Weekly News Review

17th January, 2003

A brace of EU presidents?

A Franco-German plan for a European Union with not one but two presidents has won the support of Britain, Spain and Denmark. The proposals, agreed by the French President, Jacques Chirac, and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, are being touted as a victory for those who want to defend and enhance the powers of member states and a defeat for advocates of a federal Europe.  However most smaller member countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland, have greeted the proposals with suspicion, fearing that they would give the bigger member states too much power.  Under the proposals, the EU would gain a new president of the Council of Ministers as well as a Commission president elected by the European Parliament.

MEPs hammer one more nail into coffin of Europe's railways

By 405 to 113 Euro-MPs voted this week for a new framework law which will effectively force EU member state governments to privatise their railways. The European Commission's proposal was for liberalisation o freight only, but the Parliament - the best democracy money can buy - gave way to corporate pressure to extend the measure (and the chaos which it will bring in its wake) to passenger services.

Fortunately the Council, made up of the  transport ministers of the EU's member states, is unlikely to accept parliament's position.

Rail has lost out to road in the competition for freight traffic over the last thirty years, largely because of huge advantages given to the latter by governments and an EU increasingly under the influence of road fright corporations. As Britain's rail privatisation, the ensuing chaos, and the recent collapse of infrastructure owner Railtrack has shown, rail deregulation would simply make matters worse.

"Private companies have no interest in improving the railways. The UK is a prime example,"  European United Left (GUE-NGL) MEP Roseline Vachetta of the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, said. "The railways should not be in a market, but should be a public service."

European Parliament approves ban on testing of cosmetic on animals: Member States force delay in implementation

The European Parliament this week voted overwhelmingly to approve a ban on the use of animals to test cosmetics. Welcoming the move, Swedish MEP Jonas Sjöstedt, who co-ordinates the work of the left group (GUE/NGL) members on the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Affairs, said that "Finally we have a law in place which bans unnecessary cruelty to animals. Using thousands of animals to develop cosmetic products is totally unacceptable."

  The ban on animal experiments for testing cosmetic products will start immediately where alternative non-animal tests are available. A total ban will follow six years later, in 2009, for the large majority of tests.

Responding to critics of the law’s gradualist approach, which was finalised in compromise negotiations with the Council, Mr Sjöstedt said: "There has been criticism from animal welfare organisations that the ban will not be implemented quickly enough. While I accept that this criticism may be valid, I would underline that the European Parliament cannot be blamed for this. On the contrary, it was a driving force in getting the ban in place as soon as possible. It was the Council - in other words the Member States - which fought for the six-year grace period."

  As a member of the Parliament's team which negotiated the compromise, Mr Sjöstedt added that he “would have been happy to see a ban in place earlier. But the Parliament was forced to back down, so that the Council would accept a final and absolute ban. Several countries did not want a cut-off date at all."

  Poisoning of cats and dogs in Athens linked to EU Presidency

Animal welfare groups have reacted angrily to the poisoning of almost sixty animals - cats and dogs which had lived peaceably in a park and were fed by local people and tourists - claiming that the act had official sanction.  The second such incident to occur recently took place on the weekend of New Year's Eve in a park in the area of Zappion in the centre of Athens, close to where the Presidency will be centred.  The animals appear to have suffered an agonising death. 

According to locals, the dogs and cats were completely tame and friendly, had been vaccinated and sterilised by local welfare charities and posed no problem to the health or safety of those using the park. Only one cat survived, found in the bushes writing in agony.

Les Ward, Director of the UK organisation Advocates for Animals commented:

"In our opinion, it is no mere coincidence that animals have once again been deliberately poisoned within days of Greece taking over the Presidency of the European Union and in the area close to where visiting politicians and others will be wined and dined.  Those who spread the food laced with poison are callous individuals who should be prosecuted for their actions, as should those who instructed them to do so.  This incident, the previous incident and the ongoing poisoning of animals in Greece bring nothing but shame on Greece.  I fear a pre-Olympic Games animal poisoning campaign, that has long been predicted, may now be about to begin."

Advocates for animals are demanding an immediate enquiry, and have written to EU authorities, including European Parliament vice-president and Scottish Labour MEP David Martin, to that effect. In response, Mr Martin said that he was "extremely dismayed to learn of the cruel and deliberate poisoning of all these innocent animals" and that he would "raise the matter with the Commision in order to find out what happened and, hopefully, who was responsible."

For further information, go to  www.advocatesforanimals.org.uk

Danish anti-environmentalist book, lauded by Corporate media, "contrary to good science"

An official Danish scientific ethics panel has ruled that anti-environmentalist writer Bjørn Lomborg "perverted the scientific message" in his book The Sceptical Environmentalist, which argues that the planet is doing just fine and that we should encourage corporations to do whatever they like to make lots of money.  The decision is an embarrassment for the Danish government, which on its recent election installed Lomborg as head of a new Institute for Environmental Assessment, an appointment which rivals Henry Kissinger's peace prize for bad taste humour..

Denmark's Committee on Scientific Dishonesty examined Lomborg's book after receiving several complaints and found it "clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice". Their only problem was in deciding whether the book qualified as a work of science at all, given the preposterous nature of its contents. The Committee’s ruling stated that “There has been such perversion of the scientific message in the form of systematically biased representation that the objective criteria for upholding scientific dishonesty... have not been met.” Although the Committee did not feel able to conclude that Lomborg had misled his readers deliberately, this was only because the scientists considering the case felt that Lomborg might simply have misunderstood the issues he was working on.

Jeff Harvey, a former editor of the leading scientific journal Nature and currently a Senior Scientist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, was one of the original complainants who took the case to the Danish committee. He said: “It is unfortunate that I and many others felt it necessary to take Lomborg and his book to task for the veritable deluge of inaccuracies it contains, but Lomborg has veered well across the line that divides controversial, if not competent, science from unrepentant incompetence.”

He continued: “Lomborg has failed time and again to rectify the egregious distortions he makes, he has based his conclusions on cherry-picking the studies he likes, and he has seriously undermined the public’s understanding of important contemporary

scientific issues. Scientists must be held accountable for serious transgressions that are committed without responsibility, and this judgement goes at least some way to underlining Lomborg’s dishonesty.”

 The ruling has prompted several Danish newspapers and a majority of MPs to demand an enquiry into the worth, if any, of the Institute's work since Lomberg took over. After initially attempting to bluster his way through the storm, Lomberg has now resigned.

Pernille Frahm, who represents the Danish Socialist People's Party (SV) in the European Parliament and is a member of that body's Environment Committee, expressed her anger with the right-wing government for having appointed such an inappropriate person to such an important position. "From being out front on environmental questions,”  Ms Frahm, a member of the Parliament's Environment Committee, said "Denmark has now turned into a joke.  By making Lomborg a leader of the Institute for Environmental Assessment,  the present government sent a clear signal to all the world: "Maybe you think you know what's good for the environment and maybe science thinks it has proved anything, but we have our own opinion and we don´t care about science! Lomborg is a brilliant debater but that doesn´t make him able to lead anything so important as the IMV. More and more the present Danish Government is closing its doors to experts, to good advice and to the rest of the world. It is shocking for people who have worked for years on environmental issues in Denmark, but also more and more for the rest of the world. Lomborg's appointment was clearly based on political decisions alone and not on reason."

You can read more about the book's weird and not very wonderful contents at http://www.anti-lomborg.com

Demand that Nestlé drop their claim against Ethiopia

Take action now to stop Nestlé, the world's largest coffee company, demanding $6 million from a country where 11 million people are facing famine. What are Nestlé doing to help fight hunger in Ethiopia? They are demanding the Ethiopian Government pay $6m in compensation for a company that was nationalised 27 years ago, a company that they didn't even own at the time.

The CEO of Nestlé has said that companies like his will be held to account for their part in the fight against hunger in developing countries - so take action now - e-mail Nestlé telling them to drop the claim for $6m from Ethiopia.  Go to http://www.maketradefair.com/ to find out more.