Weekly News

6th February, 2004

Right wing wants to ban Communists from European Parliament


In a further demonstration of how far the political elite of Europe has now moved from any real commitment to democracy, the ludicrously -named European People's Party (EPP) is debating whether it should ban former communists from taking up posts in the European institutions.


First victim of this ploy to strengthen the grip of the right would be Estonia's Siim Kallas, an ex-communist whom the Baltic republic has nominated to be its Commissioner from 1 May when enlargement takes place. Kallas, a former prime minister in Estonia, was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1972 to 1990. The European Parliament has the right to approve all of the candidates after they have been chosen by EU governments.  The EPP is the biggest political group, but would need the support of other right wing groups if it were to succeed in its aim of defending democracy by abolishing it.


A resolution currently being considered by the EPP calls on the political parties of the European Parliament not to accept anyone in their ranks who previously served under "oppressive or totalitarian communist regimes".


President of the EPP, Wilfried Martens claimed that the EPP "has always opposed extremes on the left or the right" and this was a "very delicate matter".  Abolishing democracy is indeed "delicate".


The leader of the EPP-ED group (which unites the EPP with Britain's Tories), Hans-Gert Pöttering, said the whole issue "was raised by the observers [national MPs from the new member states who have had a special status in the European Parliament since last year]".


In language sadly reminiscent of earlier phases in the history of the German right, Pöttering said that the EPP has to be committed to "sweeping away" such elements.


Erik Meijer, MEP, of the Dutch Socialist Party, which forms part of the Parliament's United Left group (GUE-NGL), condemned the possible move. "We share a critical attitude to the former Soviet Union and its oppressive system, as well as its colonialist attitude to the Baltic States." said Meijer, "but imitating the USSR is no way to defend democracy. I would be equally opposed to a blanket ban on people who served in the Franco or Salazar régimes, or under the Greek colonels. And if you are to ban former Soviet Communists, why not also ban people from parties which never criticised the Soviet Union's actions, such as the Greek or French Communists? Democracy can only function if people are allowed to express their views, even if we find such views onerous."


GUE-NGL leader Francis Wurtz of the French Communist Party (PCF) accused the PPE of attempting to grab the headlines and distract attention from the fact that it had supported war with Iraq on the sole, and as it turned out utterly false grounds, that the country possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. "Or why", Wurtz quipped, "not propose Berlusconi for the Nobel Peace prize?"  Is this simple nostalgia for the Cold War? he wondered.  


"Just what is the PPE looking to achieve with such an outmoded policy?" asked the United Left leader. "Is it nothing more than a simple publicity stunt to put its electoral competitors from the Social Democratic and Liberal parties on the defensive, as these also include in their ranks a certain number of ´repentant´ former leaders of these countries? Or is it a way of declaring a real strategy of the current conservative majority in the EU, that of interpreting enlargement to the East as an act of revenge, or of a new witch-hunt?"


Election turnout set to reach new lows in UK


Turnout in the UK was the lowest in the EU in the last European elections and is set to get lower. A new poll has shown that only 18 percent of British people intend to vote in the forthcoming European elections, even lower than the turnout in the last election, which, at 24 percent, was the lowest in the EU.


The poll, commissioned by the UK office of the European Parliament, surveyed 2,000 people, only nine percent of whom thought that "Europe" was an important issue for the UK.


In the last elections - in 1999 - voter turnout varied hugely across the EU.


Some countries had very large turnouts, such as Belgium (90 percent), Luxembourg (86 percent) - Impressive, unless you know that it is compulsory to vote in these countries!


Elsewhere, turnout was lower than for national, or even regional elections. Besides the UK, turnout was also ridiculously low in the Netherlands and Finland (both 30 percent).


Thanks to EU Observer for this information.


Global Anti-War Assembly calls for world-wide participation in March 20 actions


The General Assembly of the Global Anti-War Movement is calling on the world to "fill the streets"  on March 20 to demand an end to the occupation of Iraq.


The General Assembly of the Anti-War Movement was first convened on January 19 at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Mumbai (Bombay).  The Assembly fulfilled its organisers hopes that it would be the biggest and most representative meeting of the anti-war movement since the invasion, with participation and endorsers from around the world. 


The Assembly ended with the call for an International Day of Action on March 20, the anniversary of the attack on Iraq. It calls for all movements in all continents to organize mass protests on that day to demand the end of the occupation of Iraq. "Different countries will organise protests of different scales and forms" a spokesperson for the Assembly said, adding that "the important point is to mark the anniversary across the world. Resistance in Iraq and internationally is growing daily and March 20 will be the day when the global resistance tells not only Bush but all the occupation troops and warmongers that the movement will not rest until the occupation of Iraq and Palestine and the 'war against terror'


For more information, contact marylou@focusweb.org


New study on corruption - lessons from Thailand


A new study from UK progressive research group The Corner House, Corruption, Governance and Globalisation: Lessons from the New Thailand by Dr Pasuk Phongpaichit looks at the viability of the belief amongst international agencies such as the World Bank that corruption blocks economic growth and that it comes from a lack of proper rules and institutions.  In Thailand corruption has in fact gone hand-in-hand with economic growth when competing factions have invested their 'rents' from corruption productively. And more rules have not necessarily meant an end to corruption in the country. The new Thaksin Shinawatra premiership, while marked by efforts to clean up petty graft and institute a more regulated market for political favours, is merely institutionalising forms of corruption centred, US-style, on the intersection of big business and politics. Popular movements are crucial in combating corruption. Telecoms tycoon Thaksin is working hard to weaken them by trying to roll back recent victories by watchdog institutions, intimidating activists and laying on pseudo-populist programmes. This briefing paper looks at all these aspects and provides many insights for international campaigns addressing corruption. It is now available at http:www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/briefing/29thailand.html