Weekly News Review

Egypt withdraws from GMO complaint

US-led trade war coalition starts to crumble

Attempts by the United States administration to force Europe to accept Genetically Modified (GM) food and crops received a serious blow after Egypt announced that it would not be part of a World Trade Organisation challenge to the European Union’s de facto moratorium on approving new GM licenses.

The Egyptian Government says that it has taken its decision because it recognizes “the need to preserve adequate and effective consumer and environmental protection.”

On 13 May the United States said that it would be joined by Argentina, Canada and Egypt in filing a World Trade Organisation (WTO) case against Europe over “its illegal five-year moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products” .

But the Egyptian Government says that it has decided “not to become a party” to the WTO complaint.

In a letter dated May 27 the Egyptian ambassador to the European Union wrote that “The Government of Egypt took this decision in conscious emulation of the need to preserve adequate and effective consumer and environmental protection, and with the desire to reduce further distortions and impediments to international trade that may result due to the further pursuit of this matter within the WTO”.

Europeans are concerned about the threat that GM crops pose to food, farming and the environment. There are also fears about the long-term health impacts from eating GM food. Opinion polls show that 70% of the European public don’t want GM food and 94% want to be able to choose whether or not they eat it (Eurobarometer 2001).

Friends of the Earth Europe’s GM campaigner Geert Ritsema said:

“We’re delighted that Egypt has withdrawn from this US attempt to force GM food and crops into Europe. Countries should be allowed to choose what they eat and what they grow in their fields. The United States should withdraw its WTO challenge, and stop trying to bully Europe over GMOs.”

EU gives in to U.S. pressure to weaken multilateralism in environmental policies

The Secretary-General of the European Environmental Bureau, John Hontelez, has strongly criticised the EU for giving in to US pressure, agreeing to a political statement that will weaken the struggle for multilateral solutions to global environmental problems.

The statement was agreed at an Environmental Ministers' conference of the UN-ECE (UN-Economic Commission for Europe) region in Kiev, which ended last Friday (May 23.)

The EEB's John Hontelez, head of the largest federation of environmental citizens' organisations in Europe, said today: "The EU wanted the Kiev conference to be a success, a reflection of the progress made in the past few years on legally binding instruments and cooperation programmes

in the pan-European region. And that made sense. But the price it was prepared to pay for this to the U.S., who wanted to marginalise the importance of all these examples of multilateral cooperation as much as possible, was too high. The U.S. got what it wanted - a consensus political statement that can only be interpreted as:  "While we have common problems, we do not need common responses; every country can do what and how much it likes, and should not be put under pressure to take part in multilateral environmental agreements .".

Mr Hontelez, who was an observer from the very beginning in the negotiations on the Ministerial Declaration, had expressed his concern several times in meetings with senior officials of the UN-ECE countries. He warned the countries that the USA, and possibly others, would use this statement to silence criticism against those who want to stay out of the Kyoto Protocol.

The US delegation was very sensitive to this criticism, and at a meeting of these officials, 10 days ago, it asked Hontelez to be physically removed from the negotiations. As none of the 54 other delegations supported the U.S. in this, this did not happen. Hontelez commented: "It was good that the other countries recognised that environmental organisations play an important role in this "Environment for Europe" process; the process has achieved important results, such as the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. Such organisations should not be limited in their freedom of speech. But it would have been better if they had also taken action and withdrawn their support for this

unfortunate agreement."

At the "Environment for Europe" Conference, a range of countries signed Protocols on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTR), Strategic Environmental Assessment and Environmental Liability. A framework was also adopted for a Strategy of Cooperation to improve the environmental situation in the region east of the enlarged EU.

See www.eeb.org for more

G8 Evian: Corporate Welfare or Water for All?

The EU Water Fund, to be presented at the G8 summit in Evian (June 1-3), seems more about corporate welfare than helping the world's poorest. The EU plan builds on controversial proposals by former IMF director Michel Camdessus, to use aid money to subsidise the

expansion of private water corporations. Confidential documents obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)show how the European Commission has worked in tandem with Suez and other giant water corporations in developing its international water initiatives. Read CEO's latest water info brief: Evian: Corporate Welfare or Water for All? here On the eve of the G8 summit, over 120 groups from Europe and the rest of the world speak out against the EU's attempt to use the WTO services negotiations (GATS) to promote the commercial interests of Europe's private water corporations. The groups call on the EU - and in particular its G8 members: France, Germany, Italy and the UK - to withdraw its GATS water requests immediately. The statement and the list groups supporting can be found here


Action needed to provide for Europe's minority ethnic elderly

Urgent action is needed to prevent a looming crisis in provision for Europe's minority ethnic elderly, according to the first report of a major Europe-wide research project, covering ten countries, into the problems of ageing and ethnicity. Read about it here


Statewatch briefing on Readmission agreements and EC external migration law available

The EU's approach to readmission agreements (the standard method of ensuring that persons are expelled from Member States individually, or from the EU as a whole) involves insisting that more and more non-EU countries sign up to broad readmission obligations to the EU with little or nothing in return. EU policy has been backed up by harsher and harsher rhetoric and threats against third countries as the EU becomes more and more unilateralist and focused solely on migration control. These policies are unbalanced, inhumane, and internally contradictory. Read why here

Housing market is a barrier to UK euro entry


UK Treasury research on the housing market – which forms one of the 18 supporting studies supposed to enable a decision to be taken as to the timing of the promised referendum on Britian's entry into the euro – will show that joining the euro now would lead to boom and bust, according to a front-page story in the Sunday Times last week.


According to the article, the Housing, Consumption and Economic and Monetary Union study will show that Britain already has a more volatile housing market than the Eurozone, and this would increase in the euro because the UK would have to accept a single interest rate set by the European Central Bank.


A minister told the Sunday Times, “The Treasury knows we have had a boom and bust housing market in Britain and the document confirms that it would be even worse in the euro.”

A recent study by Oxford Economic Forecasting showed that the British economy is four times more sensitive to changes in interest rates than the Eurozone.


Thanks to the UK 'No' campaign for this report.

Shalom: Israel considering applying for EU membership

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told a visiting European Union delegation on Tuesday that Israel was considering applying for membership of the bloc.

"Shalom said he is not excluding that this government will ask for full membership in the EU," said Marco Pannella, an Italian member of the European Parliament and president of the Transnational Radical Party.


Read the rest here


Hundreds of thousands protest pension reform in Paris.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators thronged the streets of Paris last weekend to protest government plans for pension reform, union organizers said, ratcheting up the pressure on Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

"Several hundred thousand" people clogged the area in and around the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris just before the march began at about 12:15 pm (1015 GMT), said Gerard Aschieri, secretary general of the FSU trade union.

In an initial estimate, police put participation at about 150,000.

In a sea of brightly colored flags and signs, union leaders marched behind a giant banner reading: "On the offensive, determined, standing together for the future of our pensions." More at  here

Iraq’s Free Fall

"There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This apparently became the

case a few months after the end of the 1991 war when Hussain Kamel, the man

in charge of the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, ordered

the destruction of the chemical and biological materials and their warheads.

The nuclear weapons program had already come to a halt on the first night of

bombing in January 1991. The weapons were destroyed secretly, in order to

hide their existence from inspectors, in the hopes of someday resuming

production after inspections had finished. Hussain Kamel even disclosed the

location of the hidden documents relating to the remnants of the chemical

and biological programs during his futile escape to Jordan in 1995." Read the whole of Imad Khadduri's article here


International Law, R.I.P.

"You were born in 1945 after a devastating war between nations who all claimed to be defending rightful values. After humanity had allowed millions of its citizens to be slaughtered following the orders of evil leaders, some said it was enough. No more war! And thus you come to life, weak and barely breathing but willed to live by all the downtrodden people around the globe. You got many pet names. Some called you Justice, some called you Humanity or Decency. With the bringing to justice of some of mankind's worst criminals in the Nuremberg Trials you seemed to gain strength but with the Cold War you spent a long time connected to life-supporting systems as two major powers legitimized every criminal act by their fight for world dominance." Go to here

Empire and the Capitalists

No doubt, George W. Bush thinks he is in the forefront of those sustaining the world capitalist system. No doubt, a large part of the world left thinks that too. But do the great capitalists think so? That is far less clear. A major warning signal has been launched by Morgan Stanley, one of the world's leading financial investor firms, in their Global Economic Forum. Stephen Roach writes there that a "US-centric world" is unsustainable for the world-economy and bad in particular for the United States. He specifically takes on Robert Kagan, a leading neo-con intellectual, who has been arguing that American hegemony can only increase, particularly vis-a-vis Europe. Roach could not agree less. He sees the present world situation as one of "profound asymmetries" in the world-system, one that cannot last." Go