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23 November 2006 Edition

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

GUE/NGL oppose Services Directive

Speaking during a debate on the Services Directive at last week's European parliamentary session in Strasburg GUE/NGL President Frances Wurtz said: "Today, with the services directive, capitulation can be added to this. What else can you call this barely credible decision taken by the majority groups to give in to the injunctions of the Council by accepting to withdraw all the amendments that were examined in the Internal Market Committee and to adopt, without any resistance, the Council's common position which is undeniably a set back on their own compromise of 16 February last?

"I recall that the European Trade Union Confederation had thought necessary to amend this text on some points that it considered "of vital importance", notably in terms of "the clearer exclusion of labour law and social services, and clearer respect for fundamental rights".

"Indeed, the Council text subordinates the preservation of labour law in the Member States to "respect of Community law", a vague formula that refers back to competition rules. Some of you console yourselves with a reassuring statement by Commissioner McCreevy on this subject. This is truly a singular approach! Dare I recall that it was precisely Mr McCreevy who, one year ago, justified, in the name of Community law, the refusal of a Latvian company to recognise collective agreements in Sweden in the widely publicised Vaxholm case?

"In other respects, the Council has re-established an excessive power of control -- both a priori and a postiori -- by the Commission on Member States' legislation -- a power that the Parliament intended to curb specifically. Mr McCreevy sees in this change "a crucial improvement". We fully understand him. But how does the Parliament see it? No comment!

"Finally the ambiguities and grey areas in the text of the directive -- that I had already condemned, on behalf of my group, during the first reading because, I said, they laid themselves open to unmanageable interpretations by the Commission and the Court -- have already started to be used in a way that we had reason to fear.

"Thus the Communication by the Commission on social services develops an extremely restrictive vision of these services which Commissioner Spidla stressed, in passing, that they 'increasingly fall under the scope of Community law' relating to the 'internal market' and 'competition'.

"Another Communication by the Commission, which deals with the "posting of workers" tackle regulations that are considered to be "disproportionate" by some Member States in relation to providers from other Union countries. There again, the Commission takes as its basis the never-ending "case law" by the Court. So where are the safeguards that the directive was supposed to provide us with against all social life sliding into unbridled competition?

"Generally speaking, the presidency in office clearly warned that "the Court's interpretation will be necessary in many cases". Well, my group will not accept this monumental enterprise of deregulation. Over and above the question of services, is the very concept of European integration. Do we want upward harmonisation by law of our rules of protection or do we accept a market -- and competition-driven harmonisation of standards in a fatal race to the bottom? Do we want to promote a Parliamentary and citizen-oriented democracy or are we going to let ourselves be governed by "case law" and "interpretative communications"?

"Within weeks of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, it is legitimate to ask ourselves these questions. We can be sure that many of our fellow citizens will soon be asking these questions forcefully too."

Batasuna urges parties to 'a rapprochement'

Batasuna's negotiating committee has said that a "just and lasting" peace will only be achieved through agreements on territoriality and self-determination. Batasuna's negotiating committee, which is made up of party spokesman Arnaldo Otegi, and Executive members Rufi Etxeberria and Arantza Santisteban, stated on Friday that a "just and lasting" peace will only be achieved through agreements on territoriality and self-determination. It also called upon the parties to agree on the methodology and the agenda of the negotiating table, as well as on a solution to overcome the process "crisis".

At a press conference in Bilbao, banned Batasuna spokesman read aloud a document that included 10 points, which asserted that "the only agreement that can guarantee" an scenario for peace "includes a democratic framework that recognises the Basque territoriality and the right to self-determination". In Otegi's opinion, this way, "today's solutions must make possible for all projects to come to fruition in the future".

The Batasuna leader declared that the Nationalist Leftist party reiterates "its firm commitment to the search of the necessary rapprochement for the start-up of the multilateral dialogue", which will lead to "a final agreement" that will guarantee the definite solution of the conflict in the Basque country".

After insisting on the idea that the process is in "crisis and blocked", Otegi pointed out that

"the harassment from judges and police against the Basque Leftists is one of the biggest obstacles at the moment", as well as the lack of commitment from some parties to establish a calendar, agenda and methodology for the negotiating table.

Website showcases 'faceless' EU staff

The "faceless eurocrats" of the European commission have been pushed into the limelight via a new EU website.

The civil service portal will allow internet surfers from across the EU to get to know some of the many thousands of people working behind the scenes at institutions in Brussels and elsewhere.

"Too often, the commission is described as a faceless bureaucracy, an army of anonymous eurocrats in Brussels, with a mission to make life complicated. The reality is very different," the commission said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for administration commissioner Siim Kallas said that the new site was designed to make the commission's Europa portal "more accessible" by bringing together information that is currently spread between a large number of separate web pages.

"Interested people" will be able to read portraits of some of the people who work at the commission, from translators and interpreters to publications officers and officials working at the EU mint.

The commission's latest attempt to reconnect with increasingly disenchanted citizens also includes pages of information on the "modern and effective administration" of the most high-profile European institution.

There is also information about how to find a job at the commission as well as audience-specific information aimed at people such as civil servants in national government.

"We are convinced of the quality of the commission staff," said Kallas' spokeswoman. "That is why we want to show them off."

The commission also denied that the new site was a response to recent comments from vice-president Günter Verheughen who criticised the bureaucratic way in which the administration worked.

MEPs diary... Bairbre de Brún

The November session of the European Parliament's plenary in Strasbourg was dominated by the ratification of the EU Services Directive. For this past number of years my colleague Mary Lou McDonald and I have spent much of our time opposing this directive. It gives me no satisfaction to say that GUE/NGL has consistently warned that the EU Services Directive was a bad deal for Irish workers and Irish public services. At every point, we opposed this, and proposed amendments which would limit the effect and scope of the directive.

Essentially, the EU Services Directive is a hugely complex piece of legislation which will allow the free movement of services across national borders. It gives exclusive prominence to the right to provide services across borders whereas social rights and collective bargaining are at best excluded, and at worst dismantled. The controversial Country of Origin Principle has been renamed 'the freedom to provide services', but it has not been removed. The directive provides companies with numerous loopholes which they can exploit making it harder to defend the rights of workers and consumers. Indeed, it will put pressure on service providers to cut standards in order to compete.

The Services Directive will deny millions of people the quality public services which they deserve. In addition it will open childcare, social housing, homeless shelters and caring services to the same kind of competition regulations as mobile phones. It gives me no satisfaction to say that the Sinn Féin delegation to GUE/NGL has consistently warned that the EU Services Directive was a bad deal for Irish workers and Irish public services. We will continue to fight against the negative impact which this directive will undoubtedly have in Ireland and across Europe.

On the Tuesday morning I met with the European Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel to discuss the extension of the Farm Nutrient Management Scheme. I conveyed the concerns which many farmers have that they will be unable to meet the requirements of the Nitrates Directive if the deadline of 30 November is not extended. I am pleased to report that the meeting was very positive. Commissioner Fischer-Boel was very positive in her response to me and she expressed a willingness to see this issue resolved satisfactorily. The Commissioner told me that new state aid guidelines are due to be agreed by the Commission on 6 December and that when these are agreed an extension should be possible. When I pressed her on what would happen to those in the present scheme she agreed that it would be unfair to penalise people because of a short gap following the present end date of 30 November. The Commissioner assured me that those already in the scheme at present are safe.

On the Wednesday night I spoke in a debate urging the EU to implement an integrated approach to the problem of human trafficking across the EU and the world as a whole. A 2005 'Trafficking in Persons' report estimated that approximately 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Approximately 80 percent are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors.

In my speech I highlighted the fact that this problem is on the rise, and an integrated approach is required, and one which takes full account of the importance of prevention and of reducing demand. I want to welcome the report's call for EU Member States and the European Council to strengthen the human rights based, gender equality and victim-centred approach to this issue. It is essential that the trafficking of people be dealt with as a human rights issue rather than being seen mainly as a crime control or border control issue. Trafficking is primarily about exploitation -- not illegal migration.

Strasbourg In Brief

Bairbre de Brún MEP spoke in a European Parliament debate on Wednesday and urged the European Union and its institutions to embrace multiculturalism. Speaking during the debate Bairbre said: 'I believe that cultural and linguistic diversity is a measure of a truly open and pluralist society. It is particularly important that lesser used languages are protected and promoted. Much important work has already taken place. However, the EU institutions need to do much more to ensure that the EU is truly representative and multilingual not only in word, but in deed also.

Bairbre de Brún also called for an EU Language Plan and for project funding for the most endangered languages, for the Ebner report to be implemented in full, for the EU ombudsman to have an explicit mandate to act in cases of language-based discrimination, and for a working group to be set up that can work towards giving a legal base to the concept of respect for linguistic diversities.

The European Parliament debated the deteriorating situation in Palestine last week. There is huge concern amongst MEPs with regards to the current situation in Palestine and a tremendous sense of urgency that the European Union needs to play a part in bringing Israeli aggression to an end in Palestine, and in Gaza in particular. The Israeli military operation in Gaza has resulted in over 300 deaths since June 2006, including many civilians, with 80 Palestinians killed in the most recent attacks in Beit Hanun.

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