Weekly News Review

18th June, 2004



European Parliament elections produce mixed results and not much interest

Mixed results for the left in the European Parliamentary elections saw a strong showing in Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, good results in Greece and Italy, and at least an avoidance of meltdown everywhere except Spain, where Izquierda Unida seems to have lost support to the recently-elected social democratic government.

From the Netherlands, the Socialist Party (SP)  doubled its representation when Erik Meijer, its lone MEP, was joined by Kartika Liotard. Liotard, a lawyer who is currently employed by the Ministry of Agriculture, had been number three on the SP list, but following an increasing trend in Dutch politics,  as the highest-placed woman on the list she received enough individual votes to leapfrog over the second placed candidate.

An SP spokesperson said that “We had a long debate about the placings, and our Party Council eventually chose  Roovers for second place on the grounds of his greater experience within the Parliament, experience gained in the four years that he has worked as a policy adviser to Erik Meijer during the previous session.  Now that the voters have, by a clear majority, indicated their preference for Kartika Liotard, the party and candidates have met and Ms Liotard’s  acceptance of the voters’ decision has been confirmed. René Roovers will continue to work as a policy adviser to the SP’s enhanced team.” The SP’s executive praised his contribution to the successful campaign and his solidarity with the result of the election in the face of his personal disappointment at not being elected to office. Unusually amongst progressive parties, the Dutch Socialists continue to shun strict quotas, although four of its eight national MPs are in fact women. That 50% ratio is now maintained at the European level.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Party of Democratic Socialism was among the winners. With 6.1 % of the vote and seven mandates it repeated its success of 1999 (5.8 % and 6 seats) with a slight growth. A spokesperson said “This is the highest result the party has ever scored in a nation-wide election. It strongly confirms that the PDS after its failure at the national elections of 2002 is back in German and European politics. Although the turnout was with 43 % extremely low (1999 – 45.2 %), the party managed to win more votes in absolute terms. For the first time the PDS in a federal state of east Germany – Brandenburg – came in first with the highest share of the vote – 30.8 (+5 %  against 1999). It distanced the other competitors considerably: the conservative CDU got 24 % (- 5.1 %), the SPD 20.6 % (- 10.9 %). This is good news for the Landtag election in the federal states of Brandenburg and Saxony in September, 2004.” 

In the rest of the east German states the PDS took a stable second place behind the CDU and far in front of the SPD. There was also an increase in percentage and absolute votes in all states of west Germany, albeit on a low level.

According to the party’s spokesperson “One of the main reasons for this success is that the PDS by electing a new leadership at its extraordinary congress in July 2003 and adopting a new programme in October 2003 took a marked change in its policies, strategy and political culture. It turned its full attention to the real problems and hopes of the people struggling with the consequences of the continuous dismantling of the German welfare state by the "reforms" of the Schroeder-Fischer government. The PDS succeeded in sharpening its profile as a realistic, thoroughly democratic left party striving for social justice and attending the everyday needs of the people, supporting protest, but also presenting constructive proposals. The party was rewarded for consistently defending the interests of the east German people.” 

Overall, the left group in the European Parliament, the GUE-NGL, had good reasons to declare itself satisfied with the results.  Purely from those parties which were affiliated last time around, it has 39 MEPs, while talks are continuing with disaffected social democrats from Austria, former Commission whistle-blower Paul van Buitenen, who was elected with one other person from his list in the Netherlands, Sinn Fein and a number of others progressives.  A spokesperson for the Group said that its member parties were most concerned with the high rate of abstention, which he put down to “a rejection of the EU’s neoliberal policies, which the GUE-NGL exists to combat. It’s our job to let another voice be heard, and to point the construction of Europe in another direction, pursuing something the citizens of the member states can relate to, such as secure employment, the defence of public services, the protection of the environment, respect for the rights of people in developing countries, and true international security. We want to bring “another Europe” into the heart of the European Parliament.”

In the wider world of grey-suited politics that constitutes the EP, the balance of power changed little, with centre-right maintaining its ascendancy. A constant feature of European Parliamentary politics, however, is that the precise composition of each of its political groups is not known until some time after the elections.  New MEPs who are unsure what group to join are courted by the various tendencies, which have until 5 July to declare their lists – although, after that date, there is nothing to stop a member from stepping over from one faction to another.

 

Political groups have official status at the EP, and on their size depends how many positions such as Committee Chairs come their way. In addition, they may conduct business generally only in the languages represented in their group, giving the GUE-NGL an extra reason to court the two new MEPs from Sinn Fein. It would indeed be a nice irony if the group were to acquire the right to English interpretation at its meeting by dint of membership of an Irish nationalist party whose name is not in English, even if that is the first language of most of its members. Almost as nice as the irony which  makes it the EP’s first cross-border party – the fulfilment of a Europhile dream, though perhaps not quite what they had in mind.

Spectre has concentrated on the performances of the left, as the mainstream press has covered the election in general. If you want to read about the general picture in some detail, go to the EP’s official news site here

Environmentalists “disappointed” by election results

The European Environmental Bureau, which brings together every major environmental NGO in Europe, has responded to the elections by criticising the kind of policies which, they say, have led to the mass abstention and support for parties such as UKIP and the Swedish Euro-sceptics.

EEB general secretary John Hontelez said “these elections show that Member States’ governments and the European Commission have failed to increase the EU’s credibility with its citizens. Only four out of ten voters gave their vote to parties supporting the EU. The others were just not motivated, or actively supported parties critical or dismissive of the EU”.”



The EEB is calling on the national governments, the new Parliament and the new Commission to develop a clear policy on sustainable development, one addressed to the European citizens, making clear choices and setting clear objectives and timetables. “Deregulation and devolution are not options for environmental policies, as long as the EU is a single market,” Hontelez added.



European Parliament challenges transatlantic deal to share data on air passengers



The European Parliament is likely to decide to legally challenge a controversial EU-US deal on the transfer of air passenger data following meetings of political group leaders on Wednesday.  Read all about it here

Call for EU dialogue with Cuba

EU trade ministers last week called for renewed dialogue with Cuba, whilst at the same time agreeing to renew diplomatic sanctions.  No sanctions are called for against Bush’s torture junta, however. Read about the EU’s arrogance here


Anti-WEF demonstrations take the streets of Seoul

Almost 15,000 people gathered last weekend in the streets of Seoul, South Korea, to protest against the World Economic Forum Asian Summit, Diverse Korean movements, including KCTU (Korean Confederation of Trade Unions) and KoPA (Korean People's Action against Free Trade and WTO), as well as student goops, under the broad umbrella of the Korean Organizing Committee against the WEF summit, organized a march from the Daehakro district towards the Shilla Hotel, where delegates are meeting.

Korean groups presented songs and cultural performances while the crowd sang and danced. "Down, down WEF", "Down, down WTO" and "Power to the People" were among the slogans by the demonstrators. In contrast, robocop-style police used buses to blockade the streets a hundred metres or so away from the Shilla Hotel.

The march started at 2pm, and although demonstrators were successful in reaching an agreement with the police in order to get a protest letter delivered and read to the WEF delegates, the WEF refused to receive them at the conference center. From 4pm to 7pm there was confrontation with the police at the blockade site, mainly through direct action strategies. There were no major injuries and very few arrests.

Thanks to Diego Azzi of the Social Movements International Network contact group for this report, which has been slightly edited.

Reports reveal systematic abuse and torture by US forces in Iraq

"The torture and mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was the predictable result of the Bush administration's decision to circumvent international law," Human Rights Watch has said in a new report. Reed Brody is special counsel with Human Rights Watch and author of the report, entitled The Road to Abu Ghraib, which, he says  "examines how the Bush administration adopted a deliberate policy of permitting illegal interrogation techniques and then spent two years covering up or ignoring reports of torture and other abuse by U.S. troops.... The only exceptional aspect of the abuse at Abu Ghraib may have been that it was photographed." Read the full report here

In a separate report entitled Beyond Torture: U.S. Violations of Occupation Law in Iraq, Roger Normand, executive director of the (US) Center for Economic and Social Rights reveals, he says, how "Torture is only the tip of the iceberg. From unlawful killings, mass arrests, and collective punishment to outright theft and pillage, the US is violating almost every law intended to protect civilians living under foreign military occupation. Our report finds that these crimes are so entrenched in US policies towards Iraq that they will end only when the occupation itself is ended." The report can be read here

Iraq's Interim Government and the UN Resolution


“Iraq remains an occupied country. Whether the new "interim government" stands or falls, whether or not the United Nations passes a new resolution, whether or not the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's hints constitute real approval of the "government," the occupation remains, says Bennis. Neither the existence of the interim government nor the likely new Security Council resolution change the reality of 138,000 U.S. occupying the country and US economic and political forces maintaining control of Iraq's economic and political life.” Read the rest of Phyllis Bennis’s analysis here


Welcome new UPA government in India, without Illusions, says Praful Bidwai


The installation of the new government marks a positive break from a vicious phase in Indian politics, writes Bidwai, and says that the United Progressive Alliance will have to strive hard against its adversaries within to translate the people's mandate into real action.” Read the rest here


How to get rid of racist graffiti – wrinkled class warriors speak out

And finally, a tip from Spectre’s ageing lefty hooligans: according to the Liverpool Echo, “A water fountain in Princes Park Liverpool has been covered in racist slogans and swastikas. Local council officials have been criticised for failing to clean the monument of the racial abuse.” This produced dreamy expressions in the rheumy eyes of our editorial staff. “We had the same problem some time in the previous century when we were students at Middlesex Poly,” one of them reminisced. “Racist graffiti all over the subway outside Hendon Central tube. We complained to Barnet Council, but nothing happened. So one night we painted ‘Arm the Workers, Shoot the Bosses’ over it. Next day the Council workers had cleaned the lot off.”  Not that we’re advocating such lawlessness, you understand.

Peace News: June-August 2004 edition now out featuring a special section on war and peace at sea as well as articles on Iraq, Eritrea, Colombia, Russia,  and many other places and subjects.  For more on this handsomely-produced, highly informative quarterly, go to http://www.peacenews.info