Weekly News Review

20th February 2004

Campaigners demand referendum on EU Constitution


While leaders of the EU’s “Big Three” triumvirate of France, Germany and the UK were holding a meeting on the future of Europe's economy, protestors gathered outside to demand that citizens of EU member states be given the chance to vote in referenda on any proposed constitution.


With three huge placards depicting French president Jacques Chirac, UK prime minister Tony Blair and German chancellor Gerhard Schröder blocking their ears, pro-referendum movements from the same countries launched a joint call for the right to vote on what would be an historic decision.


If leaders can come to a deal on the Constitution, which they failed to do last December, it must still be ratified by each member state according to its own legislative system. The likelihood of this going smoothly in all 25 of the EU’s disparate member countries (the current 15 plus the ten which will become members on May 1) seems remote, and it is clear that many mainstream politicians would like to increase them by making the process as undemocratic as possible.


As things stand only Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain have clearly stated that they will hold a referendum. 


More information about the campaign to persuade the other 19 to join them can be found at http://www.european-referendum.org/action/berlin.html


Amnesty: EU failing to “ensure that fundamental rights and freedoms are fully guaranteed in practice”


Human rights group Amnesty International has criticised the EU over what it sees as its failure to protect individuals who may be subject to the European Arrest Warrant. This controversial document, which gives police officers the power to demand the arrest of suspects outside their usual jurisdiction, has so far been implemented by eight of the fifteen EU member states.  It replaces extradition procedures between EU member states and will enable prisoners to be handed over by the authorities of one EU state to another within a period of only 60 to 90 days and without of the usual safeguards of their rights.


The rotating Presidency of the Union is currently held by Ireland, and in a letter to Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell, Amnesty International EU Office Director Dick Oosting said: :


"In the absence of a proposal from the Commission and the urgency of the situation in the light of implementation of the European arrest warrant, it is for the Presidency to ensure that this gap is filled by a proposal designed, at a minimum, to protect the rights of individuals affected by EU judicial cooperation such as those who may find themselves the subject of a European arrest warrant", the letter says, adding that “in a number of Member States, implementation has been mired in difficulties in national parliaments due to lack of trust in the standards of criminal justice in other Member States and the lack of common standards in the application of basic procedural safeguards in criminal proceedings.  The absence of such common standards and the lack of mutual trust upon which to base the principle of mutual recognition is in practice likely to lead to severe difficulties in the application of the European arrest warrant.”


Every EU member state has signed the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), which means that they are obliged to refuse to surrender an individual where surrender would result in a serious breach of that person’s human rights.  A number of recent extradition cases between EU Member States  have demonstrated that judges are prepared to find that surrender to an EU Member State might result in a breach of that person’s fundamental rights and, on that basis, must be refused.  According to Amnesty, the European Arrest Warrant does not offer the same safeguards as does this traditional extradition-based system.


European Commission wants even more of our moolah


European Commission President Romano Prodi last week unveiled proposals for the EU budget in the period 2007-2013, calling for large increases. The total amount member states will have to contribute for EU projects will rise from 133 billion euro in 2007 to 158 billion in 2013.

The four main spending priorites outlined in the proposals are sustainable growth (including cohesion funds for poorer areas), preservation and management of natural resources, including agriculture spending, "citizenship, freedom, security and justice" and "the EU as a global partner".

Spending in the field of sustainable growth - attempting to boost competitiveness in the EU - will rise by 28 percent over the period, home affairs by 122 percent. Spending on agriculture will stay roughly flat over the period while the foreign policy budget will rise by 38 percent.

A majority of the European Parliament will support the proposals, though left members were critical. Those from the poorer, southern countries questioned the budget's priorities while those from the North were more critical of the overall increase. Erik Meijer, of the Dutch Socialist Party, a member of the United Left Group (GUE-NGL), pointed out that "while, on grounds of solidarity, I do not object to transfers of wealth to poorer countries as such, I think it will be difficult to sell the idea of a bigger budget to a Dutch public which now associates the EU with extravagance, corruption and waste."  

Unlike the Parliament, the member states were largely unenthusiastic, with net contributor sucg as the Netherlands and Germany signalling their displeasure.  It is only weeks since six net contributors wrote to the Commission demanding a budget ceiling of 1% of GNP. However, the Commission always follows the general rule when asking for a pay rise - demand 20% and you met get 5 - so the increase was to be expected. It must be remembered that the Commission is not part of the budgetary authority, but merely makes a proposal which the two institutions of the authority, the Council (which directly represents the member states) and Parliament then consider.

With Swedish finance minister Bosse Ringholm describing the proposals as "completely unrealistic" and others, including the UK's Gordon Brown and Germany's Hans Eichel queuing up to attack them, it may be that the Brussels pickpockets will be thwarted in their attempts to get their hands on still more taxpayers' dosh.


Nordic Green-Left Alliance  founded
Meeting in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, Five Nordic left-wing parties last weekend founded “the Nordic Green Left Alliance” (NGLA). The alliance includes the Left Alliance of Finland (Vasemmistoliitto/Vänsterförbundet), the Left Party of Sweden (Vänsterpartiet), the Socialist People’s Party (SF) of Denmark, the Norwegian Socialist Left Party, (SV), Norway, and the Left-Green Movement in Iceland (VG).


A spokesperson for the parties involved said that “The alliance has been formed in order to strengthen the international cooperation and contacts in between the Nordic parties, and on a European and a global level as well.”
In its platform the alliance states:
“We base our political work on the pillars of solidarity: international solidarity among the peoples of the world, social justice and an equitable distribution of wealth, gender equality, and solidarity with future generations, who depend on us for an ecological sustainable development.
We are a Nordic alliance, but it does not mean that we are regionalists. On the contrary, internationalism is a basic foundation of our parties, and international solidarity one of our main philosphies and activities. European and worldwide cooperation with progressive green and left-wing forces will be a priority for our alliance.”
Parliamentarians from the member parties are expected to join the same groups in international Parliamentarian institutions such as the Nordic Council, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament. The parties from Finland, Sweden, and Denmark currently work together in the “Nordic Green Left” a subgroup within the United Left Group (GUE-NGL) in the European Parliament.
In the statutes of the alliance, approved by the parties at the weekend meeting in Iceland, the Nordic alliance specify the independence of each national party.
Nato destroys important Hungarian conservation site


The European Environmental Bureau, which brings together all of the EU’s major environmental NGOs, is  urging new NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to review the decision to install a NATO radar facility in one of the last intact and protected areas of Hungary. At the same time, a number of groups in Hungary itself are planning to try to stop the work through more direct forms of action.


NATO plans to deploy three wide-range strategic radar stations in Hungary, two replacing functioning but outdated locators at Bankut (northern Hungary) and Bekescsaba (southeast Hungary). But the third installation is to be built at the 682 meter peak of Zengo in the Mecsek

Mountains in southern Hungary. This has been part of the East-Mecsek Landscape Protection Area since 1977 and is the habitat of numerous unique, protected and highly protected plant species.


The plans also threaten the livelihoods of more than ten thousand people living within a radius of a few kilometres from the site who earn their living from the natural environment in tourism, ecotourism, and medical tourism. Planning and licensing of the project was conducted without any involvement of the local population, and affected communities only learned about the project from the press after these processes were completed.


The global anti-war movement was right: Iraq war based on lies


Mainstream newspapers will tell you that absolutely no-one was right about Iraq. Even those opposed to the war did not do so, apparently, because they had made a correct assessment of the situation. What these increasingly surreal publications ,mean, of course, is that none of them (though there are honourable exceptions), nor the politicians and other "opinion-formers" and "decision-makers" with whom they spend their time, knew what on earth was going on. Either they got it wrong, or they lied, or both. But Spectre and the rest of the world's left press got it right. We don't count, apparently, but the fact that we got it right is in the public record. Australia's Green Left Weekly, issue #570, February 11, 2004 (here) has done the world the service of reminding us all how right we were, and how wrong were the handful of warmongers. " On February 14-16 last year," GLW recalls, "at least 12 million people took to the streets to oppose the war on Iraq. In Australia, around a million people mobilised in the largest coordinated action in this country’s history. Now, 12 months later, the warmongers in Canberra, London and Washington are desperate to justify their murder -- but it won't wash. The millions were right ? this was a war based on lies." Go here for more. Or see John Pilger's exposure of the liar Blair here

* Pilger: Blair's mass deception is here . Finally, in the grinning, God-bothering liar's own words here