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Berlin protesters say more than 10,000 aim to crash EU party

German protest organizers say more than 10,000 demonstrators will parade through Berlin on March 25, voicing their anger at European Union leaders gathered in the capital to celebrate the EU's 50th anniversary.

Alliance Against the EU-Summit, comprising more than 40 groups and initiatives ranging from labor unions to peace activists, intend to crash the EU party by protesting against what they say is the EU's focus on market liberalization at the expense of social justice, organizer Martin Mitterhauser told reporters in Berlin today. „The EU is not the Europe that we want,” Mitterhauser said, criticizing EU policies that he said have led to social exploitation and lower wages. Those protesting „represent the interests of the majority of the population,” he said. Leaders of the 27-member EU headed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, assemble in Berlin to celebrate a key moment in the birth of the present day EU, the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Yet the meeting comes amid faltering popularity for the bloc. Some 45% of Europe's citizens said life had become worse since their countries joined the EU, according to a Financial Times/Harris poll published yesterday. Just 25% said that life had improved.

Mitterhauser criticized plans by Merkel to help revive the EU constitution, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. The participation of EU member states in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was also decried at the meeting. Demonstrators will gather at Berlin's Alexanderplatz, the main square in the east of the city, and march to the Brandenburg Gate, scene of a series of official concerts during the celebrations, Mitterhauser said. Police spokeswoman Kerstin Zeesmer confirmed that about 10,000 protesters are expected. The Alliance is also against an EU directive to scale back barriers in the European services industry, which labor unions have said will let companies skirt safety and wage regulations and impinge on collective bargaining rights. Proponents say the initiative will spur growth in the European economy.

Merkel will oversee the summit celebrations, with the end result being a „Berlin Declaration” on the EU's achievements and goals signed by all 27 leaders. Of greater interest to Berlin residents is likely to be a series of club events, sponsored by the EU, taking place across the city throughout the two days of celebrations. (Bloomberg)