Weekly News Review

8th March, 2004

Legal challenge to European Commission approval of toxic herbicide


A coalition of international trade union organizations and environmental NGOs has filed a lawsuit with the European Court of First Instance - a subordinate institution of the European Court of Justice's - challenging the European Commission’s decision last December to grant EU-wide approval for the deadly herbicide paraquat. 


The coalition contends that the Commission decision ignored readily available scientific evidence on the toxic effects of paraquat on humans and the environment, and that the approval violates the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Union Treaty (in particular the precautionary principle) and secondary EU law.


Agricultural workers' unions and environmental groups have campaigned for many years to ban the use of paraquat, which is responsible for a substantial number of the tens of thousands of annual pesticide-related deaths. Once absorbed through the skin or lungs or orally ingested, its effects are irreversible. There is no known antidote to paraquat poisoning. A potentially fatal link has been documented between paraquat exposure and Parkinson's disease. Agricultural workers are regularly exposed to this toxic substance during handling and mixing, spraying and working in freshly-sprayed fields.


Paraquat is persistent and accumulates in the soil with repeated applications. This long-term contamination and unacceptable risks to wildlife populations are well documented in the scientific literature. The lawsuit argues that all of this was ignored by the Commission, whose

decision to authorise paraquat came in response to an unprecedented lobbying effort by the manufacturer Syngenta and the wider pesticides lobby in the main EU member states. The decision was adopted in the face of opposition from environmental, public health and trade union organizations (whose members are in the front line of exposure), and was opposed by EU member states where paraquat had previously been banned (Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden).


The government of Sweden has launched a separate challenge to the approval decision in the European Court of Justice.


"Paraquat must be banned to protect the environment and human health", said John Hontelez, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau, the umbrella body which brings together all major European environmental NGOs. ‘The European Commission has ignored publicly available scientific evidence of the hazards associated with paraquat and pushed

through its decision behind the closed doors of the Member States' Committee meetings. This can only lead to a loss of public confidence in how pesticides are approved in the EU. That is why this lawsuit is necessary."


"Paraquat has no place in an agriculture which is socially and environmentally sustainable," said IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald. "EU approval not only places European agricultural workers at greater risk, forcing paraquat on to the market in countries where unions have

successfully fought to have it banned. It encourages its further use in developing countries, despite the known dangers paraquat poses to humans and the environment. The EU must assume global responsibility for its decisions in this area." The global consequences of the EU paraquat approval have not been slow to follow the decision. Syngenta immediately made use of the EU decision to mount a public relations and lobbying campaign in Malaysia to reverse that country's phased ban on paraquat.  The paraquat lobby is also lobbying hard in Central America, where paraquat use has come in for strong criticism.


Go to www.pan-europe.net for more.


Large east-west divide in quality of life after enlargement


Citizens from the new member states are much less satisfied with their lives, have incomes in some cases ten times lower, and have much worse jobs than their counterparts in current EU countries, new research has shown. Read all about it here



Leaflet produced to support days of action against dismantling of welfare states


The European Trade Union Congress, various trade unions throughout Europe, social institutions and initiatives, the social forums in Europe and Attac have all called for protests against the dismantling of the welfare state on the 2nd and 3rd of April.

The editors of the German monthly journal „Sozialismus“ (member of transform!, the European network for alternative thinking and political dialogue) have produced a four-page leaflet in which the cuts and the neoliberal reconfiguration of the labour market, the pension and the health-systems are shortly portrayed: in Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Danmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.


The leaflet can be downloaded (as a pdf-file) in English from www.sozialismus.de in the following languages.


"Haiti: how to avoid a repeating cycle" - Haiti Support Group


The Haiti Support Group - a solidarity group founded in the US in June 1992 to support the Haitian people in their struggle for justice, human rights, equitable development and participatory democracy - has responded to the US-sponsored coup d´état and invasion of the country with a call to address the problems underlying the recurrent cycle of violence. The HSG's first point i simply that "There are too many guns in Haiti. There should be a comprehensive disarmament strategy, with the aim of disarming both the pro-Aristide and anti-Aristide irregulars, and this must include the armed insurgents led by Guy Philippe, Louis Jodel Chamblain et al. Such a strategy must necessarily entail a long-term project to provide alternative livelihoods to those unemployed youth who have taken up arms;  effective police action to enforce the country's firearms possession laws; and the tight regulation and control of the Haitian elite's private security structures.


The Group goes on to state that  "rebuilding the Army is not a solution. Haiti needs a force to guarantee law and order - in other words, a police force answerable to and controlled by the Ministry of Justice. Haiti does not need an Army to protect its borders. The key roles played by the Haitian Army since its creation during the US occupation of 1915-34 have been to defend the country's tiny and reactionary economic elite, and to repress movements for progressive political change. The Haiti Support Group fully expects a reborn Haitian Army to play exactly the same role. 


"Both disarmament and reform of the police force can only succeed if the long struggle to end impunity takes a giant step forward. For this to occur, there must be a proper judicial reform, not like the farce directed by the US last time around (1994-98). A successful judicial reform needs, as much as possible, to be directed by and to serve the interests of the Haitian majority, not the Haitian elite minority.


"Whatever institutions are constructed, and however well they are strengthened, if they are built on a swamp, they will, in time, collapse. In the case of Haiti, this swamp is the fact that 85% of the population lives in abject poverty.


"Only when the majority takes control of Haitian society and refashions it so that it addresses the majority's interests and concerns, can there ever be stability in this country.


"Only when the majority takes control of the Haitian economy and restructures it so that it provides for and sustains the majority, can there ever be economic development in this country.


"If this point is not understood, then Haiti is doomed to live through a repeating cycle of bloodshed, coups, collapse, and foreign intervention - again, and again, and again.


For more information contact  Charles Arthur at  haitisupport@gn.apc.org


In addition, Michel Chossudovsky informs us that he wrote an article about the unfolding situation at the end of last month, "in response to the barrage of disinformation in the mainstream media. It was completed on February 29th, the day of President Jean Bertrand Aristide's departure in exile." Chossudovsky argues that "The armed insurrection which contributed to unseating President Aristide on February 29th 2004 was the result of a carefully staged military-intelligence operation." Read the rest here

International Trade Union Mission Returns from Iraq

A first international trade union mission has returned last weekend from a 10-day fact finding mission in Iraq. The main purposes of the mission were to gain a clearer understanding of trade union developments inside Iraq, and to raise key concerns about the reconstruction process with officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and Iraq’s Governing Council. The mission met with workers and trade union officials in Baghdad, Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) and Basra in the south. Meetings were also held with the Minister for Labour and Social Affairs Sheik Samy Azarh Al-maajoun, CPA officials, UK special envoy Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and employers from the Iraqi Federation of Industries. They visited workers in the education, food manufacturing, hotel, petroleum, road transport, port and railway sectors. A full report of their visit is at http://www.icftu.org/

Dodgy signatures


Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) announced on Tuesday that not enough valid signatures were collected by the opposition to force a recall referendum on President Hugo Chavez without first re-verifying one million signatures directly with the signers.  The signers have been given two days to report to designated offices to confirm. Go to

Venezuelanalysis.com for more on this and for ongoing news and comment.