Weekly News Review

Enlargement: good for the environment?

The European Environmental Bureau this week released the results of a survey of opinions of environmental NGOs in the new Member States. The report, The environmental results of the accession process, shows that inadequate administration and funding is holding back environmental and legal change. 

The accession process, co-financed by funding from EU institutions and organisations, appears to have strengthened the position of  environmental organisations in the new member states. But sustainable development, access to justice, future environmental legislation and environmental policy integration will all have a rocky ride.

Twenty-nine questions were sent to EEB member organisations in nine of the new member states, covering the impact of the accession process on the environment, the development of civic society and perspectives for the future. Its aim was to look back on the accession process and to see whether environmental NGOs in the accession countries considered it to have improved the environmental situation in their countries, whether it helped to strengthen the role and involvement of civic society and environmental NGOs, and how they see the implementation of the EU's acquis communitaire, its body of existing law.

EEB member organisations in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Malta and Cyprus evaluated the impact of the accession process. Slovakian environmental groups have yet to join the EEB, a Brussels-based umbrella lobbying group for robust environmental policies, so that country does not feature in the report. Asked about EU membership, Andras Lukacs from the Clean Air Action Group in Budapest, one of the Hungarian EEB members said: "I hope that the EU will keep an eye on how existing legislation is being enforced at all levels, and that this will result in much stricter enforcement in comparison with the present situation, when quite often it is the government which breaks the laws. I hope too that public participation and the role of NGOs will be enhanced."

Although enlargement in general is seen as something which to a certain extent will improve the environmental situation in the new Member States, fears among environmentalists remain. "I am afraid of creating an over-consumption society, destroying nature with aggressive rich businesses. It will take too long before Polish society and its administration becomes professional to a European level,’ said Andrzej Kassenberg, President of the Institute for Sustainable Development, a Polish EEB member group.

Spectre respectfully suggests that NGOs in the new member states take a look at what the EU and its predecessors have done to the environment of the existing member states. If you hate all those useless, unprofitable wild flowers you still have out there, or are pestered by an unnecessarily wide variety of  birds, it will make you very happy. Otherwise....

To read more on EU enlargement and the environment go here

Attempt to censure Commission thrown out

MEPs have rejected with an absolute majority a motion to censure the Commission over its failure to take political responsibility for the Eurostat affair. Go here for more about this week's vote at the European Parliament

Germans forget Finland on map celebrating EU enlargement

In their haste to welcome new members of the European Union to the fray, German map-makers were last week rather negligent of some of the old. A map commissioned as part of a general campaign of welcome to the enlarged EU by the German press ministry simply left out Finland. The map was presented so that all that was left of the EU's most north-easterly member state was just an unnamed blip. Read more here

Winners and losers

Germany stands to gain as much as five billion euro a year from enlargement, whilst countries such as Spain and Portugal stand to lose out, according to a new report by investment bank Goldman Sachs. Read all about it here

On-line opinion poll for Euro-elections

The Centre, which describes itself somewhat obscurely as Brussels' first 'think-do tank', is carrying out an online opinion poll to assess voting intentions in the 25 EU Member States ahead of the European Parliament elections on 10-13 June 2004. Participants must indicate in which Member State they are registered to vote and only one vote can be submitted from a particular computer. Once you have cast your vote, you can view the results so far for each Member State and for the EU as a whole. In addition, you can take part in a short survey to gauge perceptions of the European Parliament. Both the poll and the survey are entirely anonymous.

To take part, visit here

Thanks to reader Aaron McLoughlin for passing this information on.

It's official: Bush is President of White America only

Ron Daniels, a spokesman for 2004 Racism Watch, a group formed earlier this year to monitor candidates' statements and positions in elections in the United States, this week described as "patronizing" and "racially insensitive" George Bush's remarks in the White House Rose Garden on May 1 about how "people whose skins. . . are a different colour than white can self-govern."

"The President's comments were strange, patronizing and, indeed, racially insensitive," Daniels stated. "First, he referred to 'people whose skin colour may not be the same as ours,' as if all U.S. citizens were of European descent, which is absurd. Indigenous people and those of African, Latino and Asian descent should not be whited out by this country's President.

"In addition," Daniels went on, "in the light of the Bush administration's failing attempt to force a US.-imposed government upon the people of Iraq, his comment that 'people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern' is a slap in the face for the Iraqi people. People of the Muslim faith are governing themselves throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. As is true in non-Muslim societies, people in predominantly Muslim countries are struggling to create more democratic and just societies, often against repressive rulers supported by the US government.

"If the Bush administration is genuinely for self-government and democracy," Daniels concluded, "they should announce their intention to withdraw US troops from Iraq and allow the Iraqi people, in cooperation with the United Nations or other bodies like the Arab League, to truly govern themselves."

Ron Daniels is the Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. 2004 Racism Watch was founded three months ago at a national meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.  More information can be found here

Iraqis fight US brutality - Will `troops out' lead to civil war?

"If the US troops leave Iraq, ``violence will fill the vacuum as groups struggle for political power, and we risk all-out civil war'', John McCain, a leading Republican member of the US Senate armed services committee, declared on April 22. This idea that the withdrawal of the US and other foreign occupation forces from Iraq will only lead to ``chaos'' and civil war has became an increasing theme of the US rulers and their media mouthpieces as the Iraqi armed resistance to the occupation has steadily grown over the last several months." Read Green Left Weekly's full article here  Or go here for a full list of contents of GLW #581  (May 5). GLW is Australia's socialist newspaper, with excellent coverage of Australian, regional and world affairs.

Colombian police: Striking workers "terrorists"

Miners call for international solidarity

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) is calling on its affiliates to come to the assistance of Colombian oil workers, members of Uniòn Sindical Obrera (USO), on strike against the country's national oil company, Ecopetrol.

The ICEM has 425 global affiliates and around 20 million members. ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs is calling on trade unions across the globe to write to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to protest not only government actions that caused the strike, but the Uribe Administration's response to the strike.

A day after the strike began on 22 April, the government declared the walkout illegal on the ill-conceived notion that petroleum refining is an "essential service" of a nation.

"Declaring the strike by members of USO illegal and citing petroleum refining as an essential service to Colombia contradicts ILO jurisprudence on what constitutes a nation's essential services," wrote ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs to President Uribe.

"Case after case has omitted oil refining from that category."

Higgs also said in the letter the act of making the strike illegal, "considering Colombia's volatile political circumstances" has brought "harsh repercussions" to the striking oil workers.

The strike, affecting 5,500 workers, is primarily over the government's decision to restructure Ecopetrol, which likely will mean a reduction in workers' benefits. USO is also seeking a new collective wage agreement through the strike.

Since declaring the strike illegal, the Colombian government has placed legal sanctions on the officers of USO, arrested 17 strike leaders from different petrol plants and has threatened military force to bust the strike. Police have announced that anti-terrorism measures will be taken against striking workers, and the USO reports a great many death threats have been made against workers and USO leaders alike.

The restructuring, announced in June 2003, has seen the government sign new and extended contracts over exploration and production of oil fields with private sector operators, most of which are foreign based. USO contends that such rewritten contracts with relaxed terms will plunder Colombia's natural resources and eventually will lead to the privatization of Ecopetrol.

"We know that the national economy, the workers, and Colombian people in general will be seriously affected," said USO Secretary General Juan Ramon Rios in a public statement.

USO calls the Ecopetrol dispute the most important strike in Colombia in over 20 years and is asking oil and petrochemical unions across the world to monitor exports of refined products to Colombia in the event the country's reserves dwindle. The union is also asking the global trade union movement to protest directly to Colombian embassies in their home countries.

Thanks to Maria Engqvist of ANNCOL for this report