Weekly News Review

9th October, 2003

Exciting Spectre Competition!


The European Parliament has launched a € 5 million publicity campaign aimed at tackling what it confesses to be the "awesome" task of improving voter turnout in next year’s European elections. Recent research has shown that unless action is taken to overcome apathy, the turnout at next June’s poll could fall to an all-time low. A 20-strong election task force, comprising representatives of political groups and the Parliament’s press service, will therefore be set up to promote the assembly’s work. The Parliament will adopt a new, as yet to be chosen, logo and major TV networks will be urged to give more coverage to the EU.


The Brussels-based European Voice quoted EP President Pat Cox as finding it "profoundly disturbing" that in the UK more people voted to evict contestants in the Big Brother TV series than at the 1999 European elections. Why then doesn't the Parliament adopt the Big Brother system? Instead of having an election next year, allow the current 626 MEPs to keep their seats but have every move they make filmed. Let the viewers vote, and throw one member off every day, getting rid of 600 of them in well under two years. The remaining 26 could then carry on, thus saving the taxpayer squillions of euros. We guarantee participation would increase.

A bottle of European Parliament hooch for the reader who can come up with the best suggestion for a logo for the European Parliament.


Smaller groups set to lose out in next year’s European Parliament elections


The arrival of ten new member states on  Mayday next year will greatly narrow the range of views represented in the European Parliament closer to a bipartisan system and diminish the influence of small parties. Any conceivable result is likely to lead to a proportional reduction in the number of MEPs from the Parliament’s three significant minority groups, the centrist ELDR, the left GUE-NGL, and the Greens, each of which has currently between 40 and 60 members.


This would occur on simple arithmetic grounds even if the overall share of the votes gained by parties affiliated (or likely to affiliate) to these groups did not decrease, simply because under the new system more votes will in effect be needed to win a single seat. However, in the new member states, with one or two notable exceptions, all three are very weak – the main exceptions being the strong left parties in the Czech Republic and Cyprus.


The accession of countries from central and eastern Europe will therefore strengthen the grip if e the two main parties, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES). The result will be a technocratic chamber where professional, career politicians argue over details, while broad policy is fixed by the unelected Commission.


European Voice has calculated  that, barring political upheavals between now and election day in June, next year, the EPP will gain 69 seats and the PES 57. The ELDR  would gain only 13 MEPs, the GUE-NGL seven, and the greens just one.


This is, moreover, not the only problem for the EP’s two progressive factions. The need to reach a threshold of 5% or more could prove too much for French and German left parties, while few others can be absolutely certain of coming back. Indeed, only the Dutch Socialist Party is likely to increase its representation. Apart from the accession countries, the GUE-NGL expects to add members from both the Republic and Northern Ireland, while the Scottish Socialist Party also has an outside chance of success. As for the Greens, many of their national sections have lost support and for some coming back will be touch and go.


France, where the left vote will be divided between the Communist Party (PCF) and two parties from the Trotskyist tradition, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) and Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), numerous difficulties will need to be overcome if the country is to return the combined total of 11 MEPs which these three groups achieved in 1999.  The system has been changed, ostensibly to make it harder for the far right, and the proportion of votes needed now varies from region to region, the lowest being around 7%. A unified LCR-LO list, as in 1999, would still need to add to the bare 5% achieved then. The PCF has no-one with which it can ally, and will need to almost double, in proportional terms, the votes gained in recent dismal electoral performances.


Without French or German MEPs, the GUE-NGL would be very different, with two great, sometimes hostile, blocs looking at each other from the shores of the Mediterranean and the Baltic, across a vast electoral desert. 


European Political Parties are on their way


The EU Council of Ministers this week formally adopted a regulation on the status and funding of European political parties. The new system will enter into force after next year's European elections. In order to benefit from this new status, a political party will need to be represented in the European Parliament, or in national or regional parliaments in at least a quarter of member states, or have obtained at least 3% of the vote at the most recent European elections in a quarter of Member States. There will be no constraints on a party's views, provided it accepts parliamentary democracy. European Political Parties will be eligible for EU funding.


European Commission  refuses to uphold ban on paraquat


Danish left MEP Pernille Frahm of the Socialist People's Party (SF)  has criticised last week's decision by a European Commission Committee not to ban the herbicide paraquat, despite the fact that its use is currently forbidden in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Austria.


The Commission's Standing Commitee on the Food Chain and Animal Health voted on Friday to add paraquat to a "positive list", which can only mean that its use will become more widespread. This decision was taken despite protests from Denmark, Sweden and Norway during the last meeting of the EU's Environment Ministers in June 2003.


Frahm, United Left (GUE-NGL) member of the Parliament's Environment Committee, said "I am astonished at the decision taken on Friday, especially when the dangers that paraquat poses to human health and the environment are already so well known. This herbicide was banned in several EU countries for good reason. But now the EU intends to weaken our environmental protection laws, against the will of our governments. With this decision, EU environmental policy risks regressing rather than progressing."


Because the substance is not banned at EU level, anyone wishing to use it in one of the four countries where it is illegal will be able to go to the European Court of Justice to demand their right to do so.   A coalition of Trade Unions and environmental NGOs is working hard to have the decision overturned, arguing that workers and farmers around the world who are regularly exposed to the Paraquat pesticide experience serious problems with their health. Paraquat is an extremely dangerous substance, which may cause severe and irreversible damage to humans. Its high toxicity and lack of antidote can lead to serious ill-health, and even death. Studies also indicate that paraquat has adverse effects on hares and birds, and may accumulate in soil.

"The Commission´s approval of Paraquat for the EU-wide marketing is irresponsible", said John Hontelez, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau, which is backing the campaign. "We urgently need a general reform of Europe’s chemical policy, which prevents serious or long-term damage to human health and environment by forcing the substitution of such unacceptable chemicals with safer alternatives."

Ron Oswald Secretary General of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations added that "Adding Paraquat to the positive list will now allow greater use of this toxic substance and could force it back onto the market in countries where it is currently banned. It will also encourage its further use in developing countries, despite the known dangers it poses to humans and the environment."

The European Commission is aware of the dangers of Paraquat, but nevertheless has approved its use, ignoring a growing number of Member States who openly rejected an EU-wide approval of paraquat, postponing a vote at the last four Committee meetings.

Read more about why paraquat must be banned at ,  http://www.pan-germany.org/download/fact_paraquat.pdf and http://www.pan-germany.org/download/fact_paraquat2.pdf

Death threat against Turkish-Cypriot journalists condemned

Francis Wurtz, President of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group (GUE/NGL) in the European Parliament, this week strongly condemned death threats issued against two journalists, Sener Levent and Ali Osman, from the Turkish-Cypriot newspaper, Afrika.

The threats were made by Hasan Keskin, leader of the extreme-right National Popular Movement (NPM), and followed publication by Afrika of a UK Appeals Court ruling which characterised the NPM as a terrorist organisation.

"These death threats are entirely unacceptable and represent a severe infringement of the freedom of the press in the occupied territory.

"The immediate priorities are prevention of the threat being carried out and that steps are taken to ensure that there is no repetition of such threats in the future. In the first instance, this is the responsibility of the Turkish authorities, as the occupying power.

"Accordingly, I am calling on the EU to intervene forcefully with the Turkish authorities to remind them of their responsibilities and that failure to put a stop to such behaviour will severely impact on relations between Turkey and the EU in the future."

European Parliament calls on Israel and Palestine not to declare the peace process dead    


The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee this week called on both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority not to declare the peace process dead and to commit themselves to the implementation of the "road map" set out for reaching a peace agreement. Should the road map break down in the immediate future, the Committee believes an international mandate in Palestine should be established under the authority of the Quartet (the UN, the EU, the US and Russia), including an international force on the ground. The committee stated its views in a motion for a resolution drafted by Spanish social democrat Emilio Menendez del Valle  which was adopted by a large majority.


MEPs say the Palestinian Authority should clearly and firmly come out in support of the new Palestinian government. This government should continue reorganising the Palestinian security forces, should re-establish public order and should make concrete and visible efforts to dismantle terrorist organisations. It should pursue the reforms it has set in motion and hold free, fair and transparent elections as soon as possible. For its part, the Israeli government should withdraw its military forces from the autonomous Palestinian territories, put a stop to the targeted killings and freeze all settlement activities as well as the construction of the security wall. As an immediate step, Israel should end the sealing off of the Palestinian territories and withdraw to the pre-September 2000 borders.


The Palestinian Authority should spare no effort to combat Palestinian "terrorism", while the Israeli government should "refrain from practices which also result in civilian casualties among the Palestinians."  (Somehow, these are not terrorism.) The Foreign Affairs Committee expressed solidarity with all victims of violence. It also called on Palestinian president Yasser Arafat to come out in favour of the road map and to participate actively in its implementation. It opposed any attempt to deport or banish him and condemned any suggestion that he should be physically eliminated, pointing out that he had been democratically elected.


A new and final peace treaty should include a precise demarcation of the borders of the two new states on the basis of the 1967 UN Resolution 242, said the MEPs. The city of Jerusalem should be declared a cultural and religious heritage of mankind and dual capital of the state of Israel and the future new Palestinian state. It should have an international legal status without division, with the administration of areas originally having a Jewish majority assigned to the authorities of the state of Israel and the administration of areas originally having a Palestinian majority assigned to the authorities of the new Palestinian state. The right of return for Palestinian refugees should be confined to the Palestinian state, with exceptions that may be freely negotiated. MEPs called on all Arab states concerned, especially Lebanon, to enable those refugees who so desire to acquire the nationality of the countries where they have taken refuge.


MEPs advocated an increased international presence in the area to help the two parties implement the road map and to identify any instances of non-compliance. To this end, an international force should be sent to the region, subject to the agreement of both parties, under the auspices of the UN and with sufficient and credible resources.


As soon as a firm and final peace treaty has been signed, the EU should conclude a close partnership with both Israel and the Palestinian State, including a single market, approximation of laws and use of the euro.


Deafening silence on Guantánamo prisoners


In an answer to a written question by Swedish Left (GUE/NGL) MEP Herman Schmid (attached), the EU Council of Ministers has refused to take a position on the validity of the status of 'unlawful combatant', the label under which the US is holding some 660 people in prison camps in Guantánamo Bay and denying them their fundamental rights.


"This failure by the Council to take a position could be interpreted as support for the US modus operandi in Guantánamo", says Schmid. "At the same time, the Council says that any detainee must be granted the protection of the Geneva Convention until his legal status is determined and says it will not allow any circumstances which could justify non-respect for human rights or the rule of law.


"This is a clear example of EU double standards. The EU Charter on Fundamental Rights enunciates fine principles, which seem only to apply when politically expedient. The EU needs to practice what it preaches and immediately condemn the cynical use of 'unlawful combatant' and demand that the Geneva Convention is applied to all the Guantánamo prisoners.


"The EU must have the courage to defend the principles of justice for which people have fought for more than a century, otherwise the world will interpret the silence of EU as tacit support for the US strategy of legal limbo for the Guantánamo 'detainees'."


Dealing with the Hydra?

"In spite of strenuous combined efforts, the hydra of proliferation remains very much with us, and it has certainly not been caged by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The most recent NPT preparatory conference, held in Geneva, between April 28th and May 9th 2003, resounded with

reproaches, notably those of the United States against North Korea and Iran The Americans were also most concerned about the possibility that Libya might become a proliferator. Delegates in Geneva will have been actively wondering how far these kinds of proliferation match the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the phantasms for which the British-American coalition went to war, and which have totally eluded the occupiers of Iraq."  Read the rest of "Dealing with the Hydra? Proliferation and Full Spectrum Dominance" by former Euro-MP and Spectre's old friend Ken Coates at


War Times


Out now, the newest issue of the US paper War Times examines the costs of Bush's failed foreign policy -- in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq. It also features an interview with gay conscientious objector Stephen Funk. Journalist Pratap Chatterjee takes a look at corporate profiteering in Iraq, and Colin Rajah reports on the just-completed Immigrant Workers Freedom March. For more information go to www.war-times.org


Know your enemy


The WTO website now has "distance learning" pages enabling you to get to grips with  the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Go to  http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/serv_e/cbt_course_e/signin_e.htm  In addition, a new edition of the basic guide to the WTO is now available for free download at