14 February 2008 Edition
This news feature is funded by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)
France: Thousands call for a referendum on Lisbon Treaty
MEP Mary Lou McDonald addressed a gathering of thousands of activists in Paris at the invitation of the National Committee for a Referendum in advance of the French Parliament meeting in Versailles on Monday, 4 February.
Democracy was the central tenet of the day’s discussions. Political representatives, trade union leaders, social movements and civil society took to the platform to demand the most fundamental tool of democracy – a vote.
The massive banner draped across the back of the stage set the tone of the day’s contributions from organisations such as trade unions and social movements: “Traite Européen – Pas sans nous – Nous voulons un referendum” (European Treaty – Not without us – We want a referendum).
The Dublin MEP spoke in the closing solidarity section of the meeting alongside Lars Ohly of the Swedish Left Party, Fritz Schmalzbauer of Die Linke (Germany), and GUE/NGL President Francis Wurtz.
Mary Lou said it is not for Irish people to determine the democratic process adopted in France regarding the ratification of European treaties.
The Irish MEP said:
“I am here because I believe in democracy. Democratic principles and processes must be respected. The EU must underpin these principles, not undermine them. The EU political project must have the democratic mandate of the peoples of Europe. This is a bottom line.
“The Lisbon Treaty is a repackaged version of the defeated EU Constitution. How is it that the constitution merited a referendum in France but its successor does not?
“We will have a referendum in Ireland, as the government in our country has no choice in the matter. We will oppose the treaty because we believe it is a bad deal for Ireland, Europe and the wider world. It does not protect public services or workers’ rights. It promotes a dangerous route of EU militarism; it fails to address our responsibilities to the developing world. It makes no advance in protecting the environment. And it spectacularly fails to bring forward democratic reform of EU institutions.”
Mary Lou McDonald concluded her speech with a question directed to the French Socialist Party: “How is it possible to be neutral or abstain on the principle of democracy? What are the implications of such a stance? If this core democratic principle is not championed, what is left to us?”
Call for end to Gaza ‘suffocation’
DURING a European Parliament debate on the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, MEP Bairbre de Brún called for an immediate end to the “suffocation” of Palestinians in Gaza.
Bairbre was participating in a debate with the EU High Commissioner for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana. The Six-County MEP pulled no punches in attacking the actions of the Israeli Government as well as the inaction of the EU in the defence of the rights of Palestinians.
“The situation in the Gaza Strip is intolerable,” she said. “The UN Relief and Works Agency has said that the blockade will drastically affect hospitals, sewage treatment plants and waste facilities.
“Israel is pursuing a policy of mass punishment against the entire population of Gaza. In the 21st Century, this type of outdated action is inexcusable.”
High Commissioner Solana’s response was to shift the blame for EU inaction away from himself and the governments with a half-excuse about the need to work with others, ignoring the potential influence the EU acting against Israel could bring to bear.
The former NATO chief argued that a change in policy was not needed:
“But you are saying we have to act and not to talk. Do you think that action will change our policy 180 degrees today? I do not really know if that is a sensible approach, to tell you the truth.
“What has happened in the last few days, apart from the humanitarian drama? We can talk for hours and really express our sentiments, because we have the same sentiments as you – at least I have – and I am sure the Commissioner has the same.”
The European Commissioner for External Affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, even went some way in justifying the Israeli action, saying:
“I think the situation in the Gaza and the large amount of violence that we have seen in January is one of those very difficult situations, among many other things – including the rocket and mortar attacks that have injured the Israeli civilian population – that could make the whole process derail.
“Of course, we understand the obligation of the state of Israel to defend its citizens. The Israeli military reaction has caused many deaths and injuries amongst the Gaza Palestinians. We have always said that civilian enclosure measures will not be feasible and have always spoken out for freedom of access and movement. These have taken a heavy toll on the Gaza civilian population.”
Bairbre de Brún said:
“The attempts by Israel to portray itself as merely defending itself should be treated with the contempt it deserves as long as it is ordinary Palestinians trying to go about their lives who are suffering.”
The Irish MEP insisted that the Israeli Government must adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law and refrain from any measure related, even remotely, to collective punishment.
“The EU has to stand up to Israel and say loud and clearly that it will not accept this inhumane blockade which is suffocating the Gaza Strip.”
Commercialisation of post services rubber stamped
THE European Parliament voted on 31 January to support the complete commercialisation of letter delivery services.
Speaking after the vote, Bairbre de Brún MEP said:
“Across Ireland, rural and isolated communities are dependent on a postal service delivering letters regardless of profit motives.”
Mary Lou McDonald MEP added:
“People do not want to be presented with an array of competing post offices marketing their products. They want a reliable postal service which will deliver their mail with the minimum of fuss and which will keep local post offices at the centre of the communities they serve.”
In bringing forward the directive on opening the market in postal services, the European Commission undertook no assessment of the social impact it will have. There has been no serious consultation with post office management, with employees or with consumers.
According to Bairbre de Brún:
“This directive will allow private postal companies to swamp the market and will bring the same problems to the delivery of standard letters that we have seen with the deregulation of parcel deliveries.”
This directive yet again disproves the contention by some advocating a ‘Yes’ vote to the Lisbon Treaty that the EU is systematically promoting a social Europe.
De Brún welcomes Brazilian beef ban
THE European Commission has brought in a temporary ban on the import of beef from Brazil until a list of farms licensed for export to the EU can be checked, approved and agreed. The ban follows a campaign led by, among others, the Irish Farmers’ Association.
Bairbre de Brún, a member of the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health Committee, who has been backing the campaign for such measures at EU level, warmly welcomed the move:
“This decision is a vindication of those who have been calling for a ban on imports which clearly do not measure up to the standards expected by the EU.
“In particular, it endorses the campaign by Irish farmers following a number of Food and Veterinary Office inspections and the findings of a survey into the conditions pertaining within the Brazilian beef sector.”
Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou announced that imports would not be permitted because of concerns over the origin of the beef submitted by the Brazilian authorities. Any resumption of trade will depend on Brazilian farms meeting tough EU standards on traceability and consumer safety.
Ending street homelessness
MARY LOU McDonald MEP has put together an alliance of MEPs from different countries and various political groups to promote a major European Parliament initiative aiming to end street homelessness in all EU countries by 2015.
The initiative takes the form of a written declaration which, if it is signed by a majority of MEPs, becomes the official position of the European Parliament.
The initiative is supported by FEANTSA (the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless), whose Irish members include the Simon Communities, Focus Ireland, the Irish Council for Social Housing and the Depaul Trust.
Ending street homelessness by providing access to shelter is a fundamental human right and this access to shelter is the first step towards a sustainable solution for people experiencing extreme poverty. It is the first step in devising a wider homelessness strategy, bringing in issues such as secure and adequate housing, which includes things such as the threat of eviction, domestic violence and extreme over-crowding.
The Dublin MEP said:
“It is estimated that some 5,000 people are homeless in Ireland; 629 of these are children. In Dublin alone, approximately 1,500 adults and 485 children, the majority of whom are under 11 years of age, have been identified as homeless. These are only estimates. I have no doubt that the true figure of homelessness is in fact bleaker.”
Gaining a true figure, which is systematically gathered and comparable across the whole of the European Union, is one of the issues addressed in the declaration.
This initiative, according to Mary Lou, is necessary as, so far, the Irish Government has failed to honour its commitment to society’s most vulnerable.
“The Government is not serious about ending homelessness. Where is the investment in social housing, temporary accommodation and social supports necessary to make this a reality?”
A Europe-wide initiative would ensure that this issue is pushed onto the agenda and prioritised.
With a list exceeding 40,000 families on local authority council housing waiting lists, and the growing presence of people sleeping rough and in the doorways of Ireland, it is high time that governmental measures were introduced to combat these issues and create a viable solution, Mary Lou McDonald said..
“Words are not enough. It is now time for action.”
Main points of written declaration by Mary Lou McDonald, Jacek Protasiewicz, Claude Moraes, Gérard Onesta and Jean Marie Beaupuy on ending street homelessness:-
• EU-wide commitment to end street homelessness by 2015;
• Common European definition of homelessness;
• Comparable and reliable statistical data;
• Annual updates on action taken and progress made in EU member states towards ending homelessness;
• Member states to devise ‘winter emergency plans’ as part of a wider homelessness strategy.
Euro Parliament to debate Lisbon Treaty
ULTRA-FEDERALIST MEPs Richard Corbett (England) and Íñigo Méndez de Vigo (Spain) have co-authored a report on the Lisbon Treaty which is to be debated in Strasbourg next week.
The ‘federalista’ report may cause some discomfort for Irish advocates of a ‘Yes’ vote, wholeheartedly welcoming things that they would rather not draw attention to.
The Irish Government makes out that there are assurances that transfer of competencies to the EU should be put to referendum. The report merely states that “it will become possible to apply more efficient methods of decision making as soon as there is the political will to do so”, which appears to confirm the concerns many people have about Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty.
The report also welcomes that the “new system of double majority voting will facilitate reaching decisions in the Council”, confirming that the reduction of the voting weight of smaller member states is an important element of the big countries’ idea of efficiency.
It also welcomes the reduction in the size of the European Commission (and subsequent loss of an Irish Commissioner for five years out of every fifteen).
Finally, the report stresses the need for all member states to ratify the treaty “in good time for its entry into force on 1 January 2009”. Interestingly, there is no mention of the referendum in Ireland.
European Parliament celebrates 50th birthday
ON 12 March, the European Parliament will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Leading MEPs recently met to decide on how to mark the occasion.
After much thought and consideration they decided on “the holding of a formal sitting in order to mark the festive character of the occasion on Wednesday, 12 March 2008 (during the part session in Strasbourg)”.
But the fun really starts the week before with the “organisation of an academic colloquium on the relationship between the European Parliament and citizens”.
Irish language use defended in Euro Parliament
ULSTER Unionist Party MEP Jim Nicholson has launched an attack on the use of one of the EU’s official languages in the European Parliament.
Singling out the Irish language for attack, Nicholson imagined some sort of review that could possibly end the equal status of the EU’s official languages.
Drawing from an inaccurate Irish Examiner article which wrongly claimed that “only 6 out of 13 of Ireland’s members had spoken Irish”, Nicholson called for the future use of Irish in the European Parliament to be brought into question.
Excluded from the partitionist logic of the Irish Examiner’s article was the Irish-language’s champion in the parliament, Irish MEP Bairbre de Brún.
Reacting, de Brún said:
“The Irish language is an official and working language of the EU and will remain so alongside the other 22 official languages.
“I shall continue to speak Irish in the European Parliament as I did in the Assembly and to lobby for those Irish speakers who do not have legislative protections as yet in the Six Counties. I hope that, in time, Jim Nicholson can come to respect the multilingual ethos of the EU and to represent that openly and fairly to all his constituents.”