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5 March 2009 Edition

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

Drawing the battle lines for Lisbon 2

Mary Lou McDonald
and Bairbre de Brún
are members of the GUE/NGL Group
in the European Parliament

STRANGELY ENOUGH, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin last week told Irish Times journalist Jamie Smyth that the Government has yet to decide on whether Ireland would withdraw from the European Defence Agency as part of the Lisbon re-run deal. Yet recently his party’s own MEPs voted in favour of a report presented to the EU Parliament that commits member states to expand the role of... yes, you guessed it, the European Defence Agency.
Critics of the Lisbon Treaty concerned with increased militarisation in Europe and the undermining of Irish neutrality have been alarmed by a number of reports adopted by the EU Parliament on military-related issues on 19 February.
The report by Ari Vatanen on The Role of NATO in the Security Architecture of the EU was adopted with the support of Avril Doyle and the Fianna Fáil MEPs (Marian Harkin and the other Fine Gael MEPs abstained in the final vote).
It includes a reference to the Lisbon Treaty which, it notes, “COMMITS civilian and military capabilities of all member states to the European Security and Defence Policy... COMMITS states to the progressive improvement of military capabilities, expands the role of the European Defence Agency, OBLIGES states to come to the aid of another under attack... INSISTS on mutual solidarity in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster”.
No big surprises in the content — very much what it says in the treaty. The interesting bit is how the Parliament considers that the treaty “commits”, “obliges” and “insists”. Yes, campaigners spent a lot of time arguing that there were no new commitments or obligations in the treaty. Not only does the European Parliament not agree with them, a number of MEPs who support the treaty don’t either.
In this report, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour MEPs voted AGAINST a GUE/NGL amendment “in favour of a strict separation of the EU and NATO and against an increased EU-NATO co-operation”. But then the report makes clear that the logic of the Lisbon Treaty is for a greater entanglement between EU and NATO and for increased EU-NATO co-operation, including “involving the non-NATO EU Member States further in EU-NATO talks”.
The Von Wogau report on “the European Security Strategy and ESDP” (European Security and Defence Policy) has its own charms.
Among other things it “notes that a common defence policy in Europe requires an integrated European Armed Force which consequently needs to be equipped with common weapon systems”.
It also calls for “exchange programmes among armed forces in Europe and the opening up of armies to citizens of other EU member states”. Another step towards a single EU army perhaps?
This report was supported by Fianna Fáil and Labour MEPs, with Marian Harkin, Kathy Sinnott, and the Fine Gael MEPs abstaining.
On both of these reports the GUE/NGL group submitted a minority opinion which calls for, among other things: a civilian EU; the strict separation of NATO and the EU; the abolition of nuclear weapons; establishment of an EU disarmament agency; military expenditure to be used instead for civilian purposes; the abolition of NATO.

All things considered, the European Parliament has done peace and neutrality campaigners a great service by revealing the truth about EU plans following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. And in so doing it has strengthened the arguments of opponents of the Lisbon Treaty.
It’s time now for some straight talking with Micheál Martin and his government on the Lisbon re-run. Will the so-called legally binding guarantees be published in advance of a second referendum on Lisbon?
Will the so-called legally binding guarantees alter the text, the legal interpretation of the text, or the implementation of the text of the Lisbon Treaty should it be ratified?
Would we retain a commissioner indefinitely or for a specified period of time? What about the other major issues of concern such as workers’ rights, public services, international trade, the developing world? How does the government intend to deal with these concerns?
Stop messing the Irish electorate around, Micheál Martin, and put into the public domain any and all texts on these issues currently being negotiated. Let’s have the public debate so we can end this charade. Ireland and Europe needs ‘A New Treaty for a New Time’. 


Bairbre de Brún visits Gaza

MEP Bairbre de Brún travelled to Gaza and to the West Bank this week as part of a group of MEPs from across the political spectrum in the European Parliament to see the situation at first-hand and to discuss the prospects for a move forward.
The delegation travelled to Palestine on Wednesday 25 February and met with politicians, civil society, the UN and humanitarian and human rights groups.
The MEPs saw the huge difficulty caused by ongoing settlement activity on the West Bank and the threat this poses to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
De Brún, who previously visited Palestine as an election observer in the 2006 election, said the level of destruction in Gaza is “unimaginable”.
Speaking from Gaza she said:
“Everywhere you turn there is rubble where once there was a living community.  People have no sense of security or safety and are angry that no one has been held to account for what happened.
“People in Gaza need to know that the international community is committed to a peaceful future, that the steps needed to underpin reconstruction are taken and that there will be proper mechanisms of accountability for what happened.
“We need to see the free movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. The international community must ensure this happens.”

Before leaving as part of the delegation, the Six-County MEP spoke in a European Parliament debate where she said:
“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is intolerable: 88 per cent of the population require food aid, hospitals lack essential medical supplies, and thousands of tonnes of aid cannot be brought into Gaza as not enough trucks are being let in.
“The Israeli Government policy of blockading Gaza and the recent huge military assault have resulted in the disaster we see today. The Israeli authorities should end the blockade and open the border crossings.”
In the same debate, MEPs heard the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, state:
“The war in Gaza ended a month ago, on 18 January, and I think you would agree with me that it feels like yesterday. The scale of the suffering and destruction was immense and it has left us all with a bitter taste in our mouths.
“The humanitarian situation today remains heart-breaking. We need to find urgent solutions to get aid in and to reduce the level of suffering of the people.”

Other MEPs such as the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans spelt out specifically who caused the damage leading to the current humanitarian catastrophe and how the EU’s refusal to engage directly with Hamas had exacerbated the situation:
“Any assessment of the damage caused in Gaza must draw attention to the deliberate targeting to destroy the infrastructure and the economy. We saw schools, factories, homes and a hospital deliberately attacked.

The humanitarian situation today remains heart-breaking. We need to find urgent solutions to get aid in and to reduce the level of suffering of the people 

“Once again, we have witnessed the destruction by Israel of projects funded by the European Union and, rather than take action on this, we are talking about upgrading trade relations when conditions on human rights are currently being breached under the current agreements.”
Bairbre de Brún added:
“Mr Solana talked about how pursuing the same policies can bring us back to the same place. Well, I agree.
“In 2006, the European Union refused to recognise the Palestinian Unity Government, which included members of Hamas, and yet we are ready to recognise a new Israeli Government which may include members who reject a two-state solution, who do not support a Palestinian state.”


Norway’s new way out of crisis

THE Norwegian response to the international economic setback has a social profile: solving important public tasks while focusing on the environment and distribution of wealth.
The Minister for Finance, Kristin Halvorsen, from the Norwegian Socialist Left Party, described it as a package that will bring Norway closer to a green, knowledge-based economy through spending on innovation, research and development.
“Railways are getting almost €300m more than first budgeted for 2009. We will build new cycling and pedestrian lanes and 5,000 new charging stations for electrical and hybrid cars.”
Together with about €145m to spend on a change towards greener energy, the environmental profile is strong. A test centre for CO2 capture and storage will have its funding increased by €110m while all new public buildings will have strict limits on energy consumption.
Knowledge and education are also targets for the Government. The municipalities will be enabled to renovate old schools or build new schools and kindergartens through an earmarked fund of more than €450m. Almost €40m will go to renovate and build at higher education institutions, and €9m to construction of student housing. More than €20m will be used to fund enterprises increasing their number of traineeships.

The goal is to have 15,000 new jobs at the end of 2009.
At the same time, job-training and other efforts for unemployed will be strengthened. Through renovating and building schools, nursing homes and churches, while also upgrading railways and roads, the Government hopes to counter the escalating unemployment in the construction sector.
The private sector is strengthened through incentives to renew machinery and technology and new guarantees to the fisheries.
The Government has issued bonds for €40bn to provide collateral that may be used in banks’ funding operations. The Norwegian Bank offers banks fixed rate loans to finance their activities. Two funds, of €5.5bn each, have been set up to increase the banks’ lending capacity and to strengthen the bonds market for industrial financing.
For the banks using the fund, it is a requirement that the money goes to lending and a freeze on salary increases and bonuses for management.

• The Norwegian Socialist Left Party (SV) is an associate member of GUE/NGL.


Institutions which make up the European Union

About the EU: A series of explanations about the EU  in the run-up to June’s elections to the European Parliament

The European Parliament
IN June of this year, voters across the EU will take part in elections to the directly-elected European Parliament (EP). The parliament is only one of the institutions which play a role in EU decision-making.
The first direct elections to the European Parliament took place in 1979. Prior to that election it was composed of MPs nominated by member states.
Usually the EP has a maximum of 732 members but the accession of Romania and Bulgaria midway through the current term means that it is temporarily expanded to 785. At the next elections the seats will be redistributed between member states to bring the number back down to 732. Ireland will lose a seat in this redistribution.
Bigger member states have more MEPs (Germany 99) and smaller countries less (Malta 5), though the distribution is not strictly proportional to population.

The European Council/Council of Ministers
The Council of Ministers brings together the governments of the member states. Each state is allocated a certain number of votes, not strictly proportional to its size or population.
The Council of Ministers is a single legal entity but it meets in different formations depending on the agenda (agriculture ministers meets to decide on agriculture issues, environment ministers on environmental issues and so on).

The European Commission
At present, the government of each member state nominates one commissioner.
The parliament has to ratify the Commission as a whole, and has the power to sack the Commission as a whole (but not individual commissioners).
The Commission prepares legislative proposals. They can withdraw the proposals if they don’t like the changes the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament are making.

Other institutions
The Court of Justice upholds the rule of European law. The Court of Auditors checks the financing of the EU’s activities.

The rules
Currently, under the rules of the Nice Treaty, the decision-making process is balanced in favour of the Council (i.e. the 27 governments taking the major decisions either through unanimity or through Qualified Majority Voting where a weighted voting system is utilised). In some areas, such as environment and the internal market, parliament has an equal say under the “co-decision” procedure. 
The Lisbon Treaty would shift the balance of decision-making. It would still be the prerogative of the unelected Commission to initiate legislation but Lisbon would greatly increase the power of the parliament, putting it at a level of equality with the directly-elected and nationally accountable governments in most areas.
Whereas at Council the Irish Government is one of 27 (with power of veto in some areas), in the European Parliament, Irish MEPs would constitute less than 2 per cent of all MEPs with no power of veto.
Furthermore, at Council level the “weight” of smaller states like Ireland is significantly reduced while the voting strength of the larger countries is doubled. On top of this, Lisbon reduces the areas in which individual states can veto unwanted EU legislation.

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