A two-day summit of European Union leaders has opened in Brussels.
EU leaders are expected to debate the merits and detriments of austerity programs that have been pushed as a way out of the current economic crisis but have produced backlashes in EU member states that are struggling to get their economies back on track.
Eurozone countries such as Greece and Spain have seen unemployment rates climb as its governments implement a series of budget cuts designed to cut bloated deficits.
The unpopular cuts have fueled protests not only in Greece and Spain but more recently in Italy as well.
Thousands of antiausterity protesters demonstrated in Brussels as EU leaders arrived for the summit.
Organizers said some 15,000 people turned out for the protest on March 14. Several were arrested after breaking into a building adjacent to EU headquarters.
The EU leaders are also expected to discuss the situation in Syria.
French President Francois Hollande indicated earlier on March 14 that he would raise the issue of lifting an EU embargo on supplying weapons to rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
"We want the Europeans to lift the arms embargo [on Syria], not because we want a total war,” he said. “We believe that a political transition must be the solution for Syria, but we have to put pressure and show that we are ready to support the opposition, therefore we have to go that far."
Hollande maintained that providing arms to the rebels would prevent the sort of massacres that have become monthly if not weekly events in Syria some two years after unrest first broke out.
"We must also take responsibility,” he said. “We cannot allow a people to be massacred by a regime that, for now, does not want any discussion or political transition, which is sufficiently clear now."
With reporting by Reuters and AFP