Weekly News Review Archive

Saturday 12th May, 2001

EU Budget Tops 100 Billion Euros

Next year the budget for the European Parliament will rise, for the first time, to over 1 billion euros. The decision will be approved by MEPs later in the week and represents a 4.8% increase on last year's figure, over twice the rate of inflation. This decision will hopefully draw some attention to the costs of running this incredibly wasteful and destructive institution. In virtually every member state there are voices calling for less to be spent on administration costs but, nevertheless, MEP Kathalijine Buitenweg, rapporteur on the Parliament's budget 2002 chose to defend this increase by saying "I don't say that we couldn't be more efficient but I do believe that we are trying to be as efficient as possible". For some reason these words seem to ring hollow. The fact is, efficiency is not the problem. Almost everyone at the EP is hopelessly overworked, exchanging their long tem health for the ludicrously high salaries paid to the institution's staff. The European Parliament, with its need for interpretation and translation into eleven languages, is an inherently expensive institution. As in most human activities, costs could be cut, but if the EP was necessary or an effective expression of democracy then the billion euros would be money well spent. Unfortunately, the Parliament exists to disguise the real lack of democracy at the Union's heart. It is inherently incapable of doing the job which it claims as its own. Budget chief Michaele Schreyer also recently tabled measures that would take spending for the whole European Union in 2002 to over 100 billion euros. She said the measures were a reflection of "the Commission's political priorities while maintaining our commitment to strict budgetary discipline." Well, there isn't much doubt over their political priorities - they have been quite clear for some time. How happy we are about paying for the pursuit them is another matter.

Blair Calls Election, Left Mounts Challenge

To a tidal wave of enthusiastic indifference British PM (aka Governor of 51st State) Tony Blair recently announced that the UK general election would indeed be held on June 7th. The Labour government is certain to be returned, but equally certain is the embarrassment of one of the lowest turnouts in history. In addition, the left is finally showing signs of intelligent life, with the organisation of unified left candidates under the banner of the Socialist Alliance. The Socialist Alliance (SA), together with its partner the Scottish Socialist Party, will be standing in a over a quarter of all constituencies - a greater socialist challenge to the main, establishment parties than at any time since the Second World War. Twenty Labour Cabinet members and other ministers will face a candidate from their left. National Chair of The Socialist Alliance, Cllr Dave Nellist (the former Labour MP for Coventry SE) responded to Blair's announcement by saying that 'voter apathy' was not the government's real problem, but widespread disillusionment `It's not that working people don't care,' Nellist said, 'but that they feel let down, that all the big, main parties are essentially the same - separate parties, but with a common agenda that pays more regard to the rich and better off, than to the majority of families. Nellist, a local councillor in Coventry, added: 'The gap between the rich and the rest is still increasing, pensions are woefully inadequate, students have the millstones of loans and tuition fees deterring them from higher education, and millions of people are still existing (not living) on poverty level benefits. Incredibly, in what is supposed to be the fourth strongest economy in the world, we're spending less on public investment after four years of New Labour than the last Tory Government did. There has been a seamless continuity of policies between the last Tory Government and the present Labour one - the only difference is that what Mrs Thatcher did with a snarl, Tony Blair does with a smile. The Socialist Alliance will be targeting those disillusioned with Labour and showing them there is an alternative, a real choice with candidates who will put the millions before the millionaires, who will put people before profit. Whilst the establishment parties hide in the television studios, we'll be out canvassing, campaigning, holding public meetings and talking to people in the streets. In most towns and cities people will have a good chance of meeting a socialist campaigner. In this election we'll not only be asking people for their vote, we'll be asking them to join us in building a powerful socialist alternative to poverty, exploitation, Third World debt, and the destruction of the environment. The Socialist Alliance will offer a real alternative to the main, Westminster parties.'

An Open Secret?

Veteran anti-EU Danish Euro-MP Jens-Peter Bonde recently contacted the EU Council of Ministers to ask for details of the various meetings between the different Union institutions which led to the recent proposal to improve openness and access to official EU documents. He was told that they were confidential.

Movement to Ban Asbestos Organises Meetings Throughout Europe

Recently the World Trade Organisation (WTO) upheld the ban imposed in 1997 by the French government on the import and use of chrysotile (white asbestos). Canada brought the action in an attempt to maintain world markets for this class 1 carcinogenic substance, which has been responsible for tens of thousands of workers' deaths. As markets in the West have dwindled, asbestos producers have stepped up the pressure to increase sales to Latin America, Asia and the Far East - despite the International consensus that asbestos causes occupational and environmental disease and death on an unprecedented scale.

In June 2001 there will be a series of meetings in Europe to look at various asbestos-related issues from the point of view of the asbestos victims. Anti-asbestos campaigners from the developing world will meet with their European colleagues to discuss common problems and identify effective solution. The keynote speakers at these events include:

From Brazil, Fernanda Giannasi, a factory inspector for the Ministry of Labour, in Sao Paulo. Ms. Giannasi has campaigned for a ban on asbestos for many years. Working closely with the Brazilian Asbestos Victims' Group, she organised The Global Asbestos Congress in Osasco, Brazil in September 2001. Since the Congress, many Brazilian towns and cities have banned asbestos.

From India, Dr T K Joshi, an occupational physician, in Bombay, Dr Joshi scheduled a workshop entitled 'Banning asbestos in India' at the annual meeting of the Indian Association of Occupational Health in February, 2001. The asbestos industry and government pressured Dr Joshi and his colleagues to cancel this meeting. They did not.

From the USA, Dr Barry Castleman who is an international expert on asbestos,is expected to attend at least some of the meetings. Dr Castleman was a consultant who advised the European Union, defending the French ban on asbestos.

Provisional dates and times of meetings (contact email addresses for confirmation before booking any travel, etc.) are:

June 4, Monday, 6 p.m. Asbestos Fringe Meeting at the General Municipal and Boilermakers' Annual Conference in Hewitson Room, Brighton Congress Centre - (contact Nigel Bryson, tel: 0208 947 3131/ email: nigel.bryson@gmb.org.uk)

June 5, Tuesday, 2-5 p.m. Asbestos and Public Health - the International Dimension at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, 2-5 p.m. (contact Tony Fletcher, tel: 0207 927 2429/ email: Tony.Fletcher@lshtm.ac.uk)

June 7 & 8, Thursday and Friday: The European Asbestos Seminar, Brussels, Belgium (contact Laurie Kazan, email: laurie@lkaz.demon.co.uk/ tel: 020 8958 3887)

For anyone interested in the Keynote speakers you can contact them directly as follows: Fernanda Giannasi: email address: giannasi@telnet.comb.br Dr T K Joshi: email address: coeh@mantraonline.com Dr Barry Castleman: email address: bcastle@bcpl.net

Welsh GM Crop Trials Halted

Tony Marlow, a former Tory MP of the party's extreme right, has been forced to postpone indefinitely trials on GM crops after more than 100 local people staged a protest on his land in Pembrokeshire, Wales. The protest was led by local farmers whose crops would be put at risk of contamination from Marlow's fields. Opposition to GM crop trials is particularly fierce in Wales because organic farming is widespread. Qualification to use the term 'organic' is strict in the UK, and traces of GM crops would certainly put it in jeopardy.

US Food Manufacturers Demand GM Tests: 'We need to know what's in our products'

Pressure to introduce tests in the United States to ensure that genetically modified material can be distinguished from traditional varieties is now coming from the apparently unlikely source of the food manufacturers themselves. Lisa Katic, director of scientific and nutrition policy for the Grocery Manufacturers of America admitted recently that 'We need to know what's in our products' - a less than reassuring statement, perhaps, but one which at least acknowledges the problem. In the US, GM soya and maize are routinely mixed with conventional products and sold unlabelled. This also happens in the EU, but pressure from consumers and activist groups has forced the Union to adopt measures which should bring this to an end within a couple of years. Labelling requirements in Europe and Japan are a major factor behind the US manufacturers' slow realisation that they need to know just what they're poisoning people with.

Quotes of the Week

"Each year the European Court of Auditors reports on large sums of money unaccounted for in the European Union budget - running to billions of euros…May I respectfully suggest to the incoming Belgian presidency that they postpone any proposal to levy a European tax until the accounting watchdog assures the public that not of a cent of the EU's already considerable income has gone unaccounted for?" Roger Bevan, St Symphorien, Belgium, in a letter to the Financial Times

"Reform of the CAP should first and above all entail breaking down the huge barriers against competitive imports. This would increase developing countries' export receipts by more than three times the amount of aid they receive. The Commission's "Everything But Arms" initiative for free access from the 48 poorest countries is just a fig-leaf. Freeing the EU market for agricultural imports would also save the consumer/taxpayer $290 a year per capita." J.Kol, Director, Erasmus Centre for Economic Integration Studies, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, also in a letter to the Financial Times

But Not As We Know It?

Euro MP Maria Sornosa Martinez recently revealed just how valuable it can be to have a sound understanding of the basics of life. Embracing radical biological theories she proposed an amendment to the Parliament's report on the EU's upcoming 6th Environmental Action Programme recently which described water as 'a resource essential to the survival of most of the EU's ecosystems and its biodiversity.' Well, I for one am completely convinced she knows exactly what she's talking about.