Weekly News Review

2nd October 2004

Left Euro-MP exposes Dutch commissioner-designates shoddy past…

but she still gets the job

The European Parliament this week held the statutory hearings at which nominees for the Commission are questioned by MEPs to assess their suitability for the job. All won eventual approval, even if in many cases it was grudging, and at least three found themselves being thoroughly grilled. The only way the process could be given even a veneer of democratic practice, however, would be if the Parliament had the power to reject an individual appointee, yet this is not the case. Instead it can either drop the atom bomb of voting to throw the whole lot out, or quirt the feeble water pistol of asking the designated Commission President to rethink his appointments. In the end even this proved too much for the MEPs, who settled for a bit of mild wrist-slapping.

The left and other EU critics did their best. The European Parliament delegation of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP), Dutch section of the United Left Group (GUE-NGL) organised a meeting immediately prior to the hearing of their country’s nominee Neelie Kroes, chosen by Commission President Barosso choice for the important Competition Policy portfolio. The SP produced a letter from Ms. Kroes, written when she was in charge of a public body charged with promoting exports, in which she recommends what they describe as "her friend Joop van Caldenborgh" to the United Arab Emirates as an intermediary. Kroes has denied advancing Mr Van Caldenborgh’s career. As a result of his intervention, which included explaining to the Emirates’ authorities how they could avoid OPEC export quotas, the U AE pulled out of the purchase of a number of ships and Dutch industry lost around a billion euros.

During the meeting, Remi Poppe, a former MP for the Socialist Party in the Hague, also went into the Tanker Cleaning Rotterdam affair, in which, he said, Kroes, despite being warned not to, became involved with a firm which was known to have illegally dumped poisonous substances. Involved were subsidies of around 10 million euros.

A spokesman for the party said that "The SP categorically denies the accusations of critics that we have launched an attack on Neelie Kroes because she is on the political 'right'. All that the party wishes to do is to prevent the accession to the Commission of a person whose appointment could lead to future problems for the European Commission or for the European Union as a whole."

In the event, the Parliament approved her nomination, though they have attached a number of conditions to it. See here for a full report.

…while financial declaration puts new Danish Commissioner in hot water

Apparent discrepancies in the financial declarations made at home and in Brussels by Commissioner designate for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel have landed her in hot water. Read why here

The nominee for Environment Commissioner, on the other hand, was also approved...

The European Parliament's approval of nominee for Environment Commissioner Dimas was strongly disapproved by progressive MEPs. Following the Parliament's hearing, Mr Dimas won the endorsement of the Parliament's Committee on the Environment and Public Health, whose President, German Christian Democrat Karl-Heinz Florenz, described him as potentially "a strong advocate for the environment as one of the main policy areas of the European Union."

Mr Florenz's choice of words is interesting, because while EU environment policies emanating from the Commission's Directorate General for the Environment (DG-ENVI) and Directorate General for Public Health and Consumer Policy (DG-Sanco) can look very impressive, they are invariably watered down when they come before the full Commission. At that point, through the Directorates General responsible for industry, the internal market, competition policy and related areas, the full weight of corporate industry is brought to bear.


If the Committee’s chairman was impressed, however, the same could not be said for all of its members. Even British Liberal Democrat Chris Davies told him that "You don't strike me as a natural environmentalist, while Italian social democrat Guido Sacconi said he was "big on grand ideas but short on specific policy suggestions."

A spokesperson for the United Left Group (GUE-NGL) described its MEPs as "distinctly unimpressed with (Mr Dimas’s) performance" with Jonas Sjöstedt, who leads the GUE-NGL team on the Environment Committee adding that he "was disappointed with this morning's performance from Dimas. Many of his responses to important questions were vague. He did not appear to have adequate knowledge on the environment and did not convince us he was committed to his prospective tasks as Environment Commissioner. This particular post is one which requires energy, vision, and a genuine commitment to sustainable development. We did not see any of those attributes on display this morning and so our Group will not be supporting the appointment."

Greek GUE-NGL Member of the Environment Committee Dimitrios Papadimoulis was also concerned by Dimas' apparent lack of vision. "He did not display any real commitment to environmental protection. We all know that this is potentially a very serious problem in a Commission which pays constant lip-service to finding a balance between economic and environmental protection objectives and invariably prioritises short-term economic goals. Of course, we will ultimately judge Dimas on his actions and time will tell whether he is really committed to the portfolio. If he is approved, we in the United Left Group will be doing everything we can during the next legislature to hold the European Commission to account for their duties to sustainable development objectives."

Satu Hassi, Finnish Green MEP and Vice-President of the Environment Committee, said "Today's hearing has confirmed our fears that the new Commission intends to downgrade environmental protection. In his responses to questions from MEPs Stavros Dimas demonstrated a worrying lack of environmental commitment and vision. He also failed to present any sort of clear action plan for his potential new role. The Greens doubt that Dimas is up to the job of Environment Commissioner. He is an economic and legal affairs specialist and during his political career he was Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry. But Europe has to meet important environmental challenges in the coming years, including the adoption of further measures against climate change at a European and international level and the introduction of a new legislative framework on chemicals policy that effectively protects human health and the environment. For this to happen we need a strong Environmental Commissioner who will act as a determined lobbyist for the environment and can stand up to strong pressure from industry. We find it hard to take on trust that Dimas will acquire the necessary qualifications by learning on the job. The Commissioner designate made a series of very worrying statements today that gave the impression that he wants to push responsibility for environmental policies towards Members States. Europe needs a Commissioner who will take the lead on environmental policies rather than merely reacting to what national governments are willing to undertake."

The European Parliament cannot, however, simply reject a single nomination. It must ask the Commission President-designate to rethink his entire team. Dimas will therefore be approved, despite the opposition of left and green MEPs and the reservations expressed by liberals and social democrats.

Flimsy Controls Fail to Prevent EU Countries Selling Arms to Human Rights Abusers

EU arms controls are not strong enough to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands, a coalition of 55 European NGOs warned this week. They said there were major loopholes in the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, which must be strengthened without delay.

The call comes as the NGOs launch a report called Taking Control: The Case for a More Effective EU Code of Conduct - see here

"The EU Code is a first step, but clearly it is not meeting its objective of ensuring responsible export controls across Europe. EU states are still supplying arms to countries that abuse human rights and suffer internal instability," said Dick Oosting, Director of Amnesty International’s EU Office.

"The EU talks a good game, but the fact is that its member states are still exporting defence equipment when they shouldn’t. This report sets out what needs to happen to prevent these abuses." said Henry Smith of Saferworld.

Between 1994 and 2001 the EU exported nearly US $ 10 billion of arms to developing countries: approximately one third of all the arms deliveries made to these countries. New research by the Control Arms campaign has highlighted a number of recent cases that show how EU arms export controls are being bypassed to allow European arms and components to end up in the hands of human rights abusers. A review of the Code, now underway, is due to be completed under the Dutch Presidency of the EU, but the NGOs say that there does not appear to be the political will to implement the changes needed to make a difference.

"For far too long the EU Code of Conduct has failed to stop arms from going where they shouldn’t be allowed. This new research illustrates the urgent need for the EU to control its arms trade in a responsible manner. Every year we see hundreds of thousands of people killed by arms. Europe should be a model for the rest of the world to follow", said Justin Forsyth, Director of Policy at Oxfam.

Swedish government presents plan to ratify EU Constitution

Sweden will adopt the EU Constitution by the end of 2005, according to a working plan from the governing Social Democrat government, which has refused to call a referendum. Instead, a bill on ratification of the Constitution will be presented to the Swedish Parliament by September 2005 with view to its adoption by the end of the year.

Although the Vänster (Left) Party, Greens and a minority of Social Democrats are demanding a referendum, a clear majority in the current Swedish Parliament is in favour of the Constitution.

Green MP Maria Wetterstrand, condemning the move, said that "It [the current parliament] has no mandate to take such a big decision, as the question was not discussed at all in the previous election campaign."

Vänster Euro-MP Jonas Sjöstedt agreed, describing the plan as "totally unacceptable. At the time of the last election the proposed Constitution had not been issued, so that voters had no chance to take the parties’ positions on it into account when deciding for whom to cast their vote."

Climate change treaty only one step away?

Environmentalists have welcomed reports that Russia may be close to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty on tackling climate change.

Under the treaty industrialised nations responsible for 55 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions must ratify the protocol before it can come into effect. If Russia (responsible for 17 per cent of global emissions) ratifies the treaty it will reach this key threshold.

President Putin is reported to have instructed ministers to approve the treaty in Government sessions on Thursday Sept. 30, before going to the Kremlin-dominated Parliament for approval.

Friends of the Earth International’s climate campaign coordinator Catherine Pearce said:

"If Russia ratifies Kyoto it will be a significant step forward in the fight against global warming. It will also turn up the heat on President Bush and other world leaders who have refused to join the only international treaty that could help avoid a global catastrophe. Time is running out. We need international action now to reduce the gas emissions responsible for global warming."

EU Farm Reforms Will Not Remove Trade Distortions 

The European Union is slated to implement the reforms in its common agriculture policy (CAP) in 2005. The well-worded CAP reforms seeks to protect the interests of the rich farmers in Europe and is in no way a move towards elimination of trade-distorting subsidies. In addition the revised WTO framework draft designed by Oshima-Supachai combine on July 30 has given legitimacy to the subsidies given by the developed countries. The CAP reforms which were initiated in 2003 and slated for implementation in 2005 have ensured that the level of subsidisation will not undergo change. It has legitimised the amount of subsidy received by a farmer in 2000-02 as his "personal entitlement."   This means that over the period of next ten years, European farmers are entitled to receive the same amount of subsidy as long as he maintains his land or livestock. If he sells or rents out his land, the subsidy will be transferred to the new owner or the tenant cultivator. Read the rest here

Chirac considering referenda on future EU enlargements

Under new plans being considered by the French President, all future enlargements of the European Union would have to be put to a referendum. Read why here

La Vía Campesina, An Evolving Transnational Social Movement

Series 6/2004

This TransNational Institute Briefing by Saturnino M. Borras looks at the experience of Vía Campesina, an organisation that unites more than a hundred national and sub-

national farmer organisations across the world opposed to neo-liberalism. Vía Campesina has emerged as a major actor in the current popular transnational struggles against neo-liberalism. It advocates a pro-poor, sustainable, rights-based rural development. Focusing on the global campaign for agrarian reform, Borras looks

at four broadly distinct but interrelated aspects of Vía Campesina's development; namely, (i) agendas and aims, (ii) alliances, rival movements and the question of autonomy, (iii) strategies and forms of collective actions, and (iv) representativity and accountability. You can read a summary here or the whole thing here

Celebrating 600 issues of Green Left Weekly

This anniversary issue features award-winning journalist John Pilger on GLW's role as Australia's samidzat Read the whole paper here