Weekly News Review

8th November 2002

Draft European Constitution

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, head of the Convention on the Future of Europe has now produced his draft of a possible European Constitution. The draft suggests several problems for the Britsh Government in its attempts to convince an increasingly sceptical public that it should not only love the EU but vote to join the Euro, too. As well as the headlines caused by Giscard's suggestion that the new entity could be called the United States of Europe, and the references in the draft to sharing competencies "on a federal basis" for the first time, the Government also faces problems with the likely contents of the Treaty.

a) The Charter of Fundamental Rights. In 2000 the Government said that the Charter would not be incorporated into the EU treaties, and the then Europe Minister Keith Vaz said that it would be "no more legally binding than the Sun or the Beano." However, there is widespread support for incorporating the Charter among the other member states and the new draft says the future constitution will either incorporate the Charter or make reference to it in such a way that it is legally binding.  The Government's own draft, prepared by Alan Dashwood, suggests the Charter could be incorporated, but perhaps limited to the parts of it already incorporated in UK law. The Government sponsored draft suggests, "The Union shall respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome on 4 November 1950, as identified in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union".

b) Tax harmonisation and economic coordination. The draft talks about "strengthening economic and monetary union". While the details are not finalised, the German press this week reported on the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe's working group on economic policy. The group has made two main recommendations. First, the group said that VAT and corporate tax must have base levels that are harmonised throughout the EU. This should no longer be allowed to be prevented by national veto so "the principle of unanimity in the area of fiscal policy should be scrapped" (Handelsblatt, 29 October). Second, the Commission should have more power when it comes to implementing the Stability Pact. It should be able to issue "early warnings" and reprimands without requiring the clearance of ECOFIN. This would mean that countries would be unable to stop warnings as Portugal and Germany did in February this year.

c) Home affairs and the end of the "pillar structure". The draft proposes to abolish the EU's three pillar structure. The pillars were created at Maastricht when the EU took on roles in foreign affairs and home affairs. They mean that while in the original pillar, dealing with the single market, all legislation had to be proposed by the European Commission, in foreign affairs and home affairs it was the member states which proposed legislation. The UK largely opted out of the third pillar dealing with home affairs issues like crime, asylum and legal cooperation. The end of the pillars could be controversial, as it is likely to lead to the end of the veto in many areas at a time when many EU members are seeking to expand the EU's role in this area - for example the draft also suggests appointing a European public prosecutor, which the Government opposes.

This item is slightly adapted from an editorial sent out as part o the weekly "No" campaign bulletin and was written by Neil O'Brien of Business for Sterling. Write to neil@no-euro.com

if you would like to sign up for the bulletin, which carries criticisms of the EU and the Euro from both left and right and a great deal of useful information.


On the same days that thousands of activists meet in Florence for the European Social Forum (November 7-10), a gathering of heavyweight industrialists from the largest EU and US-based corporations will take place in Chicago: the annual summit of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (November 7-8). CEOs from Deloitte & Touche, FIAT, Pechiney, ThyssenKrupp and numerous other corporations will be joined by large delegations of government officials, including European Commissioners Pascal Lamy and Erkki Liikanen, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, writes Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory.

The TABD is a key symbol of the undemocratic, corporate-biased model of globalisation promoted by the EU and US governments. Since 1995, the TABD has worked to dismantle what it sees as "barriers to transatlantic trade," including a long list of government regulations and policies which protect workers, consumers and the environment. During the Chicago summit, CEOs will focus on the WTO negotiations launched in Doha last year as well as on EU-US trade conflicts on biotechnology and other issues. The TABD has recently established a new "Expert Group for Bio-Tech", which aims to open up European markets for genetically engineered food products.

The business dialogue is currently co-chaired by Philip Condit of Boeing and Sir Charles Masefield of BAE Systems, two of the world's largest arms producers. Through the TABD, these companies look for new "ways to capitalise on… the new awareness of the importance of the security sector" after September 11.

In Chicago, the TABD will be met with demonstrations, critical mass actions and alternative summits, all part of a two-day "anti-TABD protest party". For more information, see: here

For background analysis on the TABD, see for instance: "TABD Takes Up Arms",see here

For news on the European Social Forum, see here  or

here as well as next week's Spectre.

Lula (1)

With a landslide victory the leader of the Workers' Party Luiz Inácio da Silva, commonly known as Lula, won the presidential elections in Brazil last Sunday. These elections were watched with intense global concern from international financial investors as well as left wing militants and those hopeful for change through democratic processes. Reporting directly from Rio Janeiro for the Transnational Institute's TNI News, Tom Blickman describes the carnival like euphoria carried on by Lula supporters, looks at the prospects for this new era and sketches out some upcoming risks that the Worker's Party will have to confront. Go here

Lula (2)

"The victory of Lula represents a real revolution in our country. After 13 years of a policy of submission by our governments which has destroyed a great part of our State, of our national industry and positions for employment, setting back enormously the economic, social, cultural and technological development already attained, we have succeeded finally in uniting the majority of national sectors and electing Lula president.

"The coalition achieved, around a program of National Unity for the Development of Brazil, has permitted us to win the elections and to put an authentic popular leader at the head of this process which will permit Brazil to liberate itself. With this election, Brazil takes decisive steps for its National Revolution.

"After the election victory of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has begun the Bolivarian Revolution. Now, with the victory of Lula in Brazil, Latin America opens a new phase in the anti-imperialist struggle. The next conquest will be in the month of November with the election in Ecuador of Colonel Lucio Gutierrez. (His representative, Colonel Patricio Acosta, participated in the 3rd Conference of the Americas and also the 4th Congress of our Confederation and attended also the 15th Presidential Council of the WFTU). With the beginning of the year 2003 there will take place national elections in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The victory of Lula will influence and fortify national unity in these neighboring countries and make possible new victories.

"Here, in a few words, we have given our evaluation of the Brazilian elections and the most immediate consequences for our continent.

"Our Trade Union Central will have a meeting with Lula probably the coming November 10th, when we will personally deliver all the messages of congratulation sent by our comrades. All those who still wish to send messages should best send them before that date to our address, sri.cgtb@uol.com.br

Matia Pimentel, CGTB..(General Confederation of Brazilian Workers)

Thanks to John Manning for translating this message and passing it on to us.

Coffee companies under fire as millions face ruin

Millions of people in 45 coffee-growing countries are facing economic ruin – and many are going hungry – due to collapsing world prices, according to a recent report from Oxfam. The report's intention is to launch a global campaign to tackle the coffee crisis and force the corporate giants who dominate the $60-billion industry to pay farmers a decent price.

The “Big Four” roasters – Sara Lee, Kraft, Procter & Gamble and Nestlé – buy nearly half the world’s coffee crop and make huge profits. “They know there is terrible human suffering at the very heart of their business and yet they do virtually nothing to help. It’s time to shame and change them,” says Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs.

With coffee prices at a 30-year low, new Oxfam research warns of economic breakdown and worsening misery for 25 million producers. The agency says that rich country governments have neglected to help. “It’s inconceivable that our political leaders are unaware of a humanitarian crisis that is affecting so many people. It’s a scandal that there is no real debate, no help and no answers,” Mr Hobbs says

Oxfam’s “Coffee Rescue Plan” includes destroying surplus stocks, trading only in quality coffee and paying farmers a decent price. Governments, companies and producers should manage the market to ensure supply doesn’t overshoot demand and support producers to process their crops so they can get more money. Aid should also be spent helping farmers find alternative livelihoods.

“We were told to be patient and that the free market would eventually work. We’re still waiting as the rich get richer and better at making excuses. Enough is enough. 25 million coffee farmers need rescue now,” Mr Hobbs says.

The new Oxfam report says:

·         The global market is oversupplied by 540m kilograms of coffee each year; 8% more coffee is being produced than consumed.

·         Roasting companies are using more poorer quality coffee beans than every before thanks to new technologies such as steam cleaning.

·         Ten years ago, poor countries’ export sales were worth a third of the total coffee market. Today, it is just 10%.

·         Coffee farmers are getting, on average, 24 cents a pound while consumers in rich countries are paying roughly $3.60 a pound – a mark-up of 1500%. Coffee now costs more to grow and pick than it does to sell.

Millions of families in four continents who are dependent on coffee are going hungry. They can’t afford school fees for their children or pay for medicines. The first to suffer are women and children. Some farmers are turning to growing coca instead.

Disaffection and public disorder are growing. Joblessness and economic migration is worsening.

The benefit of aid and debt relief is being severely undermined as entire country economies are decimated (in some Central American countries coffee income has fallen by 40%; Ethiopia’s coffee income dropped by $110m compared to the $58m it is set to save in debt relief this year). The value of coffee exports to producer countries has fallen by $4 billion in five years.

The “Big Four Roasters” are extremely profitable, with margins estimated at between 17% to 26% on billion-dollar coffee sales. However, Oxfam says their business strategy is increasingly risky. Coffee quality is falling because farmers don’t have the money to take care of their crops. The companies have made savings but have done next to nothing to help the poor farmers who find themselves at the wrong end of the corporate supply chain.

Oxfam also criticises the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for a “stunning policy failure” in encouraging countries into export-led growth without warning them about the potential of catastrophic price falls. Poor countries are stuck with selling cheap raw materials which others turn into highly profitable processed goods.

You can read the full report here

Clueless in America

"There are a multitude of dangling questions about Tuesday's election results. Widespread anecdotal accounts of voting irregularities, disenfranchised voters and absolutely accurate and, in many cases, understated criticisms of abysmal leadership from Tom Daschle and the Democratic Party are not difficult to find. While pundits are trying to spin that the Republicans don't have a blank check, the fact is that they do and will now use every ounce of leverage they can squeeze onto it. I totally agree with James Carville -- a less than likeable, ruthless, crusty, hard-ball operative from the Clinton years -- who said last night, "The American people just don't have a clue as to what's coming." "  Read Michael C. Ruppert's account of the US midterm elections here

Amnesty International and Israel:

"Any organization fighting torture and other human rights abuses deserves our support. A recognized leader in this fight is Amnesty International (AI), helping people escape with their lives or avoid torture for decades. Given AI's track record and its role as a human rights monitor, one must be careful leveling criticism against it. But one can no longer be silent about AI's stance regarding Israel and Palestine." Find out why here

Iraq in Focus

Foreign Policy in Focus has produced a useful briefing on Iraq, the background to the unfolding crisis and the Bush junta's plans for war. Read it at http://www.fpif.org/iraq/index.html

Aussie spooks in dawn raid on immigrant homes

Last week ASIO, Australia's secret police agency, carried out dawn raids on the homes of immigrant Muslim families in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. More are expected this week. Spectre's friends at Green Left Weekly explain why these raids are an outrageous attack on civil liberties aimed at sowing fear among Australian Muslims. Go to here to read this and other stories from Australia's socialist newspaper.

Your Christmas present problems solved

Community and Youth Workers' Union national secretary, anti-EU activist and old friend of Spectre Doug Nichols writes to say that "the songbook of music, photographs and lyrics and social notes of Dave Rogers's Songs for Banner Theatre that I have been working on for a couple of years will be published shortly. There are 85 songs with music and photos attached to them, and notes on the context in struggle of all of the songs. There is a glossary and introduction and forward by the superstar of political song Peggy Seegar." Doug is offering the book at a reduced rate if you order it direct from him: £17.50 soft back £28 hardback. A snip you will agree."  He doesn't mention postage and packing, and so, particularly for readers outside the UK, please write to him at doug@cywu.org.uk to sort out how to pay and how much to add. For goodness sake don't send Doug Euros!

Not quite so festive, perhaps, but Voices in the Wilderness (US) also has a special pre-publication offer for its updated Iraq Under Siege.  "We are making single copies available for 12.00 including Priority Mail postage (that’s $4 less than the cover price). If you would like to order a copy of the book, send a check payable to Voices in the Wilderness, 1460 West Carmen Ave, Chicago, IL 60640. Please be sure to write “Iraq Under Siege” in the memo. You can also pay by credit card via PayPal here In the notes section, indicate that you are paying for a copy of IUS, not donating. If you are interested in a larger order, please email us for special arrangements." Readers outside the US should mail info@vitw.org for rates.