Opinion: ECB protests hit the wrong target | Opinion | DW | 18.03.2015
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Opinion: ECB protests hit the wrong target

Those who hold the European Central Bank responsible for squalor and poverty in Europe haven't understood anything, writes DW's Christoph Hasselbach.

It is doubtful whether the violent protesters in Frankfurt have selected their target carefully. Okay, those who immediately respond to the word "bank" with anti-capitalist reflexes, instead of engaging in further reflection, would not want to miss the opportunity of protesting against the inauguration of the new ECB headquarters. In addition, left-wing and left-autonomous quarters appear to be frustrated because the Occupy or Blockupy movements are no longer in their prime. For them, renewed self-assurance is most welcome, and it is linked to the hope that Frankfurt might provide new momentum for the movement.

Violence has discredited the cause

However, cat-calls, slogans and banners are one thing, whereas setting cars on fire and hurling stones at police, fire department members, or trams are an entirely different ballgame. This sort of violence cannot be justified at all, and it has already discredited the protests.

Apart from this, in choosing the ECB, protesters are also lashing out at the wrong target. They believe the ECB is responsible for austerity measures and "pauperization" in some parts of Europe at a time when it is doing the opposite: it floods the markets with cheap money, it keeps interest rates low, it supports debt-ridden nations instead of pushing them into poverty. In doing so, it reaches the limit - according to many critics, it even goes past that limit - of its core mandate, which is to maintain price stability. By the way, those who lose out in the wake of the ECB's course are "capitalist" savers, who now can't expect any major benefits in the form of interest or dividends from their investments and life insurance policies.

London: worth a trip?

Christoph Hasselbach

DW's Christoph Hasselbach

So, if the protests are directed against "the banks" in general, the demonstrators should rather rally in London. In contrast to the ECB, London's commercial banks carefully calculate their risks, steering clear of countries like Greece. Or, if the Blockupy people do not agree with European austerity measures, they should rather gather in Berlin - or The Hague, Helsinki, Vienna, Luxemburg. For it is a widespread misconception that the Germans alone are the backers of a consolidation course, forcing it on everyone else. In fact, many other governments support this course; however, they often hide themselves behind the Germans when they face headwinds.

…or how about Athens?

Apart from this, the reform-oriented governments in the north would be the wrong targets if the protests were directed against poverty, as it is those governments who provide support. Obviously, that support can't be unconditional - otherwise, temporary distress would turn into a permanent state of affairs. This would serve nobody's interests.

People in recipient countries, like Greece, are now suffering the consequences of decades-old, failed policies, whose trademark was that they ignored the effects of globalization, public debts and demographics. The turning point has to be reached someday, unless whole nations want to remain poor for a very long time.

So those who now wish to raise their voices against poverty and disparity should do so in front of the seat of government in Athens. They should call on Mr. Tsipras to finally introduce a fair - and operational - tax system in Greece, instead of insulting those who want to help the country.

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