Weekly News Review

9th May, 2003

Dutch MEPs revolt against salary hike


Dutch Minister for European Affairs Atzo Nicolai has agreed to demands from members of the three left and centre-left parties in the Netherlands parliament (The Socialists, Green Left, and Labour) that in the future Dutch Members of the European Parliament will have to pay the same taxes as all other Dutch citizens. The reason? At the end of last year a majority in the EP formed by Social Democrats and Christian Democrats decided that all Euro-MPs should earn the same salary, replacing the current system where they are paid the same amount as national MPs from their own countries.


In practice, MEPs get to trouser considerably more than their national parliamentary colleagues. They profit from over-generous expenses and other payments, for example, and control of these is ineffective. Despite this, the agreement will mean a considerable rise - the Dutch and British, for example, who currently enjoy similar levels of pay, will see their monthly salaries rise by well over a quarter to almost Euros 9000 per month. Harmonisation for the rst of us tends to mean everything being dragged down to the lowest common denominator, but the MEPs who inflict this on us have more sense than to treat themselves in the same way.


Erik Meijer, member of the Socialist Party (SP) in the Netherlands, finds this scandalous. Mr Meijer, who, in common with his party's nine national MPs keeps only a salary equivalent to that of a skilled industrial worker in his own country, is one of those who have condemned the move. "It became even worse when it was decided that on these enormous salaries only a ´European tax´ of 22% has to be paid.," Meijer said. "One thing is for sure, we cannot sell this to the Dutch people. With Labour MEP Michiel van Hulten, Meijer wrote to minister Nicolai suggesting that the national tax system could be used to claw back the increase. Finland, Sweden and Denmark have already introduced supplementary taxes to counter what they agree is an over-generous system.


Spectre believes that elected representatives should be paid a reasonable salary. Euro-MPs, moreover, have considerable travel expenses. Unless society covers these costs, democracy is jeopardised. It is, however, at least equally jeopardised by the tendency for politicians to become an increasingly out-of-touch, privileged elite.  Enormous salary hikes and an expenses system which demands no receipts both demonstrate and fuel this tendency.  It is especially galling to see people awarding themselves huge pay rises when many of these same people spend much of their energy pontificating about how unreasonable wages and social costs are destroying the Europe's economies.


EU Council backs down, releases documents


The EU Council of Ministers, the most secretive of the EU decision-making bodies, has given was to sustained pressure from Statewatch and others and released the text of controversial EU-US agreements with serious implications for civil liberties. Read all about it at  http://www.statewatch.org/news

"Your future is also in jeopardy."


As American freedom fries in the stinking, cholesterol-laden gunk of the aftermath of Bush's coup d´état, Francis A. Boyle's letter to Europeans reminds us that there are still some sane people Over There. "We, as United States citizens," writes Professor Boyle, "have a special responsibility to oppose this mad rush to war. You, as Europeans, also have a special responsibility. Most of your countries are military allies of the United States within NATO. The United States claims to act in self-defense, but also to defend "the interests of its allies and friends". Your countries will inevitably be implicated in U.S. military adventures. Your future is also in jeopardy." Read the rest at here

Breakthrough for Scottish Socialists


Many congratulations to our friends in the Scottish Socialist party for putting a dent in the madman Blair's fixed smile with a great performance in last week's elections for the Scottish Parliament. Standing on a principled platform which drew attention to growing inequalities in Scottish society as well as unequivocally condemning Blair's support for the illegal Bush junta's illegal war, the SSP increased its representation at Holyrood from one seat to six. Read all about the party and its success at http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/


For an account of the SSP's arrival in the hallowed chambers of Holyrood, go to  here   Or take a look at the irreverent but entertaining account at here  Non-British readers should understand that making fun of elected representatives of left, right and centre is performed each day in most newspapers under a heading such as "parliamentary sketch."   This is regarded as a bedrock of democracy, and indeed would be were there any democracy for it to be a bedrock of.


Vote every five years, shop every day


As the British government faced a major revolt (including in Parliament, from Labour members) against its plans for "Foundation Hospitals" - which will lead to more profiteering and inequalities in the British health care system, centre-left think tank Catalyst has produced an interesting critique of the way in which citizens are being transformed into consumers. Catherine Needham's Citizen-consumers warns that the government's consumerist agenda for public services will erode the culture of social citizenship upon which their long-term survival depends. For more information visit here

John Pilger wins prestigious prize


Congratulations to John Pilger on winning Norway's Sophie Prize 2003. Describing Pilger as "one of the most outstanding and courageous journalists" the awards committee said that "over the last 30 years contributed to uncovering  the lies and propaganda of the powerful, especially as they relate to wars, conflict of interests and economic exploitation of people and natural resources."

"He has through his integrity, thoroughness and courage, strengthened democracy and human dignity. He has managed to engage the public - morally and politically - for the protection of the powerless", the President of the Sophie Foundation, Elin Enge, added.  The prize will b presented in Oslo on June 12 by Norwegian environment minister Børge Brende. The Sophie Prize was established in 1997 by the Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder and his wife Siri Dannevi, "to inspire people working towards a sustainable future." It is named after Gaarder's book Sophie's World, which follows a child's search for philosophical insight and truth. Go to http://www.sophieprize.org for more information.