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22 November 2007 Edition

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

Time for an honest debate on the EU Reform Treaty

By Mary Lou McDonald MEP

IN 2005, the people of the Netherlands and France rejected the EU Constitution. EU leaders were sent back to the drawing board and, at Lisbon last month, they signed off on a ‘new’ Treaty.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and primary mover behind the new Treaty, said: “The substance of the Constitution is preserved. That is a fact.”
The cosmetic changes made to the Constitution were motivated by a desire to avoid referendums in member states. Giuliano Amato, vice-chair of the convention which drew up the EU Constitution, observed: “The good thing about not calling it a constitution is that no one can ask for a referendum on it.”
While the term ‘constitution’ has been jettisoned, the “innovations” contained in the Constitution have been kept. Ireland will be the only state to have a referendum. This is a big responsibility.
The proponents of the Treaty have started their campaign on a negative note. Opposition to the Treaty, they claim, is ‘isolationist’ and would cost Ireland influence at the EU table. Such scare-mongering is no substitute for real debate.
We strongly supports close co-operation between European states. We believe in a constructive inter-governmental relationship between European states located within institutions that are progressive, accountable and democratic.
The need for Ireland to have its place at the EU table is obvious. There is no suggestion that Ireland withdraws. However, we must use that place positively. Our international reputation is not so brittle that we must always act as ‘yes men’ to preserve it, even when the best course of action is to say ‘No’.
Democratic reform is one of the stated aims of the Lisbon Treaty. However, rather than bringing democratic decision making closer to the people, the EU is gathering more power at the centre. More than 60 areas will no longer be decided by consensus. These include immigration, structural funds, judicial and police co-operation, economic policy guidelines for Eurozone members and initiatives of the new Foreign Minister. This copper-fastens the dominance of the larger states and removes our ability to democratically reject laws that are not in our interests.
New ‘Passerelle’ or escalator clauses allow for decision making in the Council to be altered from unanimity to qualified majority in Common Foreign and Security Policy matters and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, without recourse to national parliaments or referenda. While it is true that the Irish Government has adopted an opt-in/opt-out policy on some justice and home affairs issues, does anyone really believe that Fianna Fáil would not opt-in afterwards, irrespective of the wishes of the people?
The EU Commission makes no secret of its desire to decide on matters relating to corporation tax. There is growing concern that powers contained in both the Nice Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty could assist them in doing this.
The erosion of neutrality and the militarisation of foreign and defence policies over the last decade is there for all to see. EU military ambitions – to be a global player acting in concert with NATO – is clearly articulated in the Treaty. The Treaty requires member states to progressively “improve military capabilities”. This will have a financial cost. At a time when our public services are crying out for investment, do we really want our tax revenue to be spent in such a manner?
EU economies must be competitive. But competitiveness must not be secured at the cost of environmental sustainability or social cohesion. Unfortunately, this is precisely the direction of current EU economic policy, advancing the agenda of deregulation, privatisation and low public spending. Social Europe has been abandoned and the market is now king. The implications of such policies are growing inequality, a race to the bottom for wages and workers’ rights (as in the case of Irish Ferries) and the further sale of state assets with the same consequences as we have seen with Aer Lingus and Eircom.
Ratifying the Lisbon Treaty will simply serve to accelerate this economic agenda.
Proponents of the Lisbon Treaty make much of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. They claim that it greatly increases the rights of citizens. If that were true, I would support it. The reality is that the Charter contains no new rights above those contained in the Irish Constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights. It also actively undermines both the Irish Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, transferring primacy to the European Court of Justice. The consequence is to assign more power to the European Court of Justice and, in turn, the EU.
We want an honest debate on the Lisbon Treaty. We want to focus on the issues and avoid scare-mongering. It is our considered opinion that the Lisbon Treaty is not in the interests of Ireland, the EU or the wider world.

Presentation of the de Brún PEACE report

BAIRBRE DE BRÚN has this week begun presenting her report to MEPs on Ireland’s PEACE Programme entitled The PEACE Programme: An Evaluation and Strategies for the Future.
Since 1995, the EU has funded the PEACE Programmes for the Northern and border counties and has now cleared the way for PEACE III to run from 2007-2013. Also, throughout this time, the EU has been a major contributor to the International Fund for Ireland (IFI). On top of this, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, announced in May 2007 the setting-up of a task force to look at how to improve the ability of the Six Counties to access and make good use of EU funds and other programmes. The Commissioner for Regional Policy, Danuta Huebner, was given political control of the project. De Brún expressed her opinion that the members of the Task Force should take the opportunity to see and learn from various PEACE and IFI projects in Ireland.
Bairbre de Brún said:
“I have been especially encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response I have received so far from MEPs to my draft report. They accept the need for further consolidation of the cross-border work done by PEACE and the IFI. In September, I had the opportunity to welcome many of them to Donegal and Belfast, Tyrone,  and the surrounding border counties to see the disastrous impact of partition and the positive, practical work PEACE has helped fund which counters the entirely negative effect of partition in economic and social development in Ireland.”
Presenting her report, she thanked all community and civil society groups who had enthusiastically co-operated with her in drawing up the report.
The report itself was welcomed by all, especially with its focus on grassroots decision-making and for its call for a less bureaucratic application system for PEACE funds.
Speaking in Brussels, de Brún commented:
“I am glad to have presented this important report so that MEPs can learn about the PEACE programme in Ireland. Hopefully, it will also contribute to a greater understanding in Europe about the need for national reconciliation in Ireland.”
The draft report marks the culmination of a series of public consultations and out-reach visits organised by the MEP.  Community organisations and groups involved in reconciliation work made valuable contributions to the report.

Climate change high on MEPs’ agenda

IN Strasbourg last week, MEPs voted twice on the issue of climate change.
First up was a European Commission proposal to include the airline industry in greenhouse emissions schemes.
Aviation has thus far been excluded from such schemes even though it now accounts for between 5 per cent and 12 per cent of the EU’s carbon dioxide emissions. Low-cost airlines and increased business travel are just two factors that have led to growing passenger numbers. CO2 emissions from planes have risen 87 per cent since 1990, just at a time when the EU is trying to bring emissions down to meet Kyoto targets.
Intense lobbying from the aviation industry was reflected in the Commission’s proposal which had been attacked by environmental NGOs as being too generous in its allowances to the airlines. MEPs voted a raft of amendments adding meat to the proposal but it still fell short in a number of areas. A member of the Climate Change Committee herself, Bairbre de Brún explained:
“This is an important first step but further action is needed in order to address the impact of aviation on climate change. As the European Parliament resolution in June 2006 recognised, complementary measures such as a kerosene tax are needed.”
Later in the week, MEPs turned their attention to the upcoming United Nations conference in Bali on climate change which aims to map out a climate change policy for after 2012 when the Kyoto agreement is due to end. Pressure will come on industrialised countries such as the United States and Australia to sign up to any agreement, something that never happened with Kyoto.
In Strasbourg, MEPs backed a resolution calling for EU negotiators to take a tough line at the negotiations. The Bali conference’s stated aim is to devise a policy which will keep world temperatures below 2C higher than pre-industrial levels.  This is not seen as enough by scientists, a view backed by Bairbre de Brún who stated:
“All scientific evidence tells us that limiting climate change to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels is only a first step and in itself is not enough to end climate change. The Council and all EU governments must take cognisance of this fact and this is the message they must impress upon others at the Bali conference.”

Climate change delegation to China

BAIRBRE DE BRÚN was part of a 10-strong delegation of MEPs from the European Parliament’s Climate Change Committee that visited China from 5-7 November.
This important committee will formulate proposals on the EU’s policy on climate change and co-ordinate the European Parliament’s position with a view to negotiating the international framework for climate policy after 2012.  
This is a particularly important time to visit China, ahead of the United Nations conference in Bali in December when representatives from 191 countries will meet to negotiate what will follow on from the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
China is the most populous country in the world and its economy is developing very rapidly so the way that it develops will have a huge impact on the environment. Most of the present development is being fired by coal, so China’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions will soar unless new, cleaner technologies are developed and implemented. The number of cities has also grown rapidly in China, from 193 in 1978 to 661 in 2005.
During the visit, de Brún and her fellow members of the European Parliament delegation met with government officials, members of the People’s National Congress and scientific experts, as well as business and civil society representatives.
During the meeting with Ambassador Yu Qintai, special representative of the Chinese Government in charge of international negotiations on climate change, the ambassador stressed China’s commitment to combating climate change while reminding industrialised countries of the need for them to lead efforts to combat climate change and of their historic responsibility as those who have caused the bulk of pollution to date. China still considers that the current structure of the Kyoto Protocol should be maintained and that developing countries, including emerging economies, should have no quantitative commitments.
Speaking after the visit Bairbre de Brún said:
“Climate change is now a huge issue in China, as elsewhere.  While China insists that it should have no binding targets in common with other developing countries, those meeting to tackle climate change will listen closely to what China will say about the anti-climate-change action they want to take in the time ahead. The Chinese Government clearly understands the effect that climate change will have on China itself and is committed to taking action, particularly in the area of energy efficiency and energy conservation.
“It is in everyone’s best interest that the actions China takes are as efficient and effective as possible. International co-operation will be crucial and one of the key issues in the time ahead will be technology transfer and who pays for it.”

Far-right group in European Parliament disintegrates

THE extreme-right Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group split last week after an internal spat between Romanian MEPs and the Italian MEP, Alessandra Mussolini, grand-daughter of World War Two dictator Benito Mussolini.
MEPs from the Greater Romania Party accused Mussolini of insulting the Romanian people following her comments that breaking the law was “a way of life for Romanians”.
The Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) group was formed in January 2007 and included extreme-right MEPs from six countries. The group’s dissolution means that parliamentary work becomes more difficult for those extremist politicians who made up the group.
Bairbre de Brún welcomed the news, saying:
“MEPs from across the political spectrum expressed their concerns when the ITS group was established at the beginning of this year. The group made no positive contribution to the work of the European Parliament and its dissolution is good news for all democrats.”
GUE/NGL President Francis Wurtz said:
“The dissolution of such a group – that ranged from Mr Le Pen to Ms Mussolini and everything that represented the extreme right and all its sinister connotations in certain member states – is very good news. The task remains to create the conditions for the end of political influence for these movements in our respective societies”.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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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