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16 August 2007 Edition

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

Don't Believe a Word John Boyd looks at the recent agreement by the European Council and its implications for democracy.

Have no illusions. It has been claimed that the recent EU Council agreed mere amendments to existing EU treaties that require no referendum. This couldn't be further from the truth.
What is actually happening is a slow coup d'etat of nation states and democracy in the EU.
In the run-up to the conference, EU president German Chancellor Angela Merkel devised a strategy to bypass the tricky issue of referendums, which had defeated a proposed new EU constitution in France and the Netherlands.
The eventual agreement, which basically dropped the words "Constitution" and "Foreign Minister," together with a few minor elements of the original text of the rejected EU Constitution, will fool few. Temporarily abandoning symbols such as the EU flag, motto and anthem means absolutely nothing.
At the summit, large, established EU states used the extra voting weight handed to them under the qualified majority voting system to force the "mandate" through.
Poland had strong objections to weakening its share of the vote in EU decisions, another key result of the summit.
The Czech delegation let it be known that it regarded the intergovernmental conference as "a fiasco" and confirmed the fears of the eurosceptic leadership around Czech President Vaclav Klaus. One member of the Czech delegation stated: "We tried to support the Poles but, without a partner from one of the larger states, we were powerless."
The results of the conference have profound implications for the right of nation states to self-determination.
The plain objective of the "amending" treaty that it gave birth to is to give the EU the legal status of a state. If that is allowed to happen, then we will be ruled by an unaccountable centralised government in Brussels. Such a eurofederalist government would have the legal powers to do anything without reference to national governments, parliaments or electorates.
Otherwise, there is no point in making changes to the current set-up.
The strategy is an undemocratic attempt to avoid referendums across the EU, especially given the overwhelming democratic results in France and the Netherlands two years ago.
The coup d'etat still has to run the gauntlet of ratification by 27 member states and, more importantly, mounting opposition across the EU.
If the EU treaty were put in place, then the EU could sign treaties in its own right and change what is, in practice, a constitution without further treaties or ratification.
All democratic forces must join together to demand a fair referendum and then to campaign for a No vote to defend all aspects of democracy.

Spying through the Euro lies


The EU is often portrayed as bureaucratic and anti-business. The first charge is perhaps well deserved, the second entirely untrue. Benefiting from public disinterest and the opaque politics of Brussels, corporations exert a powerful and growing influence over European politics. Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), an Amsterdam-based group, has been investigating and documenting the inner workings of the EU and the ever increasing corporate influence over its policy making process. Recently CEO co-founder Erik Wesselius spoke about about ten years of researching corporate lobbying in Brussels and at international institutions like the UN and the WTO.
The idea for Corporate Europe Observatory was born in the Spring of 1997 in the run up to the EU summit at which the Amsterdam Treaty was to be agreed.
"We were involved in the organisation of the counter summit. We wanted to bring the issue of corporate power into the debate about a different EU.
"Our basic motivation was to oppose corporate influence on EU policies. We had seen the examples of the Trans European Networks and also the internal market and European Monetary Union. We had also stumbled upon the European Round Table of Industrialists and decided we should do something about this. We wanted to make people realise that this is a problem for democracy"
The sheer volume of material CEO has produced in ten years is astonishing and the depth of research is humbling. Since 1997 they have investigated a wide variety of topics – from the Multilateral Agreement on Investments, to the privatisation of water companies worldwide, to the EU-US free trade negotiations.
I asked Wesselius about the kind of techniques used by the corporations to gain influence in Brussels. These are multi-stranded strategies of influence. He pointed to their recent investigation of the car lobby and its campaign to evade CO2 emissions controls. In 1996, the EU had negotiated a voluntary agreement with the European car manufacturers for a reduction of CO2 emissions from passenger cars. They aimed to reduce average emissions from 186 g/km to 140 g/km by 2008. These reductions were to be achieved through technological development. By 2006 it had become apparent, however, that the manufacturers were not keeping up their end of the bargain, with few manufacturers set to reach agreed interim targets. The German manufacturers were the worst offenders.

In response EU Commissioners proposed a binding target of 120 g/km. The German auto industry responded immediately, publicly declaring that they would have to shut many factories in Germany, affecting roughly 65,000 workers. They also claimed that the EU target was for a simple emissions limit of 120g/km per car, which is untrue: the target is for average emissions over the different models in a manufacturer’s range. This falsehood was however picked up by the German press and relayed as truth.
Meanwhile the European Car Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) apologised and released a position paper blaming their failure to live up to their commitment on external factors, highlighting part of their 1998 agreement with the Commission which said that “external factors beyond ACEA's control may influence the outcome”. ACEA went on to blame poor recycling regulation, “weak demand for energy efficiency” and other things. The car companies proposed an integrated approach in which the “combined efforts of many parties and demand-related measures are essential instead” – this problem would be re-cast as a vague social responsibility, rather than a demand of the car industry itself.
The German manufacturers played up the supposed threat to their factories in Germany and recruited many German politicians to their cause, including Chancellor, Angela Merkel to lobby for a relaxation of the proposals. Meanwhile a small army of lobbyists in Brussels went to work. The Commission has now decided to water down its proposals, pressing for a 130g/km target instead.
CEO has researched and documented hundreds of such cases, revealing the real decision-making processes in Brussels. For us here in the UK, their work deserves far more attention. The issues they research continue to become yet more urgent, as the EU extends its influence over the lives of ordinary Europeans, whilst the corporations continue to extend their influence over the EU process. CEO continues to campaign for proper transparency in European lobbying. Unlike the US and many other countries, there is no register of Brussels lobbyists, or of their activities.
CEO recently claimed a major victory. The special adviser to EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, was at the same time running a lobbying company representing major energy companies – in particular nuclear power companies. CEO wrote open letters to Linkohr, Piebalgs and the Commission Vice-President, Siim Kallas, pointing out the clear conflict of interests. The lobbyist in question, Rolf Linkohr, was subsequently sacked as the Commissioner's special adviser; a move which may signal a new commitment to transparency in the Commission.

Put occupation back at top of international agenda

The stupidest thing that the international community can do is to reward one half of the Palestinian people because they come directly under Fatah's leadership, and punish the other half because they remain under the Hamas government. Europe must not join in the divide-and-rule politics of Israel and the US but follow its own course.
Europe was one of the parties that forced elections on Palestine, elections which resulted in the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas. Israel, however, paid no attention to progress in the peace process and the economic situation of the Palestinians deteriorated further. A year later Hamas came to power, mainly because of the unrest amongst the population over this lack of progress. Hamas had turned an important corner by participating in the democratic process and giving it priority over armed struggle, by suspending attacks on civilians in Israel, and by announcing a cease-fire which held reasonably well. Hamas wanted from the very beginning to rule together with Fatah – it was Abbas who refused, while Europe looked silently on.
The background to the Hamas victory is that people wanted to punish Fatah for alleged corruption and had little faith in Abbas's ability to carry this off. Immediately after the election, also, Europe began a boycott of Hamas, as a result of which the economic situation of the territory further deteriorated. More than half of the population of Gaza fell below the poverty line. Lacking the funds to pay salaries, ministries and state services could no longer function. In the Gaza strip, lawlessness and criminality grew. Meanwhile Hamas saw that the US was delivering money and weapons to Dahlan's hated militias.
In addition, when Hamas and Fatah formed a government of national unity, the EU maintained its boycott. When a third of Palestinian Members of Parliament were arrested and imprisoned in Israeli jails, we once again looked on in silence. Europe put Hamas under even more pressure. They must now accede to three demands: recognise the state of Israel, hold to agreements signed by their predecessors; and put an end to violence. These same demands were never put on Israel, which could continue with the illegal settlements, with the building of the wall and with extra-judicial executions. It was also clear that Israel had no intention of allowing the creation of a viable Palestinian state. This did not of course escape the attention of the Arab world: the EU puts demands on a people under occupation, but stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the occupying power.

Emergency government
Hamas did not wait around until the Fatah militias were fully trained and armed by the US to overthrow its leadership. Abbas fled to the West Bank and Hamas took control of the Gaza strip. The Palestinian Territory must, however, continue to be seen as a unified entity. Haniye is prepared once again to talk with Fatah, but does not recognise the 'emergency government' of Abbas, assembled outside of the Palestinian parliament. Three-quarters of the population want to see new elections. Israel and the US are now promising the earth to the emergency government of Abbas and Europe will follow suit – as usual – without a murmur. Hamas will once again be subject to boycott, which will result in an even greater humanitarian disaster for the population of Gaza. This movement will not, however, be brought to its knees, but is much more likely to take a still stronger grip on power.
Now that the 'moderate' (for which read, obedient to the US and Israel) government of Fatah has vanished from Gaza, Israel is threatening to launch renewed military attacks on the area. No good can come of this, only ever more deaths, ever more chaos and ever more radicalisation. Europe must change course, no longer going along with the game of divide and rule played by Israel and the US. Build normal contacts with the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinians, whether they be from Fatah or from Hamas. Demonstrate that politics is more fruitful than terror. Resume aid to the Gaza strip and above all, put the core of the problem, the occupation itself, back at the top of the international agenda. If we continue to follow the present line, we will make ourselves once more jointly responsible for huge instability in the Middle East.
• Anja Meulenbelt is a member of the Senate for the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP), and Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament for the SP and the party's spokesman on foreign affairs.

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