Weekly News Review

16th May, 2003

Environmental protection wins the day on liability vote


Left Greek MEP Mihail Papayannakis of the GUE/NGL group of fifty Euro-MPs welcomed this week's vote in the European Parliament on environmental liability, which he says paves the way for legislation that will actually serve its purpose: to hold polluters accountable if they cause environmental damage. The report was adopted with a substantial majority, with the United Left, the Greens and the Socialists, as well as some others voting together.


"The environmental stakes were very high in today's vote and the lobbying was intense. But I am very happy to say that today's vote reflects the Opinion of the Parliament's Environment Committee, for which I was draftsman." said Mr Papayannakis  "The Parliament can be happy that it has sent out the correct message today: to those citizens concerned about environmental pollution, we are saying your concerns are being heard. To others who run the risk of causing environmental damage, we are saying in future you will be held accountable for the damage you cause."


The most important amendments won included an extension of the scope of the proposal  to include fault-based liability for damage to biodiversity, marine and nuclear pollution. Although damage caused by genetically modified organisms was not directly included, an amendment was approved which requires the European Commission to present a separate proposal on liability for damage caused by GMOs. In addition,  neither "compliance with a permit" nor the "state-of-the-art" defence - which would have allowed polluters to argue that they had taken the best precautions known and available at the time - may be used directly by a polluter seeking to escape liability, though they may be taken into account by the authority fixing punishment. The Parliament also agreed that operators must be required to obtain appropriate insurance or other forms of financial security to cover their responsibilities, and that individual citizens should be able to seek redress against polluters. Finally, where there is a threat of environmental damage or it has already occurred, the operator is required to act immediately to prevent or clean up the damage, rather than wait, as in the Commission's text, for the competent authority to require them to do so. 


European Parliament exhibition on Turkish genocide of Armenians vetoed


Left Euro-MP Jonas Sjöstedt has been refused permission to host an exhibition on Turkey's genocide of Armenians during World War one.  MEPs often arrange for events featuring paintings, photographs and other things of artistic, cultural, scientific or historical interest to be held in either Brussels or Strasbourg in order to promote the activities of groups or noteworthy individuals in their own countries. Mr Sjöstedt's proposed weeklong exhibition was no exception. As a Swedish member he had invited the Union of Armenian Associations in Sweden to mount an exhibition featuring photographs and other records of the massacres by Turkish troops which occurred between 1915 and 1918.


The Turkish authorities deny that these events constituted genocide. But then they would do, wouldn't they?  As Sjöstedt points out, the European Parliament has itself recognised that genocide indeed took place, voting twice, "in 1987 and again in a November 200 resolution" to call for an acknowledgement, apology and reparations.  The EP authorities claimed, in refusing the application, that the decision had been taken because any such exhibition would have a "controversial character" and could "provoke serious political objections." The idea that an elected assembly is no place for controversy seems somewhat bizarre, especially as the Parliament has recently hosted a show of photographs of Palestine, hardly a part of the world beloved of those seeking to avoid upsetting anyone. So what is going on? It couldn't b anything to do with Turkey's application for EU membership, could it?


Vote for democracy


UK citizens who want to make known their views on the European Constitution should go to www.trustthepeople.org  The organisers believe that the British and Northern Irish peoples should be given the right to say whether they want an EU constitution and if so, what it should say. This right has, at last in some small way, been extended to the electorate of many other EU and applicant countries. If you agree, or are just interested in hearing more about this view, click on the link above.


"Greener" EU Constitution sought


Meanwhile, the eight largest environmental NGOs in Europe, the “Green 8”, have already spoken out on the proposed Constitution, issuing a letter to the members of the Praesidium of the Convention on the Future of Europe outlining serious concerns about the Convention’s draft. The organisations – the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of Nature International, the European Federation for Transport and Environment, BirdLife International and Climate Network Europe – with more than 20 million members and supporters in Europe, urged Convention members to make crucial changes to the draft Constitution during the final few days of their work.

The G8’s open letter focuses on the following five key elements: the lack of an ambitious approach to environmental protection and a definition of sustainable development that fully recognises its environmental dimension; the possible deterioration of the principles of environmental policy integration and policy coherence; needs to be expanded to ensure that environmental policy integration – enshrined in Article 6 of the current EC Treaty – and the commitment to development objectives remain real requirements for the Union; that participatory democracy must become a matter of course in policy-making and practice in the EU institutions; outdated chapters on policies should not be simply adopted and minimally adapted, they must be revised properly to ensure that they reflect the EU’s objectives of environmental policy integration, improving the quality of life and sustainable development; and finally, the legitimisation of Euratom would be a pro-nuclear decision, and as such is an unacceptable promotion of one single, heavily disputed form of energy production.

Read the full text at http://www.eeb.org

Prestige Compensation A "Grim Joke"

Compensation payments announced this week for the victims of the Prestige oil spill are "a grim joke", according to environment pressure group Friends of the Earth.

The ageing, single-hulled tanker Prestige sank on November 13th 2002, with a cargo of 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, much of which has now washed onto the coast of Spain, Portugal and France. The London-based International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, financed largely through levies on the oil industry, has agreed to pay no more than £107 million (150 million euros) for clean-up and compensation. The IOPC fund is believed to total no more than £122 million (171 million euros). The Spanish Government has estimated cleanup costs so far at £200 million (3 million euros). To this must be added the economic losses to the Spanish fishing industry, the tourist trade etc. The IOPC itself has estimated total losses at £716 million (1 billion euros).

Commenting, Friends of the Earth International Vice-Chair Tony Juniper said:

"This level of compensation is a grim joke. The Prestige disaster is one of the worst oil spills in European history. But both the shipping and oil industries hide behind a complex web of offshore companies and surrogates. This might have been designed specifically to avoid having to meet the real costs of their polluting activities. Hundreds of miles of coastline, much precious wildlife, and the economic future of tens of thousands of people have all been blighted by this disaster. The need for new international law to make companies accountable for the environmental cost of their behaviour has never been greater."

Witch hunt denounced by anti-war opposition in Spain...

The Spanish government has asked for three- to five-year prison terms for two of its citizens responsible for an anti-war web page, a manoeuvre  that representatives of that country’s left has denounced as "a witch hunt."

The ruling Popular Party asked for that sentence for two members of the United Left (IU) in a case brought for alleged crimes of injury to and libel of government members, described as accomplices to murder on the website noalaguerra.org, on account of their backing for the war on Iraq.

At the same time, a trial court in the capital has been asked to order the Spanish security forces to investigate this website and others on the Internet under the code name "nodo50," defined as an autonomous counterintelligence operation against social movements.

These petitions were made public at the end of a two-hour hearing in which charges were brought against eminent political science professors Juan Carlos Monereo and Miguel Martín, both IU members employed at the Complutense University of Madrid.

In a statement to the press, Monereo qualified the charges and the case as a witch hunt and an attempt to silence the emergence of critical voices at the University in opposition to the war and the government’s policy.

He affirmed that the legal proceedings are designed to criminalize the IU and the entire opposition, and that such actions are part of an attempt by the government to silence all critical voices.

Thanks to Viviane Lerner for passing on this translation from Granma (Havana)


...whilst a little further north


The witch-hunt against George Galloway, the outspoken anti-war Labour MP is unravelling. A report in this week's Mail on Sunday reveals that the newspaper has uncovered evidence that documents incriminating the MP are forgeries.


The Mail had paid £1500 for documents claiming to show that Galloway received millions of pounds from the Saddam regime. Now the paper admits that the documents it bought were crude forgeries 'littered with inaccuracies'. These documents have been used in reports by the Christian Science Monitor and given credibility in many other newspapers.


This revelation casts further doubt on the recent Daily Telegraph story which claimed that George Galloway had received £375,000 over several years from the United Nations oil for food programme. That story was based on documents miraculously discovered in a burnt out building in Baghdad by Telegraph reporter David Blair (no relation, we presume). These documents, written in a crude literary style with an indecipherable signature at the bottom, formed the basis of a campaign by the Telegraph to smear the entire anti-war movement.


A spokesman for the British Stop the War coalition said "There are many in the Blair government who are desperate for these allegations against George Galloway to be true. They hope it will divert attention from the illegality of both the war and the current occupation of Iraq."


George Galloway has been suspended from the Labour Party under rule 28a 'bringing the party into disrepute'. This suspension was carried out in a totally undemocratic manner. The National Executive Committee has not discussed the suspension and it appears to have been the act of David Triesman, the party's general secretary, alone.


Galloway's crime has been his principled opposition to the war on Iraq. The Stop the War Coalition is calling for George Galloway's suspension from the Labour Party to be lifted immediately and for an independent inquiry into whether there has been collusion between British security services and others against the MP.


You can e-mail David Triesman to support Stop the War's call, at david_triesman@new.labour.org.uk


Thanks to Dave at Media Workers Against the War for this report. Go to www.mwaw.org for more on MWAW.


European Social Forum


Following a recent planning conference in Berlin, the latest decisions regarding the European Social Forum planned for the Paris region in November can be found at http://www.fse-esf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=37

Noam Chomsky on "preventive war"


"I think not only the region but the world in general perceives (the US invasion and occupation of Iraq) correctly as a kind of an easy test case to try to establish a norm for use of military force, which was declared in general terms last September. Last September, the National Security Strategy of the United States of America was issued. It presented a somewhat novel and unusually extreme doctrine on the use of force in the world. And it’s hard not to notice that the drumbeat for war in Iraq coincided with that. It also coincided with the onset of the congressional campaign. All these are tied together. The new doctrine was not one of preemptive war, which arguably falls within some stretching of the U.N. Charter, but rather of something that doesn’t even begin to have any grounds in international law, namely, preventive war. The doctrine, you recall, was that the United States would rule the world by force, and that if there is any challenge perceived to its domination, a challenge perceived in the distance, invented, imagined, whatever, then the U.S. will have the right to destroy that challenge before it becomes a threat. That’s preventive war, not preemptive war."  Read the rest of Monthly Review's interview with Noam Chomsky at http://www.monthlyreview.org/0503chomsky.htm

Monthly Review, incidentally, is an excellent, accessible Marxist magazine published in New York City. To find out more, go to our Progressive Press Review at http://www.spectrezine.org/progressivepress.htm#m