Weekly News Review

18th September 2004

Commissioner-designate for Competition Policy under fire

Incoming EU Commission President Barroso's choice for Competition Commissioner, Dutch right-winger Nellie Kroes, has been cited in an internal Commission legal opinion - leaked to the Financial Times this week - as possibly unsuitable. Doubts about Ms Kroes's aptness for the job have arisen as a result of possible conflicts of interest arising from her extensive involvement with major corporations.

The report, intended to be confidential, was prepared at Ms Kroes's own request. It advises the Commission not to involve her in any matters relating to companies with which she has been involved. The commissioner-designate resigned from various positions recently in order to avoid just such a conflict of interest.

In itself, there is nothing unusual about this. In 1999, British Tory Caroline Jackson gave up directorships in order to become Chair of the European Parliament's Environment Committee and performed her duties to praise from all sides (including left and green MEPs) until the recent elections. At the Commission, Competition Commissioner Karel van Miert decided three years ago not to rule on a case involving Belgian airline Sabena due to a family connection with the firm.

In fact, unease about Kroes's nomination goes rather further than is evident from the leaked document. Dutch left MEP Erik Meijer, from the Socialist Party (SP), part of the United Left Group (GUE-NGL), says that "Ms Kroes has in recent weeks been mentioned by people across the political spectrum in connection with the favouring or disfavouring of enterprises, in her role as Secretary of State and Minister in the Netherlands (1977-1989), and in particular the handing out of government contracts, asking for payments for commercial mediation, and maintaining contacts with allegedly criminal businesspeople." Mr Meijer has asked the Council of Ministers, which, like the Parliament, must confirm the appointment, to establish an independent enquiry to establish whether or not there is any truth behind these rumours. In a parliamentary question he has asked the Council whether it agrees "that it would be extremely damaging to the credibility of the incoming Commission, and especially for its projected activities in the field of competition policy, if, during and after the nomination process, rumours over malpractice on the part of one of its members were to remain current." It needs, he says "to be made persuasively clear" that the rumours are unfounded, if indeed this turns out to be the case.

"The Council should establish an independent enquiry and hand over its findings to the Parliament so that they can be taken into account in our judgement of her suitability," Meijer added. The Dutch MEP also put a question to the present Commission asking it to comment on the affair, and particularly on Ms Kroes's assurance to her national parliamentarians that she would not accept any dossier which might raise a conflict of interests, but would instead ask Barroso himself to handle it. "Given the extent of Kroes's involvement in the business world," Mr Meijer commented, "if I were Barroso I'd be worried about my workload!"

Critics have not, moreover, been confined to the left. A journalist in the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad (more or less the equivalent of the FT), Piet Hagen, recently drew attention to what he called her "miserable performance" in relation to a scandal surrounding a firm called Tanker Cleaning Rotterdam and an investigation into fraud in the building trade, suggesting that this made her an unwise choice for Competition Commissioner.

Accusations of unacceptable practices have also appeared in numerous other publications in the Netherlands. Clearly these need to be addressed before Ms Kroes takes responsibility for a policy area which involves the taking of decisions which can enrich or impoverish individual firms, leaving aside the broader implications.

Environmentalists: Commission "is caving in to pressure on GMOs"

The European Commission has been accused in a letter sent this week by an alliance of environmental, farming and civil society organisations of "caving in" to pressure by the United States and the World Trade Organisation to accept genetically modified (GM) foods.

The Commission will on Monday Sept. 20 push European member states to vote on the import of a controversial GM maize developed by the US biotech giant Monsanto. Member states have been asked by the Commission to vote on the import of Monsanto's GM maize MON863. This maize has been genetically modified to resist some insects by producing a toxin in the plant. It has been heavily criticised by scientists from a number of countries, in particular France. The French Commission for Genetic Engineering (CGB), for example, was alarmed by the results of a feeding study of MON863 on rats that showed significantly different levels of white blood cells, kidney weights and kidney structure, as well as lower albumin/globulin rates in the rats fed the GM maize. The Director of the French National research body, INRA, has also raised doubts.

This will be the Commission's eighth attempt to get its member states to accept a GM food. Only last week, the Commission approved the commercial growing of 17 varieties of a Monsanto GM maize - making it the first GM seed commercially available across the whole of Europe.

The United States, Canada and Argentina started proceedings last year in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over Europe's position on GM foods. The NGOs accuse the Commission of backing down before the case has even finished. They highlight the fact that since the trade dispute started the Commission has forced through two GM products without the support of either the public or the member states, and has pressurized countries to drop their national bans on GM foods and crops. The organisations are also critical of the fact that the Commission is arguing in the WTO that there is scientific uncertainty over the safety of GM foods at the same time as it is pushing products domestically in Europe.

Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said:

" The European Commission is caving in to the bullying of the United States. They are forcing more and more genetically modified foods and crops on to the market against a background of scientific disagreements. Their actions are undemocratic and against the will of the European public who have made it consistently clear that they do not want to eat genetically foods. Europe should stand firm against the US pressure and protect its people and environment from this genetically modified experiment."

Meanwhile, environmentalists and regional authorities launch joint initiative at European Parliament Press Conference

Earlier this week the Assembly of European Regions (AER) and Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE) launched a joint long-term campaign that aims to protect traditional crops and products from the consequences of the introduction of new genetic technologies. Among other things the AER and FoE will lobby together for a European legal framework on the coexistence of traditional and transgenic crops, as well as for the legal recognition of GMO-free zones and regions in Europe.

The AER and FOE are calling for a binding EU coexistence regulation, following the example of the law that was recently adopted by the German Parliament, with a clear definition of biosafety measures such as separation distances between GM and non-GM crops and a public register for GMOs, as required by EU law; a liability scheme in the event that conventional and organic crops as well as their seeds are contaminated by GMOs, on the basis of the precautionary and polluter-pays principles; the right of Member States and regional authorities to prohibit or restrict the use or sale of GMOs within the Common market if there is evidence of an advanced risk of extensive dissemination or a negative impact on the environment; and legal provisions enabling the regions to define all or a part of their territory as a GMO-free zone or region, without these decisions being seen as an infringement to the Community principle of free movement of goods.

Klaus Klipp, Secretary General of the Assembly of European Regions said: "Since 1999, nearly two thousand regional and local authorities across Europe have declared themselves GMO-free areas, challenging the European law on the Common market. They want to confront the risks of contamination by GMOs and to protect their traditional and organic agriculture, as well as their products of designated origin. Via this joint initiative the AER aims to have the voice of the Regions heard at the European level".

Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth said: "It is clear that environmentalists and European regions have a common interest to protect biodiversity, traditional and organic agriculture against the risks of GMOs. And today the German law on coexistence give us a chance to respond properly to the GMO issue at European level".

Several Members of the European Parliament were present at today's press conference, where the joint AER/FoE initiative was launched. Barbara de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein members of the United Left Group (GUE-MGL), both reiterated their party’s and group’s support for GM-free zones. "Indeed," said Ms de Brún, "what we’d really like to see is a GM free Europe."

UK Green Group member Jillian Evans of Plaed Cymru/The Party of Wales, said: "What is happening at European level since the Commission lifted the moratorium is additional proof that the European Parliament, which adopted the resolution on coexistence between GM and non-GM in December 2003, has not been heard once again. We welcome the German Parliament's step forward on the issue, which opens the way to a new approach of coexistence".

Even some right wingers were there to show support. Janusz Wojciechowski, Polich member of the centre-right EPP and Vice-President of Agriculture Committee said: "Poland and other new EU Member states want to avoid the errors that the old EU Member states made in the past in order to preserve our traditional agriculture. We may produce less than them but our food must be natural and consumer-friendly. Only such a policy can help us to uphold small farms and maintain jobs in rural areas".

Left Group's nominees for EP human rights ward "struggled to preserve the sanctity and dignity of human life"

Murdered peace activists Rachel Corrie and Enzo Baldoni and Doctor Leonid Roshal are the three candidates proposed by the European United Left / Nordic Green Left Group (GUE-NGL) for the joint award of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize. The Sakharov Prize is awarded annually by the European Parliament for freedom of thought based on a particular achievement in either the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, safeguarding the rights of minorities, respect for international law, or the development of democracy and the implementation of the rule of law.

Speaking about the triple candidature GUE-NGL President Francis Wurtz said: "Each of these three brave people had the courage to go straight to the heart of three raging conflicts in the Middle East, Iraq and Chechnya. Our three candidates were united by their struggle to preserve the sanctity and dignity of human life. Both Rachel Corrie and Enzo Baldoni paid the ultimate price and our Group hope that other MEPs will support our proposal to award the Sakharov Prize posthumously as a tribute to their bravery and sacrifice."

Rachel Corrie, a young American peace activist, was killed by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip on 16 March 2003. She was a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement. Enzo Baldoni, an Italian freelance journalist, was killed in Baghdad on 29 August 2003. He worked for the Milan weekly Diario and with the Italian NGO "Emergency".

The whole world came to know Dr. Leonid Roshal during the hostage tragedy at the Nord-Ost Musical in Moscow. He created the First Aid International Brigade in 1998 and, more recently, was one of the negotiators during the Beslan crisis in North Ossetia. Roshal has devoted himself to saving lives all over the world - in Nagorny Karabakh, Yugoslavia, Abkhazia, Israel, and Chechnya and in earthquake-hit areas on Russia's Sakhalin Island, in Egypt, Japan, Afghanistan, and Turkey.

The Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee will assess all the proposals on 5 October and select three finalists from which the Conference of Presidents will select the winner. The ceremony for the award of the prize takes place on 14 December 2004.

French referendum battle heats up

The battle over the referendum in France is beginning to take shape as President Jacques Chirac calls for a non-partisan approach to the campaign and a veteran eurosceptic launches his campaign. Read all about it here


New Zealand troops quickly and quietly leave Iraq

Read the good news for New Zealand's soldiers, their mums, and the world here

Very urgent help needed by Schnews Collective...

If you are truly very proficient at desktop publishing programmes, and are available to help laying out pages in this book between now and October, and would like to help the radical libertarian collective Schnews to produce their book Schnews at Ten, please call John at the SchNEWS office ASAP on 01273 685913 or 07984 008638 The book is being done in Indesign 2, but it's possible to work with Quark files.

Greenpeace looking for volunteers for "focus group"

Greenpeace is looking for people to help with usability testing and general feedback on what they describe as "our new next-generation website."

Greenpeace says that "As a volunteer, you'll be asked to review prototypes, participate in short phone interviews and possibly a focus group. It will probably take 4 to 8 hours of your time over the next few months, and we'll be happy to send you a Greenpeace t-shirt as a token of our thanks. It doesn't matter about your level of experience with the Internet - we're looking for both experienced and inexperienced users." To volunteer, send an email here, with the subject line "Volunteer", and tell them your name, email address, phone number (including country code), postal address, and how long you've been using the Web.

Global Exchange Reality Tours invite you to travel to Mexico!

Chiapas: The attention of the world was focused on Chiapas, Mexico when on January first, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, an uprising of indigenous peoples calling themselves the "Zapatistas" brought notice to their precarious living conditions by declaring war on the Mexican government. You can join radical organisation SIPAZ in a visit to the region to learn more about what has motivated the popular movements in Mexico. Examine the recent history of the Chiapas region and hear about the challenges facing the struggle for indigenous autonomy. Learn about the direct effects of globalization in the context of NAFTA and the on-going efforts for economic justice and democracy. Dialogue with indigenous peoples who have been working for the rights to own the land upon which they live and work, and govern their communities according to their own indigenous traditions and customs. Meet with human rights and indigenous leaders and environmental organizations working for peace and justice. The tour includes visits to autonomous communities.

Indigenous Resistance; Oct. 6-14, 2004. Cost $750

Tierra y Libertad; January 2-10, 2005. Cost $750

Alternative Spring Break; March 6-13, 2005. Cost $750

Tierra y Libertad; July 6-14, 2005. Cost $750

Tierra y Libertad; August 2-10, 2005. Cost $750

Tierra y Libertad; October 5-13, 2005. Cost $750

Oaxaca: As a result of neo-liberal economic policies, Oaxaca exports a large number of migrants every year to northern Mexico and the United States. In spite of government development programs which favour international corporate interests over local needs, Oaxacans maintain a vital culture of struggle and resistance based in local indigenous traditions--Oaxaca has the largest indigenous population of any Mexican state, with 16 different indigenous groups. Women are often at the forefront of these struggles, organizing themselves and their communities to fight repression and leading the efforts to revitalize languages and culture. In this delegation we will examine the effects of globalization on Oaxaca firsthand by speaking with local social organizations and indigenous leaders as well as visiting indigenous communities. We will speak with migrant organizations, indigenous women leaders, and learn about the repercussions of resort tourism development for local people.

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos; Oct. 30-Nov. 7, 2004. Cost $950

Culture of Resistance; February 7-15, 2005. Cost $950

Culture of Resistance; June 14-22. Cost $950

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos; Oct. 30-Nov. 7, 2005. Cost $950

US/Mexico Border: Another region of Mexico that exemplifies the failure of the Free Trade and neoliberal agenda is on the US/Mexico Border. Since the 1994 launching of "Operation Gatekeeper," a military and local law enforcement collaboration, over two thousand migrant workers have lost their lives attempting to cross the heavily militarized border. NAFTA has heavily impacted the US/Mexico border region with the massive influx of maquiladoras (assembly factories) infamous for their low wages, dangerous working conditions, health impacts, labor rights violations, and the extreme pollution of local water, air, and land resources. On the border you will talk to community and human rights activists and labor organizers as well as corporate executives and Border Patrol agents, and learn about a growing solidarity movement that is building a more just and sustainable future, even across borders.

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos; Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 2004. Cost $550

Uniting Across Borders: Workers, Environment, and Human Rights; April 29-May 5, 2005. Cost $550

Beyond Borders: Immigration, Militarization, and Free Trade; September 2-5, 2005. Cost $550

Prices Include:

Room accommodations (single rooms may be available for an additional $200); two meals per day; ground transportation to and from all programmed activities; guides and translators; a qualified trip leader; all programme activities; donations and reading materials.

Not Included: International airfare, lunches, tips, and personal expenses are NOT included.

For more info feel free to contact tanya@globalexchange.org

What is Global Exchange?

Global Exchange is a nonprofit human rights organization working for global political, economic, environmental, and social justice. Since our founding in 1988, we have increased the US public's awareness of global issues while building progressive, grassroots international partnerships. Global Exchange pursues these goals through four program areas: Reality Tours, which educate the public about international issues through socially responsible travel; Fair Trade, which helps build economic justice from the bottom up through the sale of crafts that generate income for artisans in over 37 countries; Public Education, which produces literature and videos, and organizes educational workshops and nation wide speaking tours; and Human and Global Economic Rights Campaigns, which struggle to eliminate overseas sweatshops that make products for US companies as well as promote economic justice and an end to human rights abuses around the world.




Also available free of charge Chemicals. Cleaning Up: report of the conference of the European Parliament United Left Group on new proposals for EU policy on chemicals in the environment (REACH). Send your postal address and we'll send you a copy.