By RAF CASERT and DON MELVIN
BRUSSELS (AP) â¿¿ Some 10,000 workers from across the European Union protested outside a summit of EU leaders Thursday, demanding they end years of austerity and focus instead on curbing runaway unemployment with more spending.
The protest in frost and snow just outside EU headquarters vented frustration over spending cuts and tax hikes imposed by the bloc's governments to deal with the debt crisis. Trade unions and an increasing number of economists say austerity has inflicted severe economic pain â¿¿ the economy of 17 EU countries that use the euro are stuck in recession and joblessness is at a record high.
Inside the summit, leaders made it clear that they realized that public anger was reaching dangerous levels, but they offered little in the way of new solutions, saying instead they were going to stay the course with enforced budget cuts.
"Tonight, in view of our bleak economic prospects, in view of growing social distress, we looked very carefully at the situation," said Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, after the meeting ended. The Council is the gathering of national leaders of the 27 EU countries.
But he added, "The only way out of the crisis is to keep tackling its root causes. ... We reconfirmed our overall economic strategy."
Much of that strategy includes measures to cut spending and raise tax revenues â¿¿ measures that take money out of the economy, something that many economists say contributes to unemployment.
The leaders also recommitted themselves to increasing the competitiveness of EU economies through measures such as cutting red tape for businesses and decreasing labor costs.
Support was also given to previously announced measures to increase employment, such as a â¿¬6 billion ($7.75 billion) to fight youth unemployment. But that money will be spread over seven years â¿¿ and not a penny of it will be disbursed before Jan. 1, 2014.