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29 March 2007 Edition

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This news feature is funded by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

McDonald Maritime Labour Report adopted

On 14 March the European Parliament overwhelmingly adopted Mary Lou McDonald’s report on the Maritime Labour Convention of the International Labour Organisation.
The provisions in the Convention against social dumping would have made it impossible for Irish Ferries to re-flag their ships in such a blatant manner. It would have given Irish Ferries workers a strong legal basis to go to court to prevent re-flagging and to safeguard their jobs.
The report was strongly backed by Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Transport, Jacques Barrot, and the Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Splida, at a press conference given by Mary Lou in Strasbourg.
In adopting the McDonald report, the European Parliament is calling on EU governments to ratify the ILO Convention by 2008 at latest.
The Convention sets minimum requirements for seafarers, with provisions on: employment conditions and recruitment; working hours; wage protection; leave and repatriation; accommodation; recreation; food and catering; health and medical care; welfare and social security.
In short, it will improve the lives of millions of seafarers worldwide, and should be ratified as soon as possible.
It will apply to all ships  – even those flagged by countries which have not individually ratified it. It will shift the behaviour pattern of the whole industry by creating minimum standards and avoiding social dumping.
The report calls on the EU “to enforce minimum employment standards and wages for all vessels operating in its waters, and in particular calls on the European Commission to re-table the proposal for an EU Ferries Directive”, which would directly address all the issues raised during the Irish Ferries dispute.
Speaking in the European Parliament Mary Lou said:
“Without the Convention, shipping in Europe will find it difficult to compete as they are increasingly undercut by ships flying flags of convenience.
“I would urge members to send a message to the member states that the shipping industry, and particularly workers within that industry, can not wait. Member states should stop their foot-dragging and ratify this Convention immediately.”
Mary Lou also reiterated her call for an EU Ferries Directive to protect workers’ rights following recent disputes involving ferry companies:
“This type of race to the bottom exploitation, embodied by the Irish Ferries dispute in 2005, needs to be stopped. The adoption of my recommendation to the Parliament on the ILO Maritime Convention is a first step to re-establishing fair wages for ferry workers and revitalising a career option for Irish seafarers.”
Ratification by the 2008 deadline is strongly supported by Employers, Trade Unions, the ILO, the European Commission and now, following the adoption of the McDonald report, by the European Parliament.
The Irish government now needs to stop dragging its feet and ratify the ILO Maritime Labour Convention immediately.


GUE/NGL President Statement on Berlin Declaration

“That the Union decides to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its creation appears normal to me and could even prove useful insofar as we make the most of this kind of opportunity to take a clear look at the road we have travelled down and draw the – necessarily contradictory – lessons of such an experience. However, if it just results in a pure and simple jubilee celebration intended to sing the praises of all the choices that were the main factors of this construction and to glorify indiscriminately the results, then that would be, from the perspective of historical analysis, of extremely limited interest and, in terms of political effectiveness, a wasted effort.
But everything points to the fact that the famous “Berlin Declaration” originates, in the spirit of its initiators, from the latter option. First because of the method used in its elaboration: where there should have been a wide consultation open to all citizens, the choice was made behind leaders’ nearly closed doors. In my view, this is a mistake.
Indeed everything leads us to believe that we can expect a very general text, giving an – inevitably glowing and consummate – assessment of 50 years of European integration; a text on “common values” – naturally very generous – and on objectives – necessarily ambitious, in particular, I presume, in the social field. Do you really believe that the day-to-day reality experienced by our fellow-citizens is that smooth? I, for my part, am convinced that no speech on Europe can have any real impact today if it is not accompanied by a significant critical stance on the causes of the crisis of confidence which is becoming increasingly sharp almost everywhere between public opinion and the European institutions.    
My group is no longer alone in stating this. In private or in limited circles, some eminent political leaders involved in the management of Union affairs recognise the existence of a problem between Europe as it is being built today and Europeans. The latest to date is none other than your colleague, Mr President, the President-in-Office of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council, Mr Peer Steinbrück, who has just mentioned the risk of a “crisis of legitimacy of the European economic and social model”. This is the truth and it must be said so as to give some sense to this great European adventure!
Also, because I would like the Union to give itself the means to come out of this crisis with its head held high, I call, with my group, for a leap forward: that on the occasion of this 50th anniversary, people open their mouths to say what needs to change to pave the way for a true revival of the European project.”


Failing the people of Ireland and Europe

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern along with the Presidents and Prime Ministers of other EU countries carried on doing the bidding of big business and ignoring peoples’ hopes and aspirations at the recent EU Spring Council
The Lisbon Strategy was supposed to ‘make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty’ by 2010. But the number of people living in poverty is growing. Seventy two million people in the EU are at risk of poverty.
The rich benefit from the Lisbon Strategy, but ordinary people suffer.
Those lucky enough to have work are pushed into low-paid jobs, with deteriorating working conditions and decreasing job security. Income inequalities continue to grow.
And now there is a secret declaration being negotiated for the EU leaders to solemnly proclaim, in Berlin on 25 March, to mark the 50th anniversary of the EU.
Nobody denies that there have been benefits brought by the EU, but the EU leaders are afraid to engage in an honest and open debate about the strengths and weaknesses of the EU, and particularly about the direction in which it is currently going.

Running for cover

The defeat of the EU Constitution in the referenda in France and the Netherlands has left the EU leaders running for cover. They are still convinced that they are right about the constitution but are unable to find a democratic justification for it. So instead they are throwing up a smokescreen of nice sounding words, which they hope, will obscure the fact that they intend to introduce the constitution without democratic debate and scrutiny, without dialogue, and above all without for one instant questioning whether the course they are set on is good for the people of Europe.
The Berlin Declaration is an example of the removal of the future direction of the EU from public debate. This is because EU leaders have been unable to win the public argument.
And if they do succeed in pushing through the Constitution it will further remove debate about EU policy on social and economic affairs, civil liberties and on peace and neutrality from public debate.
It will make free and unfettered competition, and all that implies in terms of privatisation of public services and undermining workers’ pay and conditions, a constitutional requirement rather than a policy choice under the democratic control of elected representatives.
The only thing which is clear about the secretive Berlin Declaration is that it will be another opportunity lost.
EU policies need to address the issues of sustainable economic growth and good quality jobs, and to tackle income inequality. This requires a complete change of focus.
We need a new set of social, economic and environmental priorities to encourage investment in the social economy; to improve the quality and accessibility of public services; and to eradicate poverty and social exclusion. 


Cyprus tears down the wall

On 9 March the Government of the Republic of Cyprus demolished the wall at a military observation post of the National Guard in Ledra street, a point on the Green Line that divides Nicosia in two as a result of the presence, since 1974, of Turkish occupying troops.
This move by the Cypriot government, in which AKEL (Progressive Party of Working People) is the largest party, shows the political will and decisiveness to proceed with the opening of crossing points, as also supported by the EU and the UN.
A statement from AKEL said: “Significant obstacles still remain which are related to issues of security such as the presence of the Turkish army and the de-mining of minefields. 
“AKEL believes strongly that the opening of Ledra Street will help the better contact and understanding between the communities, facilitate the rejuvenation of the old part of Nicosia and contribute to the general improvement in the climate for the search of a mutually acceptable and viable solution of the Cyprus problem.
 “Of course the opening of crossing points, whilst it helps in the improvement of the climate, does not also mean that the Cyprus problem has been solved. The essence of the solution of the Cyprus problem is the removal of occupation.”


De Brún sets out priorities for Peace 3

April 4 marks the end of the consultation period organised by the Special European Union Programmes Body (SEUPB) on the future of the Peace programme. Peace 3 will be the third instalment of the EU programme for “peace and reconciliation” and will run over a seven year period. The programme will operate in the Six Counties and the border counties south of the border. These areas are still the worst-off counties in terms of development and employment.
Bairbre de Brún MEP submitted proposals which focus on two main priorities; ensuring national reconciliation has an important place within Peace and putting equality at the heart of the programme.


De Brún has previously met with Commissioner Danüta Hubner to outline some of Sinn Féin’s concerns about the approach of the SEUPB to date to the planning of Peace 3.
In particular, the Six County MEP told the Commissioner in no uncertain terms that she and much of the community groups working with Peace flatly reject the involvement of the Community Relations Council as an implementing body. Likewise, the British Government’s “A Shared Future” document was also singled out as an impediment to the equality agenda within Peace.
Both problems are addressed in de Brún’s response to the SEUPB consultation and are backed by many on the ground working at the coalface of peace building and reconciliation.
The aim of the Peace programme should be to aid the process of national reconciliation. In this light, the emphasis must be put on ensuring that Peace is used as a vehicle of cross-border development and consequently will act as a catalyst to ending partition and partitionism.
In the past, unionist politicians have complained of bias in the distribution of funds under Peace- something the SEUPB and the European Commission have never found any evidence of. In its response, Ms de Brún uncategorically rejected the insertion of political criteria into the distribution method. Peace 3 must operate on the basis of need for all and work in a way which fosters national reconciliation and an undoing of the wholly detrimental effect of partition in our country.


Batasuna will do ‘everything possible’ to take part in elections

With a deadline for electoral registration in the Basque Country only weeks away, Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi told reporters in an interview last Friday that the only way to solve the conflict was through peaceful means.
The banned Basque leftist party Batasuna said they will do “everything possible” to take part in this year’s local government elections due to take place in May and kick-start the peace process, its leader said.
The Spanish government says it wants Batasuna to put up candidates in local elections in the Basque Country but insisted Batasuna can only take part if it, or a successor party, clearly renounces violence.
However the Batasuna leader accused the Spanish government of hypocracy in its dealing with the Basque Country. “The state is never going to have a military solution,” said Otegi, “and there isn’t a military solution for ETA for dealing with the state either.”
“We want to participate in the elections and we are going to do everything possible to be in the elections,” said Otegi.
But, asked if he thought that the Spanish government would allow Batasuna to stand he responded: “At this time, we don’t want to try to play any semantic games.”
Otegi said independence would only be possible if the armed conflict was first resolved. “We need a stage of peace and democracy for our project to be viable,” he said, concluding that “I am absolutely convinced that in the next few weeks, if there is a political will, it’s going to possible to get this process going again,” he said.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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