Weekly News Review

20th October 2004

European Social Forum closes

Sunday 17th October 2004 saw the closure of the London European Social Forum. Over three days 20,000 people from nearly 70 countries took part in over 500 meetings, listening to over 250 speakers. This unique event was witnessed by 600 members of the international media.

Speaking after the last session had ended a spokesperson for the ESF organisers said that, ‘These last three days have been a truly remarkable time. It has rejuvenated those of us in the UK and those from around the world that, together, we have the strength of argument and the passion of purpose to make Another World Possible.’

‘Tonight we pass on this beacon of hope on to the Greek Movement, and the Athens 2006 ESF with this message, we have enjoyed hosting this fantastic event and we hope that you gain as much from the experience of hosting the event as we have in London.` Read more here

Spectre will carry a number of reports from participants at the ESG over the next few weeks.

United Left and Green Parliamentary Groups to vote against new Commission

The European Parliament's Greens have said that they will reject the Commission as a whole during a key vote next week. At a meeting on Tuesday, the Green group unanimously decided to vote against the incoming Commission led by José Manuel Durao Barroso.

Isabelle Zerrouk, a spokesperson for the Greens said that three of the would-be Commissioners were deemed "incompetent": Stavros Dimas (Greece, Environment), László Kovacs (Hungary, Energy) and Ingrida Udre (Latvia, Tax and Customs).

According to the Greens, Mariann Fischer Boel and Neelie Kroes - the Danish and Dutch Commissioners - who are due to take up the Agriculture and Competition portfolios both have conflicting business interests, and are also not suitable.

The group furthermore, decided to oppose, for political reasons, the nomination of Rocco Buttiglione, the controversial Italian conservative who earlier this month said being gay was a sin.

Ms Zerrouk said that the group would ask for a vote on individual Commissioners at the European Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg next week. Under EU rules, the parliament only votes on the Commission as a whole with only two options, reject or approve.

However, the Greens hope an inter-institutional agreement set up by Commission President Romano Prodi will pave the way for a vote on individual Commissioners. The Greens also say that they will try and use anti-discrimination articles in the new EU constitution to oppose some members, such as Mr Buttiglione.

The homophobic (and plain weird) Mr Buttiglione, who has also come under fire from both the Socialist and Liberal groups, is one of a number of reasons why the United Left Group (GUE-NGL) will join Greens in rejecting the Commission. "We also have problems with Neelie Kroes and Mariann Fischer Boel, " said Erik Meijer of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands, Dutch affiliate of the GUE-NGL, "while Buttiglione is clearly unfit. The Group has yet to take an official decision, and in any case as we are a confederal group members can vote how they wish, but I would be very surprised if, as in 1999, we did not vote unanimously against approval."

EU urged to exercise caution on GM crops

Fifteen European Union countries have criticised the European Commission's recent decision to add 17 types of GM maize to the EU "common catalogue of agricultural plant varieties", the list of seeds approved for planting throughout the twenty-five member states.

The Commission is taken to task by agriculture ministers for breaking the unofficial moratorium on new approvals before it publishes its report of how well the guidelines on coexistence between GM, conventional and organic crops are working. Four of the biggest members - Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain – were amongst the critics.

Last year the EU adopted legislation controlling the cultivation, importing and marketing of GM crops and products which is among the most stringent in the world. It did, however, leave significant gaps. Co-existence was left to the member states, while contamination thresholds for seeds – the maximum level of non-intentional GM presence allowed before a product must carry a label indicating that it contains GM material – have not been agreed. Many member states feel that these gap should be closed before more development is allowed, though this moderate position in most cases disguises a wariness driven by growing consumer hostility.

Official European Union environment watchdog says poor EU test standards understate air pollution from cars

Inadequate test standards are underestimating emissions of harmful air pollutants from new cars and evidence indicates that many diesel car owners are making things worse by modifying their engines to increase power, the European Environment Agency, the EU’s own environmental watchdog, warned this week.

These factors may be among the reasons why air pollution in Europe's cities is not falling faster, the Agency says in a new report, Ten key transport and environment issues for policy-makers.

In addition, because the test cycle for new vehicles does not cover air conditioning and some other types of energy-consuming equipment, Europe's progress towards cutting new cars' emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) appears greater than it really is.

"Ensuring that vehicles actually meet the emission standards in the real world should be a priority," Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said in a speech to a conference organised by the Dutch government, which currently holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency.

The EEA report and an accompanying briefing paper, launched at the conference, show that transport volumes are growing at roughly the same rate as the economy - despite the European Union's goal of weakening this link - and continuing to intensify pressures on the environment.

These pressures include rising emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases as the market shares of road and air transport continue to grow at the expense of less energy-intensive modes, as well as threats to biological diversity from the fragmentation or disturbance of wildlife habitats by roads, railways and airports. Efforts to counter these trends are at best only slowing the rate of increase. Current test cycles for new vehicles do not reflect how cars are used under real driving conditions and so underestimate their actual emissions.

The report further warns that rail and bus fares are rising faster than the cost of private car use, giving cars an advantage over public transport. In addition, aviation is the fastest-growing transport mode and its impact on the climate, from emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, will soon exceed those of passenger vehicles. The full report is available here

Barroso reticent on Buttiglione

Incoming European Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso appears to have withdrawn his full support from the homophobic religious loony that the Italians (presumably for a joke) nominated for a place in the European Commission. Read all about it here

Norwegian left tells Bush…

The Norwegian Left Socialist Party (SV) has found a novel way to break the silence of the US media on the international public condemnation of the Bush junta’s illegal war against and occupation of Iraq, paying for advertising space in the Washington Post. A spokesperson for the party explained that "When the Norwegian government didn't tell George W. Bush about Norwegian opinion on the Iraqi war, we had to tell him ourselves. That is why two ads were printed in the October 12 edition of the Washington Post. More than 80% of all Norwegians opposed the US-led war in Iraq. A majority also favours the withdrawal of Norwegian forces from Iraq. Despite this, Norway is perceived as an uncritical supporter of the US ‘war on terror’. Norway is on the ‘willing list’ of countries that support this policy, and President George W. Bush also mentioned Norway specifically in his State of the Union address this year.

Using a website, www.tellhim.no, SV and allies collected money for two ads in the Washington Post in which, in the form of an open letter to "President" Bush, they explain to US voters why the vast majority of Norwegians are opposed to their government’s actions in Iraq.