on Monday afternoon I was confronted with an extraordinary scene. In the driving November rain a protest had amassed on the square outside. They blew whistles, waved flags, unfurled banners and shouted slogans. 

Protests take place outside the parliament with a fair amount of regularity. Farmers who don’t get enough subsidies for their milk. Truck drivers who don’t get enough subsidies for their petrol. That kind of thing. This particular group was of German airport baggage handlers, demanding protection from pay cuts. They did not seem out of the ordinary, and were not in large enough numbers to cause severe alarm.  

What was different was the way in which the authorities responded to this protest. Normally there would be a contingent of Belgian police officers to marshal proceedings and little more. This time the Belgian police were in full riot gear, had completely cordoned off the Parliament building with barbed wire fences and were standing menacingly guarding the building. Parliament security was directing people leaving around the back of the building. 

I, astonished at the heavy handed response to what seemed to be another regular protest, attempted to take a photo of the police and their trench-warfare barrier. I was boomed at by a burly officer to put my camera away. Admonished, I stalked round the back to leave the area. 

The next day I managed to photograph the barriers (minus the aggressive Belgian police):



You get the idea.

Once around the barriers and mingling with the protesters, I found them to be in good spirits, not very aggressive, middle aged German men (mostly). I couldn’t understand why the building had gone into such serious lockdown.

The only conclusion I could draw from this was that something has seriously spooked the horses in the stables. I can’t help but feel that the EU is now afraid of its own shadow. 


Perestroika, led by Mikhail Gorbachev, was the movement during the 1980s in the USSR that eventually led to the break up of the Soviet Union. Perestroika was a psychological change; a realisation that the Soviet Union was not working. Gorbachev and his supporters then spent the last few years slowly reversing 60-odd years of Communism. 

“Wait. What does this,” you ask, “have to do with German baggage handler protests?”  

Well, protests like this are not going to stop and the EU leadership is evidently unsettled, as shown by monday’s heavy handed response to the protest. The USSR collapsed without violence. Perestroika made sure of that. So, will the EU see sense and have a Perestroika moment, or will the leaders sit on their hands until a rather more ugly ending takes place? I hope the former, as I am sure they would want to earn that Nobel Peace prize. Those barb wire fences leave that a rather unconvincing badge of honour right now.

Edmund Greaves is co-editor of The Libertarian Press. He also writes travel articles at the



  1. […] armed with jointed truncheons.”   This reminds me of something I wrote about not that long ago, EU Perestroika. This is the photo I […]

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