Personal note: two years ago, whilst in New York following attendance at the National Conference of the Socialist Party USA just

19th July, 2002

Common Agricultural Policy: Commission proposes sweeping reforms

The most ambitious plans for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy since its foundation almost half a century ago were adopted this week by the European Commission. Early signs, however, indicate that they are likely to run into the same impassably boggy ground as sunk all previous attempts to go beyond a system which was designed to feed a continent still recovering from war but which has since turned into a series of incentives for the worst kind of unsustainable farm practices.

The proposals attempt to give something to all sides, but this could well be their downfall. A reduction in market support is seen as vital to the EU’s ambitious plans for enlargement, liberalisation of agriculture is urged by the WTO and demanded by developing countries as the quid pro quo of their own liberalisation programmes, and removal of the CAP’s most damaging environmental features is a priority for NGOs such as those which gather under the umbrella of the European Environmental Bureau.

  The Commission claims that if implemented the proposals will sever the link between production levels and subsidy entitlements, reducing incentives for over-intensive agriculture; make payments to farmers conditional on environmentally sound practices standards; increase EU support for rural development; and introduce a new farm audit system to check on compliance with the rules.

  For a number of member states, generally those which lie on the Mediterranean, the proposals in their present form will be unacceptable. It is true, indeed, that some small farmers will suffer a loss of income which in many cases will be the last straw in a period of growing difficulties. Yet it is the big agri-business lobby which, in the end, will sink the plan. As ever, big business lobbies hide their true agenda behind the genuine interests of groups of people whom they can bully, trick or (if they’re really lucky) bribe into alliance. And small farmers, for example those who have been induced to borrow in order to build up beef herds which they are now told will no longer attract subsidy, have genuine grievances. Of course, subsidising beef production is unnecessary, immoral, and senseless. But promising subsidies on the basis of you know that investment decisions on which livelihoods depend will be taken, and then suddenly withdrawing them, is also indefensible.

For many environmentalists, moreover, Commissioner Franz Fischler’s proposals do not go far enough, though they are seen as a step in the right direction. A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth said that FoE generally welcomed the plan, but that far more needed to be done if the CAP were to become environmentally beneficial rather than destructive.

“All payments should be conditional on strict environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards,” she said. “Fischler fails to address a central flaw of the CAP, namely the goal o f being most competitive on the world market. A continued fixation on exports leads to subsidised dumping on developing countries, and puts farmers in poor countries out of work. Also European farmers suffer as they are being asked to perform two mutually exclusive tasks at the same time. First, international competitiveness can only be achieved by increasing efficiency through larger scale, more intensive farming. But at the same time, society demands higher standards of social, environmental and animal welfare. The two objectives simply cannot go together and the EU simply has to choose the latter option. Export subsidies have to be abolished.”

There is a resolution of these conflicts, and it lies in a gradual phase out of those environmentally damaging subsidies on which, unfortunately, the livelihoods of farmers who are only just getting by depend, and their replacement with a system based on social and environmental needs, one which can see the skilled craftsman or craftswoman whose job it is to deliver wholesome food to the rest of us, the wild plants and creatures who live in what is left of our ravaged countryside, and the range of activities which make for a vibrant rural environment, all flourish. Few Spectre readers will have problems in understanding why this will not happen, or in identifying the culprits.

Read more about Friends of the Earth Europe’s agriculture campaign here

EU Ombudsman: European Commission secrecy around Transatlantic Business Dialogue is "maladministration"

European Ombudsman Jacob Söderman has condemned the European Commission's secrecy around the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD). The Commission has for over two years refused the Amsterdam-based Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) - a research and campaigning group targeting threats to democracy, equity, social justice and the environment posed by the economic and political power of corporations and their lobby groups - access to key documents on the Commission's involvement in the business dialogue. In a 'draft recommendation', the Ombudsman has concluded that the refusal is "maladministration" and calls on the Commission to give CEO access to the requested documents.

CEO activist Olivier Hoedeman explained that “The decision comes more than two years after CEO first requested access to the documents. The disputed papers are the Commission's briefing notes for the TABD's November 1999 CEO Conference in Berlin. These documents, including pre-prepared speeches for Commissioners and other European Commission staff, are the only real source for monitoring what was said behind closed doors.”

Through the TABD over 100 of the largest EU and US-based corporations jointly identify regulations and policies which they consider "barriers to transatlantic trade". Due to far-reaching support from the European Commission and the US government, the industry body routinely succeeds in weakening or postponing new consumer and environment protection measures. The Commission denied CEO access to the documents claiming to protect "international relations" and arguing that there is "no real public interest in disclosure". The Ombudsman in his recommendation concluded that CEO "is entitled to invoke a public interest in disclosure of documents concerning the Commission's relationship with TABD." Mr Söderman also states that it is not for the Commission "to say which documents might or might not be useful for citizens in carrying out monitoring of the Commission's exercise of its powers."

Carry on spraying: Commission plans mean more delay in reducing pesticide use

Environmental groups have dismissed a new European Commission plan which purports to be aimed at reducing pesticide use as nothing more than a delaying tactic to hold up effective – but expensive and politically problematic – action. The official “Communication”, Towards a Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides was trumpeted as offering solutions to the growing problem of pesticide residues and other environmentally-damaging and health-threatening effects of EU agriculture’s profit-driven addiction to toxic chemicals. Stefan Scheur of the European Environmental Bureau said that the Commission’s paper “lacks any consideration of new, specific legislation to tackle reduction of the dependency on and the impact of pesticides, as well as lacking targets and timetables for the establishment of national plans to reduce hazards, risks and dependence on pesticides control".

“The Communication is a good issue paper,” Mr Scheur conceded, “covering many aspects of sustainable pesticides use, but it effectively results in delaying urgently-needed action to reduce the risks to human and environmental health that are caused by the current irresponsible and intensive use of pesticides.”

Catherine Wattiez, of PAN (Pesticides Action Network) Europe agreed: "Pesticide use is rising in Europe, as are concentrations of residues on food products,” she said. “Moreover, as scientific knowledge develops, threats to public health as a result of pesticide use seem to be growing, because of the combined effects and aggregate exposure to the pesticides used." Because of this the environmentalist groups are calling for “a Directive specifically focusing on a more stringent, preventative approach…one that clearly defines, in an integrated way,

the use-reduction measures to be taken."

Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) have also strongly challenged the suggestion that GM crops can be seen as a means of reducing pesticide use, and said that the paper does not go far enough in promoting alternative methods.

In May PAN Europe and the EEB, supported by several hundred environmental, health and farmers’ groups, released their suggested text for a new EU Directive to reduce farmers’ and other professional users' dependency on pesticides. Their aim was to speed up the European Commission's development of effective legislation. The Commission, however, as ever prefers to listen to its friends in the agri-chemical industry and Big Agriculture.

You can read the full text of the proposed Directive at this website or here

European Parliament: Left Group keeps on growing

The GUE-NGL, the group of left members in the European Parliament, continues to attract dissident members of other groups fed up with the failure of social democrats and Greens to offer any real opposition to the prevailing neoliberal ideology. On top of recent defections from the Greens, “Socialists” of the PES (in reality, social democrats), and the anti-EU (but right-dominated) EDD, the United Left Group (GUE-NGL) has now accepted applications from four French members. Gérard Caudron, Sami Nair, Michel Dary and Michel-Ange Scarbonchi have left or been expelled from the French PS to form the Gauche républicaine, radicale et citoyenne (Republican, radical, citizens’ left). Speaking for the group, M. Caudron declared that he was “really pleased because I am convinced that only a united European left can make alternative proposals to ultra-liberalism and uncontrolled globalization.”  In terms of their attitudes to the EU, the four, like the existing GUE-ites, are a mixed bag. M.Caudron is critical of EU policies but a “convinced European”, whereas M.Scarbonchi was expelled from the PES for supporting the extremely EU-critical presidential candidacy of Jean-Pierre Chévenemment.

With fifty MEPs the GUE-NGL is now the fourth biggest group in the European Parliament, just behind the Liberals who have fifty-three.

Pigeons’ toilet improved by removal of ugly feature

An 8-foot-tall marble statue of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was decapitated this week by a heroic Londoner armed with nothing but a metal pole. Paul Kelleher is 37, and therefore part of a generation whose lives were destroyed by the woman made famous by her dictatorial style of rule, her order to sink a ship containing 800 Argentine teenagers which was sailing away from the British fleet during an unnecessary war, and her transformation of Britain into an industrial, cultural and environmental disaster area. Mr Kelleher was charged with criminal damage. Thatcher has yet to be charged with anything though the High Court of Public Opinion has long since declared her culpable,though possibly unfit to plead.

Sycophants queued up to condemn the “crime”, but then the statue’s very existence owes much to sycophancy. Parliamentary rules said no sculpture of a former prime minister could be exhibited in the main parliamentary buildings until after the subject had died. As Thatcher appears to be immortal, however, the rules were changed to allow the statue to be exhibited at the House of Commons, to where it was to be moved after the next election.

Neil Simmons, who was responsible for the thing, said he was deeply saddened and that it was “tragic that something I devoted so much time and energy to should have been damaged by a few seconds of mindless violence." We don’t know Mr Kelleher and it’s always possible that he was drunk and chopped Thatcher’s head off for a “mindless” laugh. But we used to live in Britain and we doubt it, Mr Simmons, we doubt it very much indeed.


A South African socialist on the relationship between her country and the WTO

‘In the context of widespread criticism of the WTO amongst developing countries, and resistance to the expansion of its powers promoted above all by the most developed countries, South Africa chose to project itself internationally as the "bridge between the developed and the developing world". But within South Africa, and with enthusiastic support from the mainstream media, government spokespersons have been proudly proclaiming South Africa's "leadership role" in the WTO "in the best interests of the developing world.” As the evidence in this analysis shows, it is highly debatable whether this self proclaimed "leading role" is a reality among developing countries, whether South Africa can presume to understand "the best interests" of the developing countries; or whether South Africa is in fact pursuing economic and political interests within this country in relation to the rest of the continent, or other developing countries and the rest of the world.’ Read the rest of Transnational Institute (TNI) fellow Dot Keet’s critical analysis of the RSA’s relationship with the World Trade Organisation here

In brief

Shell tries to silence critics: “The world's largest oil company is trying to silence its biggest critic by taking Greenpeace to court over the use of ExxonMobil logos in a StopEsso boycott campaign. The Texas-based energy group has accused Greenpeace of damaging its reputation by doctoring logo letters to resemble the moniker of the Nazi secret police. And it wants the green charity to hand over €80,000 (£55,000) for reputational damage and a further €80,000 a day should it continue to use the offending material.” We could say more, but we haven’t got 80 grand. So go here for the rest. We have to add that, before we stopped reading it when it metamorphosed into a Blairite rag, The Guardian would never have used such a naff expression as “green charity” nor invented such an ugly (and unknown to the OED, or indeed Microsoft’s Spellcheck) word as “reputational”. But after Fields of Gold we can forgive Alan Rusbridger most things.

The Sunshine Project is making available the full text of 21 documents related to US research and development of "non lethal" biological and chemical weapons. The documents relate to biochemical weapons, their delivery methods, and policy issues, including the assessment of a recent series of joint "non-lethal" wargames involving the US and the United Kingdom. All of the documents are US public records obtained by the Sunshine Project under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Federal

Advisory Committees Act (FACA) and can be read here In case your overly impressed by the US authorities’ openness, the Sunshine Project informs us that the group “began its requests for these documents in March 2001. To date, fewer than half of the nearly 150 items the Sunshine Project requested have been released. The 21 documents posted are among the most important of those that have been turned over to the Project. As more documents are released, selected items will be posted on our website.”

Ungrateful Russians: “The percentage of the population that supports the liberal market economic model has decreased steadily over the past decade, during which a series of revolving-door governments has been busily constructing that very market economy. In 1994, 12.5 percent of the population backed the liberal model -- a low number in itself, given the nearly unanimous support for this model among the ruling elite. Now popular support for the liberal model has fallen to just 8 percent. The Soviet economic model continues to enjoy the support of 18 percent of those polled. But 37 percent now favor a mixed economic model with a strong state sector.” Read Boris Kagarlitsky’s Moscow Times article  here 

People versus Big Oil - Rights of Nigerian Indigenous People Recognized: “At a time when the petropolitics of the Bush administration seem to reign supreme, the rights of peoples affected by the global hunt for oil have received an important boost. An African commission has ruled the Nigerian government should compensate the Ogoni people for abuses against their lands, environment, housing, and health caused by oil production and government security forces.” Some good news for a change? See for yourself here

Left records huge vote in Bolivian presidentials: The final count in the Bolivian presidential election gave almost 21% of the vote to left candidate and small farmers’ and indigenous peoples’ leader Evo Morales. Mr Morales finished second, which, as no candidate received 25%, gives him a chance of winning the deciding vote in the National Congress. Bolivia’s constitution gives the Congress the right to elect the president if no candidate receives the required share of the popular vote. Evo Morales’ success comes in the face of a sustained campaign of bullying and intimidation by a US which is rapidly losing control of events in a series of what it has long regarded as client states. The American ambassador attempted before the election to smear Morales, claiming he was in favour of drug trafficking. In reality, he and his party, the Movement Towards Socialism, have called for continued coca cultivation solely for food and medicinal uses and as a way to avoid the ruination of tens of thousands of small farmers and their families.

Green Left Weekly, Australia’s socialist newspaper, provides news, information, opinion and debate from an environmental and left perspective. Featured this week: “The US military's July 1 massacre of Afghan villagers attending a wedding party has been presented by both the Pentagon and the mainstream media as a ``blunder''. Green Left Weekly explains why it was just the latest in a long list of US war crimes in Afghanistan.”   Plus refugee breakouts, the world's longest running injustice, vote-buying scam in Fiji, World.Com, and the launch of the Socialist Alliance election campaign. Read it all at