Weekly News Review

1st November 2004

Shock, Horror and Crisis as European Parliament actually exercises its rights. Vote on new Commission team postponed: Left MEPs accuse Barrosso’s would-be team of "neoliberal fundamentalism"

"Since my first election to the European Parliament, I have seen the installation of five Colleges of Commissioners," the leader of the European Parliament’s United Left Group (GUE-NGL), Francis Wurtz, said this week in the run-up to the supposed formality of EP approval for the EU’s new executive. "The Barroso Commission proposal is the sixth. Some of these Colleges were a little boring. Others, on the other hand, exerted a kind of fascination. Only one was washed up before the end of its term of office and had to cut short its mandate. But never before have I seen a team so poorly liked before even taking up office! It is some sort of record."

Mr Wurtz was referring to the bizarre shower of inadequates, minor and not-so-minor criminals, misogynists and homophobes whom the member state governments of the EU had seen fit to send to Brussels, presumably to get rid of them. As he mused, "One wonders according to what criteria certain Member States chose their candidate! One of them, after some remarks on women, homosexuals and refugees, has become an infamous celebrity. Another presents the classic profile of somebody liable to conflicts of interest - a major defect which has already seriously entangled her in her own country. Another showed at his hearing a total unpreparedness for the new functions for which he was proposed. Yet another elaborated on his new economic competences by stating peremptorily, to MEPs daily confronted with the excesses of competition on the internal market, ‘social dumping does not exist in Europe’!"

Declaring himself "flabbergasted" by the distribution of portfolios as much as by the line-up itself, the veteran French Communist MEP said that in the end it was, however, the team’s neoliberal "fundamentalism" which most disturbed him, rather than the individual quirks of this or that member.

That the Left should reject Barroso’s team of right-wing weirdoes was no great surprise. That the European Parliament should refuse to approve them was more of a shock. Having arrogantly declared that he would not change a single portfolio, let alone ask any member state to stop fooling around and send him some serious candidates, Mr Barroso made a heartrending plea for more time. If the EP should vote against his team, he said, such an outcome would "not be positive for European Institutions or for the European project".

This was quite rightly jeered by numerous MEPs, who are presumably as sick of the rest of us at this transparent method of undermining any semblance of democracy. Firstly, you tell the European Parliament that it can vote yea or nay to the proposed Commission, stopping well short of giving it the truly democratic right to reject individual appointees – then you tell it that should it vote no, the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse will ride across the continent, spreading famine, pestilence, and inadmissible restraints on trade through twenty-five countries. This is the method they use in referenda, also: you can vote yes or no, but if you vote no we’re all doomed unless you change your mind in the inevitable rerun. Now we are told that a no vote by the EP would have provoked a "constitutional crisis." What kind of system is that? Does the EP have the power to say no to the Commission or not? Shouldn’t we be told?

On the other hand, the member states’ representative for the occasion, the Netherlands’ Minister for Europe Atzo Nicolai, declared that he understood the situation and explained that constitutionally it meant that the "current Commission will stay in office as long as necessary". This is probably a case of making up the Treaty as you go along, but no-one complained as "better the devil you know", not to mention the fact that a couple of dozen people chosen at random from Brussels’ fine selection of multinational bars would probably be better than this bunch.

The new Commission was due to take office on 1 November. Very likely, having thumbed its nose at the Member States and the Commission President-elect, the Parliament will soon back down. The Left Group will almost certainly stick to its guns, but the predominantly Eurofanatical Greens, the Liberals and so-called Socialists will no doubt wake up in a cold sweat when they realise what they have done.

At best, the homophobic Biblebasher Rocco Buttiglione will be sent home, and a bit of reshuffling involving the various other controversial choices - Denmark's Mariann Fischer Boel, Latvia's Ingrida Udre, Greece's Stavros Dimas, Hungary's Laszlo Kovacs (actually, possibly the most progressive individual to be sent to the Commission for twenty years) and the Netherlands' Neelie Kroes – reshuffled. Faces will be saved all round, and only "Cute Butt" Buttiglione will suffer – but then, given his religious proclivities, he presumably welcomes a bit of suffering. So everyone will win.

Whether the decision will cause any problems in the short term is a matter of controversy, as apparently the EP exercising its power has never occurred to anyone as a possibility. According to the EU Observer, Commission legal experts are of the opinion that while the Commission has the legal capability to continue, it will have to take its decisions on a case-by-case basis. "Important areas such as competition will be affected - with deadlines for decisions on competition and merger and acquisition cases having to be dealt with as the situation arises. It is also unclear whether current Commissioners or high-level officials will be able to take part in any public meetings over the next few weeks. And while the Commission's various units will continue to work on different dossiers, it is not expected that they will take political decisions," the daily EU critical on-line newsletter noted. Because senior staff – organised into a ‘Cabinet’ for each Commissioner – are very much personal appointments, they have been leaving in droves in anticipation of their contracts’ ending, and some Commissioners have no executive staff left at all.

Officially, from November 1st, the EU will have no executive. A caretaker Commission will stay in place until Mr Barroso, who has said merely that he "hope(s) to submit (his) team to the European Parliament in the next few weeks", gets his act together.

On 5th November, member state prime ministers will gather for the formal signing ceremony of the European Constitution in Rome on Friday – in advance of any member state’s actually having the chance to decide in its parliament or via a referendum whether it wants the thing or not, but that’s another story. High on the agenda of informal and formal chat will be what the hell to do next. The EP meets again in plenary session on 17 November, but whether a new proposed team could be cobbled together by then is open to question. That this could not happen in any way which remotely respected democracy is not, but there we go again, showing our old-fashioned and unrealistic values.

Irish peace group calls for Europe-wide co-operation in campaign against Constitution

The Peace and Neutrality Alliance in Ireland, PANA, is calling for groups critical of the proposed EU constitution to get together to resist the imposition of this anti-democratic, militaristic treaty – in reality no constitution at all but a thinly-disguised programme for institutionalising neoliberalism. Speaking for the Alliance, PANA Chair Roger Cole explained that his group "will be campaigning against the EU Constitution because of its consolidation and expansion of the militarisation of the EU. PANA seeks to do this on a European wide basis." He asked for likeminded groups in other member states to contact PANA at pana@eircom.net You can find out more about the group at http://www.pana.ie


European NGOs call on Commission to curb power of corporate lobbying

In an open letter released this week, over 50 NGOs from more than a dozen EU countries call upon Commission President Barroso "to act immediately to curb the excessive influence of corporate lobby groups over EU policymaking". The open letter is intended as a first step in a hopefully increasingly broad civil society campaign for rolling back the excessive influence of corporate lobby groups over EU policies. A spokesperson for the group said that "Sign-ons (from European groups) are still very welcome!" He asked that these be sent by email with your organisation's name (and country) to: <ceo@corporateeurope.org>

The open letter, which stated that "Lobby groups succeed all too frequently in postponing, weakening or blocking sorely needed progress in EU social, environmental and consumer protections" and called on the Commission to "take action now to prevent Europe from

drifting towards the levels of corporate control exercised over politics in the United States.

can be read in full at is online here

English magistrate expresses sympathy for argument that maintaining Weapons of Mass Destruction "aids and abets" criminal activities.

In a development which could have international ramifications, the so-called ‘Burghfield 6’ – four activists associated with the British anti-war group ‘Trident Ploughshares’ who this June entered Burghfield, one of Britain’s WMD bases, and put it out of action for over an hour – left Reading Magistrates’ Court this afternoon having been given no more than token fines. The magistrate found them guilty of criminal damage, but expressed sympathy with their "sincerity, seriousness and high moral fibre" describing them as "uncommonly conscientious people".

In their summing up, the defendants argued that the very ownership of assembled and ready-to-use nuclear weapons is not only immoral but criminal under international law. The presiding magistrate agreed that Britain’s having joined the ICC was a new factor, which opened up the possibility of activities that aided and abetted internationally illegal activities, such as Geoff Hoon’s threats last year to use of nuclear weapons against Iraq, being adjudged criminal. If so, then acting to prevent that crime – the crime of maintaining our nuclear threat, as Burghfield/Aldermaston does – might not after all constitute criminal damage. The magistrate also made very clear that, under the Nuremberg principles, simply obeying orders is no defence in law. This was especially striking after one of the defendants, Kathryn Amos, cited in her defence a discussion with her interviewing police officer in which the officer declared that he was happy simply to obey orders, in manning Burghfield base. The ‘Burghfield six’ undertook their action partly so as directly to inform all Burghfield personnel of their rights and responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Laws. Disappointingly, however, the Magistrate found the activists guilty anyway, concluding that the case of the six was still not sufficiently dissimilar to a previous case decided against a Trident Ploughshares activist in a higher Court on a previous occasion, a decision which (at least in relevantly similar cases) is binding on magistrates.

Rupert Read, spokesman for the defendants, said after the verdict, "American Supreme Court Justice John P. Stevens recently declared, in relation to the detention and torture at Guantanamo Bay, that ‘We must not wield the tools of tyranny even to resist the forces of tyranny.’ Nuclear blackmail, which Geoff Hoon recently employed against Iraq, is an obscene tool of tyranny. It must be stopped. ‘The Bughfield six’ have played a real part in the gradual process of stopping it."

Kathryn Amos added, "It is crucial that our message is understood by those working on nuclear bases: We have no personal enmity against you. We believe that you need to be told the truth about your responsibilities under international law as well as British law. If you were told the truth, we think you would see that what you are engaged in is criminal activity that must end. We hope that you will draw this conclusion, before, one day, it may be too late. We encourage all citizens to do similar actions to that that we took in Burghfield this June, until Britain’s WMDs are disarmed."

In the past, activists against nuclear weapons have actually been acquitted on the grounds that they were committing small crimes to prevent greater ones, which is in some cases permitted under the law of England and Wales and the separate laws of Scotland. This is the first time, however, that the UK’s recent membership of the International Criminal Court has been cited in a verdict

Susan George: two important articles and an interview

Susan George, one of the leading thinkers and activists of the modern left, was one of the first people interviewed when Spectre first went on line back in the twentieth century. In the first of two important recent articles, George notes that the assault on the welfare state in Europe is already well advanced and warns that everything gained by people's struggles over the past 100 years is once more up for grabs. The European Social Forum, she argues, is a place to decide the strategy to push the neo-liberal adversaries until they fall over the political cliff. Read the rest of "This is the Way to Win" here At the ESF itself, Susan George’s article "Taking the Movement forward" was published as part of a booklet, Anti- capitalism: Where now? (Bookmarks). Here she stresses the need for the movement to agree on a common programme and identified targets in the power structures where the pressure must be

applied, if it is to bring results. "Taking the Movement forward" is available here Finally, you can read an interview with Susan George here

Conference will call for end to death penalty in US

Whoever wins next Tuesday, judicial murder will continue to disgrace the United States. Not everyone is happy to accept that, and on the weekend of November13-14, Kent Hall, University of Chicago, will host the Fourth Annual Convention of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Speakers include leading activists and former death row inmates. Go here for more information.

Australia's human rights scandal: Kids in detention: Set them free!

Sereana Naikelekele has lived in Australia with her husband for more than 15 years. Their five children were all born there. Three of them are citizens. So why are they all being held in Villawood detention centre? Australian law provides no avenue for families in Sereana's situation to be granted the right to stay on humanitarian grounds. If the immigration department was able to, it would deport the family immediately. Read more about how Australian law fails the basic rights of children born in Australia

here Or go here for a full list of contents of Issue #604, October 27, 2004, of Green Left Weekly, Australia’s socialist newspaper.

World elects Kerry

Thanks to Viviane Lerner of Hawaai for drawing pour attention to the World Virtual Election website This week the poll was not exactly neck and neck, with Senator John Kerry on 52%, well ahead of his nearest rival, the candidate of Spectre’s old friends in the Socialist Party USA. The Greens got 9%. And Dubya? See for yourself here