New €1.3bn ECB HQ inauguration marred by anti-austerity protests

Protestors in Frankfurt gathered to spoil the opening of the European Central Bank’s new €1.3 billion campus. For many Europeans, the huge luxury offices built in the midst of an economic recession represents everything that is wrong with the institution.

The €1.3 billion ($1.4 billion) complex, which includes two towers and a renovated historic vegetable warehouse opened March 18, 3 years late and nearly €350 million over budget.

Starting at 6:00am in Frankfurt, protestors arrived at the new bank headquarters, located in east Frankfurt near the new high rise business district known as ‘Mainhatten’. More than 10,000 have gathered at the protest, with reports of many injured from water canons and tear gas.

READ MORE:Blockupy: ECB protesters clash with Frankfurt police, tear gas deployed (PHOTOS)

The ‘Blockupy’ group, a mix of anti-capitalist and anti-austerity protestors from across Europe, blames the bank for the recession and unemployment that has gripped the eurozone.

“We have to ask ourselves, why is this happening in Frankfurt today? This is an expression of anger of the way the European policies are affecting European citizens," the international organizer of the event Spaniard Sol Trumbo Vila, told RT.

“Today the authorities are having a party to celebrate the institutionalization of neo-liberal policies in Europe. We are here also to demonstrate there is no consensus in the way European policies are being imposed in Europe,” Vila said.

Police have erected a security zone around the new 120,000 square meter bank. The territory, barricaded by barb wire, remains “fully operational” according to the police.

While protestors shout on the streets, bank President Mario Draghi will host the inauguration ceremony with Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann as well as Frankfurt’s home state of Hesse’s Economy Minister Tarek Al-Wazir.

At what price

The move was meant to save money, as the bank was renting out four separate offices around Frankfurt, including the iconic ‘Eurotower’ which is a more central location.

“The euro, our single currency, has become the most tangible symbol of European integration – a piece of Europe accessible and valuable to each and every one of us. This building will inevitably become known as the “house of the euro," Draghi said in his inauguration speech Wednesday.

Staff members began moving into the new buildings, located in the city’s high rise business district in early November. The double skyscraper complex will house 2,600 bank employees, including the President, Mario Draghi. The ECB held the first press conference in the new headquarters on December 4, 2014, and announced quantitative easing there on January 22, 2015. The full specs of the new office are available on the ECB's website.

Most protestors are irked by the massive $1.4 billion price tag on the project, which has been going on since 2002, and has been overseen by three different bank presidents.

This type of money seems superfluous in the face of the tough austerity policies the bank imposes on governments like Greece and Portugal to receive bailout packages. In order for the nations to receive funds from the troika of lenders- the ECB, the European Commission, and the IMF- governments must accept cost-cutting austerity programs. The tight-fisted policy aims to reduce debt, but has also been blamed for slowing growth and causing unemployment to skyrocket.

The 19 countries of the currency bloc are struggling to recover from a pair of recessions since 2009, and growth is more or less flat, expanding 0.9 percent in 2014. However, gross domestic product is forecast to grow 1.5 percent in 2015. Unemployment across the eurozone remains at 11.2 percent as of January 2015, but as high as 25 percent in Greece and Spain.

Demonstrators from Spain and Greece joined the crowds to protest the policies of the bank, which just nine days ago kicked off its €1.1 trillion bond buying program in an effort to resuscitate the euro area.

READ MORE: EU better off with ‘helicopter checks’ not QE

“The ECB are the agents of quantitative easing, a sort of insane economic policy that is really there as duct-tape to try and hold together a ludicrously failed political proposition which is the euro,” global financial markets expert Patrick Young told RT.

Many worry the ‘easy money’ program won’t reach the people, who will continue to struggle with unemployment.

Supporters of the new leftist Syriza government took part in the protests in Frankfurt Wednesday. Greece has been cut off until from troika funds until it agrees to more austerity measures.