Weekly News Review

26th January, 2003

CAP reform proposals “weak”


Environmentalist groups have condemned new proposals from the European Commission aimed at reforming the wasteful and destructive EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth said that the group was very disappointed. “European citizens have made clear that they want something in return for the 45 billion Euro that is being channelled into agriculture every year, but the Commission is unwilling to propose real reform. The new goals of the CAP should be quality food, sustainable farming, localisation and local diversity.”


Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler’s scheme  fails to channel significant funds into the so-called second pillar of CAP, which aids rurla development. In his original proposal he intended to channel 20% of first pillar money to Rural Development. Now only 6% will be transferred to the second pillar, and that transfer will start only in 2006 instead of 2004. On top of that, “agri-environmental” measures, which seek to undo some of the CAP’s damage, will now receive lower priority, bad news for the many farmers that want to do something about the high-input practices forced on them by the CAP rules.


FoE and other environmentalists would like all CAP payments to be conditional on strict environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards. But the Commission intends to make payments conditional on only part of current EU law. Not all of EU environmental legislation is even included. “Cross compliance should at least include compliance with existing laws and should aim to encourage even higher standards (e.g. reducing pesticide use),” the spokesperson added.


With most subsidies going to those who least need them, Commissioner Fischler originally intended to put a 300.000 ceiling per farm on CAP payments. This was already an excessively high amount, but now the new proposal fails to set any ceiling at all. Clearly, and unsurprisingly, the European Commission has given in to pressure from the big farmers. Export subsidies, in addition, which encourage overproduction in Europe whilst undermining the markets for food grown by poor Third World farmers, continue untouched.


Go to http://www.choosefoodchoosefarming.org  to read more about FoE’s CAP campaign.


European Commissioners: Bush junta trade apparatchik “immoral” and a “liar”


European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy has denied US accusations that a number of member states were making economic aid to African countries conditional on their banning genetically modified crops. Mr Lamy called the accusations "immoral", backing up his colleague, Development Commissioner Poul Nielson, who earlier this week called US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick a “liar”. Bush junta hitman Zoellick isof course a liar, but that did not make Mr Nielson’s failure to use the usual diplomatic codewords any less surprising.

Denying that there was any link between a developing country’s position on GMOs and the EU’s aid policy decisions, Mr Lamy said that "The fact that (Zoellick) made this link is very simply immoral," while "Using the starvation in some countries to accuse the EU of being ‘Luddite’ is purely and simply unacceptable." On the contrary, Lamy added, it was the US which was using its foreign aid programme as a means to "dispose of its genetically modified crop surpluses."

Zoellick, who, judging from his appearance may well be a GMO himself, claims to be preparing to take the EU to the World Trade Organisation for its refusal to force its member states to accept foodstuffs that nobody wants, in the face of rapidly accumulating evidence of the dangers they present to the environment, the livelihoods of farmers, the health of consumers and the welfare of animals.

European Parliament Environment Committee agrees that polluters should pay


Greek left Euro-MP Mihail Papayannakis, in charge of steering new legislation on environmental liability through the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, won a tremendous victory this week when the majority of Committee members backed his proposals. In the end, the Committee's vote, in the face of furious opposition from industry, upholds the principle that those who cause environmental damage should held to account, both financially and legally.


Urging members to support his hard-hitting proposals, Mr Papayannakis said that "the Committee has a responsibility to help the Parliament and, eventually the other EU Institutions, to agree effective legislation on environmental liability. The costs of environmental restoration should be borne by the polluter, not the taxpayer. It would be a disgrace on all concerned if, after more than ten years of discussion, we could not produce meaningful legislation."


Referring to recent events, Papayannakis added that "Europe has had its share of environmental disasters, from oil spills, chemical leaks to industrial accidents. While the risk of such events happening again cannot be eliminated completely, a set of clear and strict rules on who pays the bill for cleaning up should certainly make industrial operators think a little more carefully about the risks they take."


The Committee voted to remove a number of potential loopholes from the European Commission’s original proposal, including the so-called "compliance with a permit" and "state of the art" defences. In the Commission’s view, firms should not be liable for costs if the damage they have caused was due to a permitted activity, or if they acted in good faith according to the state of knowledge when whatever caused the eventual damage was done. Removing these obvious weaknesses, which would have made the law unenforceable, will help ensure that the costs of remedying environmental damage are borne by those who caused it. No EU member state or OECD country with national legislation on liability provides for such a defence and their inclusion would make the law very weak.


The Committee also voted to impose a mandatory requirement for insurance or other form of financial security within five years from the date of the Directive's entry into force. The report also attempts to make it possible for NGOs and private individuals to take legal action against polluters, instead of leaving that to the public authority alone.


Importantly, the vote also favoured widening the scope of the proposal to include damage caused by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and to cover all habitats and species protected, not only by Community law as proposed by the Commission, but also by international, national and regional laws.


A spokesperson for the United Left Group(GUE-NGL), Mr Papayannakis parliamentary group, explained that the Committee’s approval of its members proposals, which united social democrats, Greens and liberals and isolated the centre-right European People’s Party, would now need to be endorsed by a Plenary, the monthly meeting which assembles the whole Parliament. “No doubt we’ll see industry pulling out all the stops to persuade members that the measure goes too far. In common with every piece of legislation which benefits the environment, working people or anything else that doesn’t line the pockets of industrialists, this measure will of course mean the utter destruction of European industry. They have been coming out with the same tired old garbage since the nineteenth century. But the Left Group believes that the polluter should pay the costs of pollution, and clearly the majority of MEPs agree with us.”


Greek MEP condemns slaying of stray animals


As reported in last week’s Spectre Weekly News Review, a large number of stray cats and dogs were found slain in the vicinity of the Zappio Park in Athens, where the inaugural ceremony of the Greek Presidency took place. It has now been revealed that the animals were poisoned by agricultural pesticides, which were mixed in their food.


Greek left Euro-MP Emmanouil Bakopoulos is calling for an explanation of the killings. “I condemn the slaying of the cats and dogs that had found a home in Zappio Park,” Mr Bakopolous, a member of the 50-strong United Left Group (GUE-NGL) said, adding that “While the deaths are a tragedy in themselves, they also highlight the urgent need to solve the problem of the many stray animals that populate the streets of Greece."


The Greek Animal Protection Society estimates that there are more than 700,000 strays in Greece, of which 60,000 are in the main cities. However, more than a fortnight after the killings, the local authorities have yet to take action. Unfortunately, legislation making it an offence to kill domestic or stray animals, though due to be enacted, has not yet entered into force.


Disappointing result for Dutch left


The Socialist Party of the Netherlands, one of Spectre’s most generous supporters, has had a strange nine months since the assassination of colourful right wing populist leader Pim Fortuyn just before the May election delivered a massive vote to Fortuyn’s party. In that poll, the SP almost doubled its previous support to win nine of the parliament’s 150 seats, which are distributed in strict proportion to the number of votes each party attracts. Unfortunately, after riding high in the polls, the SP saw its support slip away in the last few days of the campaign, as the revitalised Labour Party, which suffered the worst defeat in its history in May, fought back, winning support from people nervous of allowing the centre right back into government. Nevertheless, the Socialists held on to their nine seats, polling over 560,000 votes for a radical left programme. Spectre will carry a full analysis of the SP's result and the reasons for it in the near future. Ironically, the centre-right Christian Democrats nevertheless emerged as the biggest party, and will now form either a centre-right/centre-left coalition with Labour or a new right wing government with the Thatcherite liberals of the VVD and the rump of Fortuyn’s party, which held on to eight of the 26 seats it won in May. The elections were precipitated by the fact that as soon as the LPF entered government, in a coalition with the Christian Democrats and Liberals,  it became obvious that they were unfit to run an Amsterdam coffee shop, let alone a country.


No War on Iraq Liaison  is the name of a British organisation campaigning both on the streets and in Parliament. Visit their web site at www.no-war-on-iraq.org.uk and sign the no war pledge


One-time Spectre cartoonist Don Mackeen, some of whose work can be seen on this site, has a new cartoon on the site of Z-net. Catch up with Don's Contagion Media Group's latest offering at http://www.zmag.org/cartoons/ : choose the cartoon titled "Trust Me".