Weekly News Review

Sweden: earliest date for euro referendum until 2010

Swedish prime minister Göran Persson has ruled out a referendum on Sweden joining the euro until at least 2010. Referring to last September’s overwhelming victory for the campaign to keep the Kroner, the social democrat leader said that such a result must be respected, although he remains confident that his country would adopt the new currency "sooner or later".

Sweden, the UK and Denmark are the only three EU countries who have not joined the single currency, though polls show that voters in many other member states regret having done so. In addition, the new member states have been warned by the European Central Bank, the unelected institution which now dictates economic policy within the eurozone, against “premature” attempts to join. Nevertheless, with the euro already circulating widely in Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltic States in particular are expected to join within a few years.  Of the other two existing EU members who have yet to adopt the currency,  Denmark has no major political force arguing for an early referendum, without which the Constitution would not allow the Kroner to be abolished, while British finance minister Gordon Brown is widely expected to rule out an early referendum when he presents his annual budget to Parliament next week.

MEP demands "No discrimination on Guantánamo releases"

Speaking in the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg this week on the right of the Guantánamo prisoners to a fair trial, MEP Marianne Eriksson of Sweden's Vänster (Left) Party and the EP's United Left group (GUE/NGL) said that EU governments must do all they can to ensure fair treatment for all those held. Congratulating the British on the successful release of four of their citizens, Eriksson reminded the Parliament that the campaign continues for the release of Swedish citizen Mehdi Ghezali, as well as the 600 or so remaining prisoners.


"While I appreciate that the EU has a particular responsibility for its own citizens, we must do all we can to make sure that our governments do not discriminate in their efforts: all of the remaining 600 or so prisoners who have already served more than two years should be charged or released immediately. This affront to human rights and dignity must not be allowed to continue. The legal limbo at Guantánamo must end and we must not accept a lottery style release system based on citizenship.


"When the prison camp opened, the Swedish government assured us that the problem would be dealt with in the EU Council of Ministers. Two years later and we see no signs of progress. I agree with Commissioner Patten that the EU has to maintain good relations with the US, but we have also to think of our relations with other countries. The Council must act now for an end to the insanity that is the prison camp at Guantánamo.


"Mehdi Ghezali, like many of those held in Guantánamo, is not much older than a child. His family have had no news of him in 13 months. Officials from the Swedish Foreign Ministry are not allowed to talk to his family after visits and his lawyer has been refused access. The US should reflect on the fact that this behaviour - this blatant disregard for human rights - does not win them any friends."

From Emotions to Facts: Environmentalists plan conference on EU Chemicals Policy


After over four years of political and technical struggle the European Commission presented proposals in October 2003 for chemical regulation, called REACH, which are intended to implement an overall reform of Europe’s chemicals policy.

REACH is the most important ever proposed reform of EU health and environment protection policies. It has the potential to improve protection considerably by charging industry to document and to make available safety information for 30,000 chemicals and ending the use of the worst chemicals, including chemicals that cause cancer, damage genetic material, interfere with hormone systems or accumulate in the environment or human bodies.


As a result of strong industry opposition, the proposed REACH is considerably weaker than the original plans, which were supported by the European Parliament and the EU Member States.

But, according to environmental activists, REACH remains worth fighting for, while improvements are still possible as it goes through the legislative process. A spokesperson for the European Environmental Bureau, which brings together all major environmental NGOs in the EU, said that "EU governments and the European Parliament now have the responsibility during the next two years of closing safety gaps and correcting cumbersome procedures to realise its benefits for society and the environment. 2004 will be of special importance for the reform as MEPs for the new European Parliament will be elected, 10 new countries will join the EU

and the Council's Presidencies are getting through their work rapidly. The EEB is organising this conference, during the Council's intensive work shortly before the European elections, in order to provide a platform for members of civil society organisations, industry and governments to discuss and present their views."


The conference’s aim is to increase the quality of the policy debate, inform decision-makers and to explore common ground – much-needed elements for a real reform that brings benefits for all.


"From Emotions to Facts: EU Chemicals Policy Reform" - Brussels, 24 March, 09.30-17.30 Goethe Institut Brussel, rue Belliard 58, 1040 Brussels.  To register write to secretariat@eeb.org


Aldermaston 2004


In 1958 thousands of people marched to Aldermaston in the south of England because of the fear of a nuclear war. That fear is still here. At Easter, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will be returning to Aldermaston on the first Aldermaston march for 15 years. A spokesperson for CND said, "In 2004 we are marching to stop the next generation of nuclear weapons from being built at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston."


The four day march starts with a mass rally in Trafalgar Square on Good Friday, 9th April. CND inform us that anyone planning to March from London to Aldermaston who hasn't got round to registering should do it now. "With one month to go before the March to Aldermaston it is crucial for the organisers to know how many people are planning to go to help them organise accommodation, food and the logistics of the event." You can register really easily on line, or get more information, by going to http://www.aldermaston2004.net/   


CND are also keen to hear from anyone who has an interesting story relating to the historic Aldermaston march.  "It would be great to hear from people who went on the first march in 1958 and plan to go again in 2004. If your whole family plan to march or you are one of a new generation of people marching it would also be good to hear from you."  If you have a story and would be happy to talk about it, contact Ruth Tanner, CND Press and Communications officer on 020 7700 2350 or email pressoffice@cnduk.org   


The March is being organised jointly by The Aldermaston Womens Peace Camp(aign), Slough4Peace and CND


Hell, No, Monsanto, We Don't Want Your GMO


In a victory of global significance in the fight against the biotech industry's attempt to put a stranglehold on our food,  Mendocino County; California this week passed a ballot initiative making it the first county in the US to ban genetically engineered crops and animals. This is an important and precedent-setting victory for farmers and consumers, particularly given the fact that corporate agribusiness and the biotech industry spent over $620,000 attempting to convince citizens to vote against the referendum (grassroots supporters of the  referendum had only $100,000 to work with, including $11,500 from the Organic Consumers Association). Organic and non-GMO farmers in Mendocino say the new law will help protect their crops from potential contamination from neighboring GE fields. The success of the initiative is already proving to be highly contagious. Activists in Humboldt County, also in California ae confident that they are next in line for passing a similar referendum, while farmers in the Midwest see it as evidence that they may be able to resist the release of Monsanto's new GE wheat. Grassroots activists across California and the nation will be meeting in San Francisco this weekend to discuss launching similar initiatives. Similarly Prince Edward Island in Canada is now considering becoming a "GMO Free Zone." Meanwhile, the biotech industry has made it clear that it will do its best to snuff out Mendocino's GE ban with state legislative or legal action. Informed sources have told the OCA that the California Farm Bureau and the Gallo wine company are spearheading an effort to introduce a bill in the California Senate that will nullify the Mendocino GMO ban and make it illegal for other California counties to pass similar laws. OCA and its allies are planning a major campaign to stop or defeat this legislation. Stay tuned to Organic Bytes and the OCA website for forthcoming news on this front... here



Green Left Weekly, Australia's socialist newspaper. Issue #574, March 10, 2004 leads on the continuing destruction of the country's unique natural environment, this time by loggers. Despite some successes by the environment movement, woodchipping of old-growth forests continues to be rampant. Tasmania has the dubious honour of being the woodchip capital of Australia. More than five million tonnes of woodchips are extracted from Tasmania every year -- more than the rest of the country combined. Read all about it here and then turn to the rest of the site for excellent coverage of Ausralian, regional and international affairs from a left perspective.