Weekly News Review

9th October 2004

New UK poll shows uphill struggle for pro-Constitution campaigners

A poll for the think tank "New Frontiers" this week finds that voters oppose the European Constitution by 59 percent to 30 percent. As well as an overall lead for the no side, the poll found a much greater number of strong supporters on the "no" side, with 40 percent firmly in the "no" camp, 18 percent firmly on the "yes" side, and 30 percent who would consider changing their views as the campaign unfolds.

When asked whether they believe Tony Blair's argument that a "no" vote on the EU Constitution would mean having to leave the European Union, the public reject Blair's claim by 77 percent to 18 percent.

When faced with three options: sign the Constitution, or reject the Constitution but stay in the EU, or leave the EU, voters split 19 percent for joining the Constitution, 59 percent for the status quo, and 13 percent for leaving the EU.

However, the poll also found that the public are unhappy with the way the EU is currently working. 45 percent said that they thought the EU was "bad for Britain" and only 40 percent think that it is "good for Britain".

The Government will find it very difficult to win a referendum on the EU Constitution. Instead of the reform which voters want, the EU Constitution would mean transferring yet more powers from the local and national level to the EU. Unless the EU changes it will continue to lose public support.

Left Euro-MPs attack approval of Mandelson

Helmot Markhov, German Member of the United Left Group of 41 Euro-MPs (GUE-NGL) said after this week’s European Parliament assessment hearing of the twice-sacked Labour minister, whose party is sending him to Brussels presumably to remove an embarrassment, that his Group "disagrees with the nomination of Mr. Peter Mandelson as Commissioner for international trade of the future European Commission." In a letter to the Chair of the Parliament’s External Trade Committee, Mr Markhov, of the Party of Democratic Socialists, said on behalf of his Group that it "believes that the EU needs to implement a reorientation of trade policy in the direction of the interests of all  Europeans and  in favour of a fairer international trade system oriented to development and social justice as is urgently required. Although Mr Mandelson clearly admitted during the hearing that the Uruguay Round was entirely dominated by the interests of the two richest blocks and has benefited them almost exclusively, and although he said that the new round will be different, he has not shown a single imaginative idea on how to begin to realise this change of orientation of the trade negotiations to reduce the gap between developing and industrialized countries, and the gap between rich and poor within the countries themselves. He hasn't proposed any new idea in this direction, although innovative thinking is desperately needed. We suspect that his development-friendly rhetoric was just designed to meet the expectations of the audience.

"Mr Mandelson does not seem to have a grasp of the huge implications of liberalisation in services (GATS). Although he claimed he had no intention of destroying public services, he showed no interest in reorienting the trade negotiations to permit them to survive or to develop as needed, both in Europe and in developing countries. The GUE/NGL concludes from his declarations that he will maintain the official demands and pressure of the EU on developing countries to liberalise essential public sectors such as water supply, health, education, etc... for the benefit of corporate  Europe.

"The ideas of the candidate Commissioner about the democratisation of the international trade system and the improvement of global governance were limited to some reforms of management procedures within the WTO, with no understanding of the need for in-depth reform of the WTO model. There was no hint of a proposal for fairer trade, nor any proposal for change of the international system that might lead to a better consideration of social and environmental concerns."

Sinn Féin, which has experience of Mandelson in his former role as Northern Ireland Secretary, backed the views of the parliamentary Group to which it is now affiliated. Northern Ireland MEP Bairbre de Brún said that her party "calls upon Mr Mandelson to act to promote a socially conscious EU which seeks to protect the people against the excesses of big business", adding, however, that "" we are not entirely convinced that Mr Mandelson can live up to the role. The portfolio of trade requires a commitment to help reduce levels of poverty throughout the world, particularly within developing countries by promoting fair trade. Current trade policies are biased against the poor. Sinn Féin is calling upon Mr Mandelson to work towards democratising the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and to support trade policies which respect human rights and the environment and hold both individual states and businesses accountable for their actions. "Sinn Féin MEPs will be watching Mr Mandelson with great interest to see if he can promote a socially inclusive EU. However, it is difficult to get excited about the appointment of Mr Mandelson given his record as the British Secretary of State in Ireland. He collapsed the political institutions, introduced suspension legislation and emasculated the Patten proposals all at the behest of negative political unionism. Political parties in Ireland along with the two governments are still trying to undue much of the damage done by Mr Mandelson during his time in the north of Ireland."

Italian Commissioner under fire from Parliament chief

The incoming Italian Commissioner has been strongly criticised by the European Parliament president over his views on homosexuality and the role of women in society. Meanwhile, several new Commissioners have been taken to task by different groups. Read all about it here

French PM: EU Constitution is "point of no return" for Europe

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was interviewed ahead of the launch this week of the French government's "yes" campaign for the EU Constitution. He was asked "How does this Constitution represent a major act for the building of Europe?" He said, "For the first time, Europe has a shared Constitution. This pact is the point of no return. Europe is becoming an irreversible project, irrevocable after the ratification of this treaty. It is a new era for Europe, a new geography, a new history. "

Talking about what the EU Constitution would mean for economic and social policy, Mr Raffarin argued that the EU Constitution would allow France to "impose" its "social model" on the rest of Europe. He said, "Our social model is among the most advanced in Europe. But we will need time to impose it!" He said that the EU Constitution "permits advances" towards a "European social model".

Raffarin also said that, "all the advances in foreign and defence policy" in the EU Constitution had convinced him to support it. He said, "we are taking an important step in the creation of a European minister for foreign affairs. We are gradually giving ourselves the means for defining a common policy in these areas".

For the full translated text of the interview go here

Commissioner designate Louis Michel against water privatisation in developing countries

At this week’s hearing of European Commissioner-designate Louis Michel, earmarked for the development portfolio at the European Parliament, German MEP Gabi Zimmer of the Party of Democratic Socialists (PDS) and the United Left Group, (GUE/NGL) asked former Belgian foreign minister Michel about his position on the increasing pressure that the EU exerts on developing countries to liberalise public services and services of general interest – such things as water, education and healthcare. Such pressure has become an ongoing feature of the GATS negotiations on trade in services as well as of free trade agreements with the ACP countries, a group of developing countries, mostly ex-colonies of European powers, which supposedly enjoys a special relationship with the EU.

Mr. Michel responded that he shares most of the concerns brought forward by Ms Zimmer. He declared: "I am with those who do not think that everything should become a commodity and that these services should be exempt from market pressures." He also underlined the important role of public services in meeting the basic needs of the population and stressed that this role should be even stronger in developing countries than in Europe to enable them better to solve the problems of development.

Ms. Zimmer described herself as "very supportive of this statement from the incoming Commissioner for Development." She expects the Commission to act accordingly with regard to the so called "development round" in the framework of the WTO and GATS and the EU-ACP partnership negotiations. The fear, however, is that these issues will be left to incoming Commissioner for Trade, Peter Mandelson, who of course, as British readers will know, does not share Louis Michel’s rather old-fashioned, sentimental view that there are things which should not be traded for profit.

Council of Europe Assembly recognises importance of Social Forum

On a proposal from Dutch Socialist Party (SP) Senator Tiny Kox, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe has, in its autumn session, recognised the importance of worldwide and continent-wide movements such as the World Social Forum and European Social Forum.

This first overt recognition by the 46-country-strong European assembly of the importance of producing alternatives to the present system of world trade and globalisation comes a week before the European Social Forum in London.

According to the SP Senator, who forms part of the Dutch delegation to the Council of Europe, it would be desirable for the parliamentary assembly in future to send representatives to social fora, which have been too often underestimated by both politicians and the media, despite the fact that they have proved to be a great success, attracting in particular young people.

"Instead of closing our ears we should be grateful for the opportunity to listen to all these different voices which offer alternatives to the present lack of development of any kind of truly free and honest world trade and of a more equal world," said Mr Kox.

For this reason, Kox argues, the Council of Europe needs to send a positive signal to such people. A clear majority of the assembly supported his proposal, which came during a debate over the future of world trade, held in the presence of the director-general of the World Trade Organisation.

The SP is one of many left organisations internationally sending delegations to the European Social Forum in London, while the party’s youth organisation "ROOD" (pronounced ‘rote’, means ‘red’) will also be present at many of the various debates and demonstrations.

Irish Left MEP: "Turkish entry to EU dependent on commitment to human rights"

Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has said that she would welcome Turkish entry into the EU, but only when 'they have fulfilled the 'Copenhagen Criteria' on democracy and respect for human rights'. Sinn Féin, since its candidates won elections on both sides of the border in June’s elections, is now affiliated to the United Left Group (GUE-NGL).

Ms McDonald made her comments before the European Commission's expected announcement on opening EU accession talks with Turkey earlier this week.

Ms McDonald, who holds a seat in the Republic, said, "Sinn Féin looks forward to a time when Turkey can enter the EU as a full and equal member. Turkish membership can only enhance cultural diversity within the EU. However, Turkey has an appalling human rights record, it continues to militarily occupy Cyprus and has denied the Kurdish people their right to self-determination. If as expected, the European Commission recommends opening accession talks with Turkey, Sinn Féin believes that entry into the EU must be subject to their adherence to the 'Copenhagen Criteria' on democracy and respect for human rights. And let's not kid ourselves. This will require a massive leap on the part of the Turkish political and legal establishments to deliver the necessary convincing and durable change in conditions.

"Sinn Féin is also concerned with much of the xenophobic reaction to Turkey's possible entry into the EU. There has been irresponsible scaremongering about an influx of immigrants from Turkey into EU states after their accession. I would emphasise that Marrti Ahtisaari, former Finnish President and head of an independent commission investigating Turkish membership to the EU, has said that fears of an influx of immigrants to the EU are 'vastly exaggerated'.

"I would also remind people that these same concerns were raised before and during the recent accession process with respect to Eastern European migration, and there is no indication that anything of the sort occurred. Sinn Féin remains to be convinced that Turkey are up to the challenge of promoting a fully inclusive and human rights compliant society."

Ms McDonald’s views were shared by GUE President Francis Wurtz, who said that the Group would welcome the entry of Turkey were it not for concerns over human rights and the occupation of Cyprus, but that it unequivocally condemned the racist reaction to Turkey’s application in some quarters.

Massive anti-government protest brings 200,000 to Amsterdam

At least 200.000 people demonstrated in Amsterdam last Saturday, 2nd October, against cuts in social spending planned by the right-wing government of Jan Peter Balkenende. Museumplein, one of Amsterdam’s biggest squares, was packed with demonstrators, as were all of the streets leading into it from the city’s railway stations. The huge turnout might have been even larger, as many people were unable to reach the capital because the railways, despite employing every last bit of available rolling stock and personnel, simply could not cope with the numbers wanting to travel.

Made up of Christian Democrats (CDA), right-wing liberals (VVD) and allegedly less right-wing liberals (D66), the Balkenende government put forward in last week’s annual budget a broad package of measures necessary, by the government’s own account, to maintain the Dutch economy’s competitiveness and keep the pensions, social security and health care systems affordable in the face, over the coming decades, of an ageing population.

Trade unions and opposition parties see things differently, however, describing the proposed package as an act of systematic destruction. Early retirement will become almost impossible, access to unemployment, sickness and disability benefits will be made even more difficult than at present, working hours will be deregulated and a "no claims bonus" will be introduced into national health insurance. Under this grotesque proposal, premiums will be raised and only those who do not seek treatment will receive a refund. The sick will thus pay more than the healthy. The government is heading at an accelerating rate towards the abolition of collective provision – whether provided by the state under legal obligation or by employers as a result of collective agreements – all under the guise of encouraging citizens to take more individual responsibility.

For the first time in twenty years of the so-called "polder model" – which seeks to replace industrial conflict with a corporatist approach based on national collective bargaining and tripartheid negotiations – the trade unions have initiated mass action. The demonstration of 2nd October was the culmination of a process which has being going on for several weeks under which workers have downed tools for short periods and held demonstrations against the government’s policy under the slogan "The Netherlands deserves better".

The entire opposition of left and centre-left supported these actions. The social-democratic Labour Party (PvdA), the Green Left and the Socialist Party (which would, according to current polls, together form a majority in Parliament if elections were to be held now) have co-operated well during parliamentary debates on the budget. SP leader Jan Marijnissen has condemned the government for spreading lies and unnecessary anxiety over the country’s labour productivity and the likely consequences of an ageing population, all in order to push through a neoliberal agenda inspired by Reagan and Thatcher. "Balkenende’s quack doctors have got things back-to-front," said Mr Marijnissen. "Their treatments are worthless; all they succeed in doing is making our country sicker – economically, socially, and morally."

The SP has played a major role in this growing movement, mobilising huge numbers of members and supporters for last Saturday’s demonstration and organising a national campaign over the last few months against the introduction of the "no claims" rule in health care, a campaign conducted under the slogan (in English), "No claim? No way!"

ESF Radio

http://www.rampartradio.co.nr and Indymedia have a breakfast show during the London European Social Forum on Resonance FM 104.4, or pick it op on line here, 8am-9am (8-9 BST), 15th-17th October

Quote of the Week

"The US veto yesterday (i.e. Tuesday) is only the latest example of a long history of U.S. protection of Israel's occupation and Israeli violations of international law and UN resolutions. During the vice-presidential debate, it was clear that both Cheney and Edwards, and their respective parties, are trying to out-do each other in embracing Sharon's expansionist goals. While Israel has the right to protect its own civilian population on its own territory, it does not have the right to impose collective punishment on the entire Palestinian people. As the occupying power in an illegal occupation, Israel has the obligation to protect the Palestinian civilian population -- and sending Israeli forces into Palestinian territory to kill Palestinians, including many children, demolishing houses, imposing curfews and closures on whole towns, cities and refugee camps, is completely illegal. The US should pressure Israel to stop the attacks and to end the occupation. But instead the US remains complicit in Israel's violations -- not only by extending diplomatic protection to Israel through use of its Security Council veto, but also by providing Israel with the Apache helicopter gun-ships, the Hellfire missiles, the armoured Caterpillar bulldozers Israel uses against Palestinians in the occupied territories. Paid for with the billions of dollars in U.S. economic and military aid to Israel, sending those weapons violates the US Arms Export Control Act."

Phyllis Bennis, author and activist. See her article about a similar US veto here

Eyes on IFIs: new film tells all

Eyes on International Financial Institutions is a new film resource, part of the 'Fawlty Powers' campaign to mark 60 years of the World Bank and IMF. This unique collection of films provides the elusive 'other side of the story' about how these institutions work. More here

Race & Class, October 2004 issue now available

The new Race & Class contains articles on "Torture: from Algiers to Abu Ghraib" by Neil MacMaster; "The rise and fall of whiteness studies" in US universities, by Andrew Hartman; "Paul Robeson and WEB Du Bois in London" by novelist and historian Jan Carew; and more on music history, the slave trade, the "underachievement" of black schoolchildren, and more, including book reviews. Read more or subscribe here