Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Corporations hold Europe captive

The middle finger on José Manuel Barroso's right hand has been in constant action lately. It has been used to deliver an "up yours" salute to 99% of the world's population.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the European Commission chief had appointed Edmund Stoiber, a giant in German politics, to prepare a bonfire of labour and green laws.

No sooner had I turned in my column than I learned that a coalition of trade unions and health, environment and consumer protection advocates had complained to Barroso about how they had been excluded from recent discussions held by the "high level group" on "administrative burdens" that Stoiber heads. The alliance asked that a meeting of the Stoiber group scheduled for 7 March be postponed until the group's membership list was revised. As things stand, the group is controlled by private sector representatives, whose primary motivation is to maximise profits.

Barroso ignored the appeal and the meeting went ahead as planned.

Even though the Commission is able to cite "procedural delays" for stalling on a decision about involving public interest defenders in the group, it has no problem in allowing a lobbyist for the cigarette industry participate.

Pavel Telicka was the Czech Republic's first EU commissioner before being hired to advise British American Tobacco on "social responsibility".

Most of us concerned about preventing cancer could give BAT very clear advice on how to act responsibly. It would run like this: stop peddling tobacco.

Not Telicka: he has stoutly defended the cigarette industry. When anti-smoking campaigners brought a case aimed at banning the sale of cigarettes to the European Court of Justice in 2010, Telicka protested vociferously. He has been nominated to Stoiber's select club by the European Policy Centre, a "think tank" which has been financed by the tobacco industry since its inception.


The continuing participation of a cigarette champion in the group is all the more disturbing when you consider that Stoiber used (maybe that should read "abused") his position last year to lobby against an EU "tobacco products" law then under preparation.

Powerpoint presentations made at the 7 March meeting suggest that Stoiber and his chums are hostile to law in general.

The British Department of Business gave a summary of a paper boasting how in 95% of cases David Cameron's government doesn't place EU regulations on the country's statute books ahead of deadline for doing so. This is part of a practice known as "gold-plating".

It seems bizarre that a rule-making body like the European Commission has given its blessing to a forum which recommends that rules shouldn't be respected until the very last minute - and then tries to scrap the rules altogether. Yet this fits into a broader pattern, whereby the EU's initiatives are fashioned with the objective of indulging - or at least placating - big business.

One vivid manifestation of this pattern is the new climate change "package" that the Commission will shortly publish. It incorporates a discussion paper about how to stimulate investment in "carbon capture and storage" (CCS), a process designed to take greenhouse gases from plants burning fossil fuels and bury them underground.

As things stand, the supposed benefits of CCS are unproven. Climate change, on the other hand, is a proven reality. In the past few weeks, Brussels has had the kind of balmy sunshine associated with May followed by sub-zero temperatures and snow: a strong indication that the planet's equilibrium has been upset. More importantly, the vast majority of the world's scientists agree that the earth's temperatures are rising up because of man-made activities.

Captivated by oil

If logic and sanity prevailed, policy-makers would be concentrating on promoting renewable energy and emission reduction strategies, not being sidetracked by CCS. But the Commission has allowed itself to be captivated by the wizards of CCS - or the oil industry, as they are better known.

The Commission's new paper floats the idea that the EU's emissions trading system could be tweaked so that revenues raised from auctioning pollution permits are used to stimulate CCS. I was able to trace the origins of this recommendation: it can be found in a July 2012 blueprint from the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP).

Assembled by the European Commission, the ZEP is comprised of BP, Shell, Statoil and Total: all firms that have a vested interest in hampering urgent action against climate change so that they can keep on burning fossil fuels. To give the impression of inclusivity, the platform has some "environmentalists" sitting on it, too. These belong to the Bellona Foundation, which is headquartered in Norway, and the London-based E3G.

After checking how the two groups are financed, I realised that Bellona has taken donations from Statoil and E3G from Shell. Having a "green" campaign financed by the oil industry is a bit like having an anti-racism campaign financed by the Ku Klux Klan.

I am sick and tired of Barroso posing as an action man on climate change. He and his flunkies are rubber-stamping plans written for them by the very people who are wrecking the planet. Genuine ecologists have been locked out of the room - indeed, not even told where the room is - when vitally important discussions are taking place.

There is only one way of improving the situation: by public pressure. Building and sustaining a movement against the corporate capture of politics are probably the most important challenges of our times.

•First published by New Europe, 24-31 March 2013.

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