Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tory MEPs cosy up to lobbyists

David Cameron probably rues the day he declared that lobbying was "the next big scandal waiting to happen".

Uttered in 2010 when he was still leader of the opposition, Cameron's words have proven to be prescient. Last year the Conservative Party hired Lynton Crosby as an election strategist. The appointment was hugely problematic as Crosby's "public relations" firms was handed a lucrative contract to help the tobacco giant Philip Morris not long afterwards.

Cameron's government has subsequently scrapped plans to require that cigarettes be sold in plain packets. Regardless of whether Crosby personally urged that the proposal be buried, there is a heady stench of cronyism about the whole affair.

The whiff from the "transparency" records kept by the Conservative members of the European Parliament is only a slightly bit less potent. For sure, the Tories' decision to publish periodical lists of which lobbyists they meet is in itself a positive move. The behaviour that the lists reveal is, on the other hand, quite sordid.

The appointments diary for Welsh MEP Kay Swinburne offers a case in point. Back in 2000, she won a £1 million pay-out after suing her former employers Deutsche Bank over sexual harassment. The preceding court case drew attention to how machismo and capitalism are joined at the hip.

Her experience of sexism in the City of London notwithstanding, Swinburne has been an unflagging defender of its hedge funds and derivatives traders. She has stridently opposed attempts to introduce a small tax on financial transactions, citing fears (no doubt exaggerated) that it would harm the City.

The latest available records indicate that during the first half of this year, Swinburne had a total of 57 meetings with "lobbyists". Some 53 of those discussions were either directly with banks -- including Barclays, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and HSBC -- or with firms and organizations involved in or funded by the financial services industry. One of her few declared contacts with the everyday people of Wales involved a meeting with a charity providing guide dogs for blind people.

Open door policy?

When I asked Swinburne why she spent so much time listening to just one side in the debate on financial regulation, she claimed that the six month period in question had been "unusual" as she had been partly absent for medical reasons.

"I do not accept your accusation that I only listen to financial services companies as it is apparent from prior contact reports over an extended period of time that I have an open-door policy for all these interested in contributing to the legislative process," she added.

While I wish Swinburne every good health, I don't buy her explanation that there was something atypical about the narrow interests of her contacts. In the last six months of 2010, for example, she held over 90 meetings with lobbyists. All of them were from the private sector.

Geoffrey Van Orden, an MEP for the East of England, has put an intriguing disclaimer at the end of his latest available list of appointments. "These meetings are often not 'lobbying' and are frequently at my initiative to explore and understand aspects of policy and encourage British interests," it says.

With a lengthy career as a soldier behind him, Van Orden is especially close to the arms industry. Among the several discussions with weapons producers which he has admitted having between January and June was a dinner with Bill Giles, the Brussels point-man for BAE Systems.

I asked Van Orden if he had ever invited the Campaign Against the Arms Trade or a group similarly critical of the war industry to a meal. "I have supported a global arms trade treaty but do not support CAAT's wider agenda and I am not aware that they have ever asked for a meeting," he replied. "Those concerned about irresponsible arms sales and arming terrorists and authoritarian regimes should focus their attention on countries like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran instead of harassing the democracies."

Van Orden noted that BAE is "a major British manufacturer and one of our biggest exporters" but omitted a few other salient facts. BAE's top client, Saudi Arabia, is such a beacon for democracy that it has finally decided to grant women the vote. Alas, this giant leap towards gender equality won't actually be taken until 2015.

And, according to its 2012 annual report, BAE employs more people in the US than in Van Orden's beloved Britain.

War against workers

In his aforementioned "next big scandal" speech, Cameron decried the "far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money".

The cosiness has continued since he became prime minister. Last week, the Confederation of British Industry - which brags of being the country's top lobbying organisation - called on EU governments to "identify where the burden of regulation can be reduced" for corporations.

Addressing the House of Commons yesterday, Cameron noted that he helped facilitate a discussion between a "business taskforce" and leaders of several EU countries - including Germany, Poland and Italy - in Brussels a few days earlier. Cameron rejoiced at how "deregulation is now part of the EU agenda in a way that it simply hasn't been before".

The "taskforce" Cameron has been championing features key figures from the alcohol company Diageo and the retailer Marks and Spencer. The manifesto it has produced is tantamount to a declaration of war against workers.

A proposal to guarantee female employees 20 weeks of maternity leave on full pay would have to be binned in the name of "competitiveness". Bosses would be given more flexibility to pressurise employees into working longer hours. And a raft of anti-pollution rules would be weakened or abandoned.

Cameron and his acolytes present these demands as essential for economic rejuvenation. In reality, they represent a throwback to an era when factory owners had not yet made some concessions to organised labour. We can read about that era in the novels of Charles Dickens. It doesn't have to be recreated in the twenty-first century.

•First published by EUobserver, 29 October 2013.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is EU stepping up police cooperation with Israel?

Is the European Union flouting international law by stepping up its police cooperation with Israel?

Officers from Israel are known to have taken part in a number of activities coordinated by Europol, the EU's police agency, over the past few years.

This frequent contact comes despite how Israel's police headquarters are located in occupied East Jerusalem. The EU has consistently stated that it regards Israel's occupation and subsequent annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal. And a 2004 ruling from the International Court of Justice stipulated that governments and institutions throughout the world have an obligation not to abet Israel's illegal conduct in any way.

As recently as week, Israel took part in a conference on "economic crimes" in Europol's ultra-modern HQ in The Hague. The previous month, a high-ranking officer from Israel was among those who attended Europol's annual "police chiefs convention." Israel was similarly represented at the same event in 2012.

"Valuable assistance"

Meanwhile, Europol has commended Israel for providing it with "valuable assistance" during an operation against cocaine smuggling, which led to a court case that opened in Sweden last year. Israel has been granted "observer status" in an "informal network" managed by Europol focused on recovering the proceeds of organized crime. And when a separate network on money laundering -- it, too, managed by Europol -- was launched last year, Israel also sent a delegation.

The EU liaison with Israel doesn't appear to have been stymied by the fact that the two sides don't yet have a formal intelligence sharing agreement. Europol was given the go-ahead by the EU's governments to negotiate such an agreement with Israel in 2005. Four years later, the Union named Israel as a priority state for cooperation with Europol. Yet a deal to allow sensitive information be shared has still not been approved by the EU's governments.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to get a simple answer from Europol about the scope of its work with Israel. Eventually, I got a response over the weekend -- it was not very enlightening. "Europol does not cooperate with Israel directly and we don't exchange data with Israel," a spokesperson told me.

I asked the spokesperson if Europol had studied the documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, which show that the US has been handing over "raw intelligence" to Israel, without taking steps to protect personal data. The spokesperson said that Europol would only be able to cooperate with Israel once a formal agreement between the two sides comes into effect.

Europol was "not in a position to comment" on whether these revelations would have "any potential impact on a currently not existing agreement."


Responding to a query from a member of the European Parliament in July, the EU's home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that "information obtained in obvious violation of human rights shall not be processed" once the policing agreement with Israel enters into force.

My curious little mind is wondering why she used the word "obvious." The Israeli "security" forces are known to regularly torture Palestinian prisoners. Yet because such abuse takes place away from scrutiny it may not be "obvious" to Malmström that it has occurred.

It should be pointed out, too, that Europol hasn't balked at cooperating with other "partners" with a less than pristine record on human rights. In 2010, Europol signed a formal accord with Colombia. Rob Wainwright, Europol's director, said at the time it would allow information to be exchanged on "known and suspected criminals."

The Bogota authorities have a broad interpretation of the phrase "suspected criminals." The 2010 agreement was signed not long after Alvaro Uribe stepped down as Colombia's president. He had branded human rights workers as "rent-a-mobs at terrorism's service."

Human rights abuses have continued since Uribe's departure. Protests by Colombian workers against ruinous free trade agreements with the EU and the US over have been violently attacked by the state forces recently, often resulting in the loss of life.

Has Europol severed its ties with Colombian police as a result? Not, as far as I can see. Rather, Colombian officers have -- like their Israeli counterparts -- been helping Europol's work on drugs.

Colombia and Israel are, of course, both regarded as important commercial partners for the EU. So it's hardly surprising that human rights abuses -- "obvious" or otherwise -- don't stand in the way of business. Or, it would seem, police cooperation.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 22 October 2013.

Friday, October 18, 2013

EU-Canada trade deal: bad news for democracy

Extremists have notched up a significant victory today.

The new trade deal between the European Union and Canada appears to go further than any previous commercial agreement that the EU has clinched.

Its most worrying provision is what the European Commission calls "a modern and effective investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism". This will allow major corporations to formally challenge any social or environmental law that hurts their bottom line.

Monsanto and others who play dangerous games with nature will be undoubtedly delighted with the deal. Canada is one of the top 10 countries in the world for planting genetically modified (GM) crops. The biotechnology industry, on the other hand, has long been frustrated by the difficulties it encounters in placing Frankenstein foods on the European market.

Invited to sue

If the new agreement comes into effect, then Monsanto will be invited to sue the European Union over the "barriers" that have been erected to force-feeding us with things we don't anywhere near our - or our children's - mouths.

We cannot even be certain that items containing GM ingredients will come with clear information. An explanatory note published by the Commission indicates that both the EU and Canada wish to reduce the cost of complying with each other's labelling requirements.

It is telling that the agreement was announced by two right-wing politicians: the Canadian premier Stephen Harper and the European Commission's unelected chief José Manuel Barroso. The dodgy duo have both registered their contempt for democracy.

Some key elements of the new deal amount to a repackaging of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) - a hideous proposal by a number of Western governments that was defeated thanks to relentless campaigning by ordinary people in the 1990s.

While the full text of the EU-Canada deal hasn't yet been made available - and, of course, it was negotiated in secret - there are reasons to fear that its clauses on intellectual property bear strong similarities to those in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

ACTA was also defeated by a mass mobilisation of conscientious individuals. But the elite has a habit of resurrecting things that engender public opposition. Wasn't the EU's own constitution rejected by Dutch and French voters in 2005, only to be repackaged and renamed the Lisbon treaty?

We should not forget, either, that the EU and the US are eyeing a similar trade and investment agreement. The deal with Canada is likely to give a boost to those negotiations.

Fortunately, the battle is not over.

The new agreement will have to get the nod from the European Parliament before it can enter into effect. Should there be a left-leaning majority in this assembly following next year's elections, then it's conceivable that deals of this nature will become gridlocked. That's why it is vital for voters to grill candidates on their views about international trade.

Nobody should delude themselves, however, into thinking that the 2014 elections will be the end of the matter. The super-rich will keep on looking for ways to crush dissent. That's why they must be fought all day and every day.

•First published by EUobserver, 18 October 2013.

EU bank finances Israeli power plant as nearby Bedouins face demolitions

European Union officials approved a loan for an Israeli energy project exactly one week after Palestinian Bedouins living nearby were served with demolition orders.

A little-noticed decision made by the European Investment Bank on 17 September to rubber-stamp a €150 million ($205 million) loan for the Megalim power plant amounts to a gesture of support for Israel's ethnic cleansing in the Negev (Naqab) desert.

The plant is being built in Ashalim, an Israeli community, located beside the Bedouin village of Bir Hadaj. On 10 September, a number of orders to destroy property were distributed in Bir Hadaj by the Israeli authorities. Yet the Luxembourg-based bank -- an EU institution -- appeared to pay no attention to that brazen attempt to uproot the indigenous people of the Naqab.

As Megalim will generate solar and thermal energy, it is being promoted as an "environmentally friendly" initiative by the firms behind it. They include Alstom, a French corporation which has also invested in the controversial tramway linking up Israel's settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.

Tear gas attack

Unlike many other Bedouin villages in the Naqab, Bir Hadaj has been officially recognized by the State of Israel. That status hasn't stopped the authorities from destroying -- and threatening to destroy -- Bedouin property.
Four houses were demolished in Bir Hadaj at Israel's behest last year, according to the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, which monitors violations of the Bedouins' human rights.

Israeli police also entered Bir Hadaj en masse in November 2012, firing tear gas at schoolchildren. That was one of several occasions in the last few months of 2012, when the police stormed the village as demolition and eviction papers were circulated.

The EIB lends at low interest rates. And the energy project it is financing cannot be viewed in isolation from Israel's ongoing efforts to uproot Palestinians in the Negev.

Ashalim is located close to the Golda Meir Park, which was set up by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) on the remains of Bir Asluj, a Bedouin village seized by Zionist forces in 1948. The JNF has been tasked by Israel with expropriating Palestinian land and has been intimately involved in the destruction of Bedouin property.

Significantly, the EIB's decision follows the recent publication of EU guidelines on ending financial support for Israeli firms and institutions based in East Jerusalem and the wider West Bank.

While the plant is being built within present-day Israel, some bodies that are actively involved in the colonization of the West Bank are taking part in it. An "impact assessment" of the plant states that its owners will cooperate with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in order to conserve archeological sites in the surrounding area. As the IAA has its headquarters in East Jerusalem, such cooperation runs counter to the spirit, if not the letter, of the EU's new guidelines.

Despite repeated requests by email and telephone today, the EIB failed to provide me with an explanation for why it endorsed the loan for the energy project.


The EIB has a track record of helping Israeli firms that participate directly in the dispossession of the Palestinians. In 2011, for example, it lent €120 million ($164) to Mekorot, an Israeli state-owned company which has been stealing water from Palestinian wells and springs so that it can be used in Jewish-only settlements.

In theory, the EIB should reduce its loans to Israel once the EU's new guidelines -- which have sparked a furore among the Israeli establishment -- are implemented at the beginning of 2014. Yet it appears that there will be massive scope for flexibility.

Among the beneficiaries of the EIB's loans are Hapoalim, an Israeli bank with branches in the occupied West Bank. A "frequently asked questions" paper prepared by the EU's embassy in Tel Aviv says that notwithstanding the new guidelines, banks active in Israeli settlements may continue to apply for EU loans provided the end recipients of those loans are based inside Israel.

With all that eagerness to please Israel, it's hard to see why some Israeli politicians portray the EU as their enemy.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 17 October 2013.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Big Tobacco gets sneaky

This week last year the machinations of Big Tobacco sparked a scandal in Brussels. John Dalli was removed from his post as the European Commission's health chief over allegations - which he denies - that he solicited bribes from a Swedish manufacturer of chewable tobacco. With reports of espionage and burglary, the whole affair spiced up the often turgid world of EU politics for a while.

According to spin-doctors, Dalli was sacked because the Commission wanted to show the peddlers of addiction that they couldn't write the law. Yet the EU's governments and institutions proved just how malleable they were later in 2012, when they binned a proposal to ban outright the branding of cigarettes and require that they all be sold in plain packets.

By a combination of bullying its adversaries and schmoozing its allies, the industry has been able to weaken the plan considerably. When the dossier - known as the "tobacco products directive" - was put before the European Parliament recently, many of our elected representatives displayed greater concern about the profits of the private sector than the health of their constituents.

As well as hiring a battalion of in-house lobbyists, the tobacco industry is using a network of front groups to attain its goals. Typically, these groups have inoffensive names, leading the uninitiated to surmise that they are full of cerebral types, more interested in how things work in theory than in practice.

The late Stanley Crossick, for example, is regarded as an intellectual giant among the suits who flock to events held by his outfit, the European Policy Centre. It is uncouth to mention that the exalted "think tank" was set up with the help of British American Tobacco, which remains one if its funders to this day.


The European Justice Forum (EJF) has a particularly misleading name. Whereas it could easily be mistaken as a human rights organisation, the membership list of this select group includes cigarette-makers Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco. David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers, are represented, too, indicating that they are intent on destroying environmental and social regulations on both sides of the Atlantic.

The EJF claims that it is focused on "collective redress", the principle whereby a number of people can take legal action against a company accused of damaging their health. Tobacco firms have faced civil action lawsuits in the US; the forum is concerned that similar challenges could be mounted in other parts of the world.

The forum has been engaged in stealth lobbying against the tobacco products directive. A policy paper that it drew up earlier this month protested against a move by some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to introduce the concept of "producer responsibility" into the tobacco products directive.

Under that tenet, the tobacco industry could be sued by those suffering from cancer or heart disease. According to the forum, this would "set a dangerous precedent that could lead to efforts to target other industries."

I contacted Arundel McDougall, the EJF's director, asking him why the paper did not spell out the forum's links to tobacco. He replied by saying that the EJF's members are listed on its website. McDougall also claimed that the paper wasn't circulated among MEPs but was simply prepared to "address a generic matter of concern to all our members".

I'm not convinced by his reply. Britain's Conservative MEPs publish periodical, albeit skimpy, records of their meetings with lobbyists . These show that the EJF has sought appointments in the Parliament on a number of issues this year. It's hard to believe that tobacco wasn't discussed at any of these encounters.

The EJF has a close relationship to Edelman, which describes itself as the world's largest public relations firm. Both have offices in the same building in Brussels.

Martin Porter, head of Edelman in this city, told me that while the EJF is among his firm's clients, Edelman did not provide any assistance "in preparing or disseminating" the forum's paper on tobacco. "Doing so on this issue is excluded from our scope of work for the European Justice Forum," Porter added.


The EJF's activities fit into a pattern described in a 2008 report by the World Health Organisation. "Recognising that the public and politicians are increasingly unsympathetic to the demands of the tobacco industry, it has sought to align itself with more socially acceptable entities," the report stated. "Such groups often appear in the news media and at legislative hearings, where they seek to reframe tobacco control policies as economic issues rather than public health initiatives."

BusinessEurope, an alliance of corporations, has been resorting to the same trickery. In a May hearing at the European Parliament, Carsten Danöhl, a senior adviser to BusinessEurope, argued that the tobacco products law would have repercussions for world trade.

Danöhl portrayed himself as a champion of industry generally, yet his script didn't specify that his organisation includes cigarette-makers and that they have been making an identical case - almost verbatim - to his.

Policy-makers have a legal obligation - enshrined in a convention of the World Health Organisation - to get tough with Big Tobacco. The equally bellicose and sneaky tactics of the industry are designed to destroy that convention.

Big Tobacco is so hostile to regulation it would probably sell hand grenades to three-year-olds if it could. Because this horrid industry isn't short of friends among the super-rich, it seems vital to me that the left singles out tobacco for special opprobrium.

We should call out every outfit that receives funding from cigarette-makers as front groups for Big Tobacco. For that is exactly what they are.

•First published by EUobserver, 15 October 2013.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Greeting asylum-seekers with drones

Five years ago I had the dubious honour of interviewing a representative from the Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang.

After listening to this woman spout some paranoid nonsense about the police being "afraid" to enter parts of Brussels "where Muslims rule", I asked if she had anything against me. As an Irish national, I am a foreigner in Belgium, I explained. That wasn't a problem, she replied, because "you are probably the same religion as us".

The disaster off the coast of Lampedusa reminded me of that bizarre and unsettling conversation.

In the mid-nineteenth century, my ancestors fled hunger and destitution in "coffin ships", frequently dying onboard. Mass emigration is haunting Ireland once again today. Yet unlike the Africans who perished before they could reach the Italian shore, we can usually travel in safety.

Adjusting to a new life abroad is never easy. But, at least, demagogues will take kindly to us because we share the same race - or, as they prefer to call it, religion.

Sometimes, though, I am not sure if the gap between extremist parties like Vlaams Belang or Golden Dawn and more "mainstream" politicians is all that great.

Nick Griffin, a British National Party thug now sitting in the European Parliament, once provoked a furore by arguing that boats carrying migrants should be fired upon. If Griffin had been a little more nuanced, then his proposal would have differed little to official EU policy.

The immediate response of Cecilia Malmström, the EU's home affairs commissioner, to the Lampedusa disaster was to tout a new border surveillance system called Eurosur. According to Malmström, the system will help the authorities rescue boats that get into difficulty after it becomes operational in December.


Contrary to what Malmström has indicated, Eurosur is not a humanitarian initiative. Rather, its primary focus is addressing what the European Commission calls "illegal immigration" - a repulsive term as travelling from one country to another in search of a better life is not a crime.

Eurosur is partly the fruit of a €15 million scientific research project launched in 2010. Though mainly funded by the EU, the project had a heavy participation from top weapons-makers like Britain's BAE, the Franco-German firm EADS and Spain's Indra.

This is one of several EU-financed schemes relating to maritime surveillance. Another one, OPARUS, examined how drones can help to detect Africans or Asians trying to enter Europe. BAE, EADS and the French companies Thales and Dassault are all taking part in it. So, too, is Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a maker of drones used to bomb civilians in Gaza.


I've challenged Malmström a couple of times about why she wants to train warplanes on some of the world's poorest people. She has tried to fob me off by claiming the fact that drones can have violent applications is a mere coincidence.

There can be little doubt that the EU is taking an increasingly militarised approach to questions of migration and asylum.

Frontex, the EU's border management agency, will have a significant role in overseeing Eurosur. The agency is headed by Ilkka Laitenen, a Finnish brigadier-general.

Laitenen sits on the advisory board of Security and Defence Agenda, a "think tank" reliant on funding from the arms industry. He and his staff are also in regular contact with the European Defence Agency, a body established to drum up business for this continent's weapons-makers.

Frontex, too, has been shopping around for drones deemed suitable for tracking migrants. It is known to have invited Israeli and American drone manufacturers to display their deadly wares to its staff. The US Department of Commerce has advised the country's arms producers to keep a close eye on Frontex as it may provide "export opportunities".

Cecilia Malmström has rightly been critical of the Greek authorities for approving a tiny number of asylum applications and systematically refusing asylum to refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.

It shouldn't be forgotten that Malmström supervises the work of Frontex, an agency that has helped Greece to abuse the right to asylum. In January 2011, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that Greece's detention centres for asylum-seekers were in such a dilapidated state that keeping people in them was tantamount to torture. Frontex has provided buses for transporting asylum-seekers to those centres.

It stands accused, therefore, of being a subcontractor for torture.

I couldn't fail to notice that one of the main boasts of Britain's Conservative Party at its latest annual conference was that it had brought immigration down. The boast should be seen against the backdrop of the wider ideological war being waged against the poor - both in Europe and further afield. Like any war, its main beneficiaries are those making the tools with which it is fought.

•First published by EUobserver, 8 October 2013.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The EU's obscene haste to placate Israel

Is the European Union finally getting tough with Israel?

New guidelines stating that companies or institutions active in illegal Jewish-only settlements are ineligible for EU grants and loans indicate that it may be.

The guidelines have drawn a furious response from Israeli politicians. Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, predicted they could lead his compatriots to "lose confidence in the impartiality of Europe". Israel has reportedly decided to place restrictions on EU aid projects for Palestinians in retaliation.

Reacting to that fury, the Union's representatives swiftly tried to downplay the guidelines' significance. The EU's embassy in Tel Aviv noted that they essentially reconfirm the Union's view that the settlements violate international law. The embassy also published advice on how Israelis can continue receiving EU subsidies regardless of where they operate.

A "frequently asked questions" paper on the embassy's website says that firms headquartered within Israel's pre-1967 borders may apply for EU grants, even if they have offices in the occupied West Bank. The paper stresses that Israeli researchers living in the settlements can benefit from EU science funding, provided they work in a university within Israel itself. And it states that Israeli banks with branches in the settlements may apply for EU loans if the loans are destined for firms inside Israel.

Both the tone and content of this advice suggests that the Union is unlikely to depart radically from its existing practices.

Easy to circumvent?

Back in 2004, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network issued a report proving that some recipients of EU science grants were based in the West Bank. Despite this evidence, the European Commission had no difficulty with involving the cosmetics-maker Ahava in its current programme for scientific research. Ahava's main factory is located in the West Bank settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.

While the EU may baulk at such overt support for the occupation in the future, the useful pointers it is giving to Israeli firms suggest that the guidelines will not be difficult to circumvent.

Furthermore, the guidelines fail to tackle the discrimination faced by Palestinians inside present-day Israel.

Haifa University is now taking part in over 25 EU science projects. The EU took no action against this university when it banned Palestinian students from protesting against Israel's attacks on Gaza in November last year.

Worse again, the guidelines do not preclude Israeli arms companies from soaking up EU grants. Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries - manufacturers of drones used to kill and main civilians in Gaza - participate in many EU-financed schemes. Their ability to do so fits into the wider militarisation of the EU's research activities. This trend is likely to continue under the Union's next research programme, which has been allocated around 70 billion euros between 2014 and 2020.

None of this is to argue that the new guidelines are worthless. The very fact that they have been drafted is a sign that the EU is feeling the heat from the Palestine solidarity movement. Campaigners can now cite these guidelines whenever they come across cases of projects linked to Israeli settlements availing of the EU's largesse.

But the haste with which the EU has tried to placate Israel shows that this isn't the end of the story. The challenge for all of us is to ensure that the guidelines lead to something concrete. So far the EU's representatives have been allergic to the idea of boycotts and sanctions against Israel. Their allergy will only be overcome if people of conscience put them under enough pressure.

•First published by Palestine News, Summer 2013.

Sugar-coating austerity

I had a vicious teacher in primary school. This flame-headed brute used to enjoy slapping his pupils with two dark brown canes that he had christened Katie and Maggie. When he wasn't inflicting pain on our tender palms, Mr C lectured us about why violence was wrong.

José Manuel Barroso reminds me of Mr C - even if the two men bear no physical resemblance to each other. The European Commission chief is overseeing a sadistic experiment that has punished millions who had no role in causing the financial crisis. And now he pretends to have found a social conscience.

Barroso and his colleagues are starting this month with a cynical exercise in sugar-coating austerity. A new policy paper from the Commission advocates that there should be more monitoring of employment policies within the euro-zone countries. This is being presented as a bold effort to give the single currency a "social dimension".

Under orders

Don't expect the sadism to be abandoned. All euro-zone governments are under orders to hand in their national budgets for scrutiny to Brussels by 15 October. The spending rules that are leading to the evisceration of many welfare states are still being enforced with rigour.

Giving a "social dimension" to the euro ignores how it is a fundamentally antisocial project. I offer no apologies for seeking to repeatedly draw attention to how the 1988 blueprint for the currency was drawn up by a cabal of corporate high-flyers with zero democratic mandate. The Association for the Monetary Union of Europe, as that cabal was known, included representatives of Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Total and British American Tobacco. Its agenda was to realise the fantasies of fat-cats, not, as the spin-doctors told us, bring the peoples of Europe more closely together.

A quarter century later, a similar cabal is dictating the EU's economic policies. In June, the Union's governments committed themselves to providing every young person with a job or apprenticeship within four months of leaving college or becoming unemployed. Key elements of this "youth guarantee" proposal were copied and pasted from recommendations made by the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT), which bands together chairmen and chief executives of Shell, BP, Volvo, Nestlé and Heineken.

Yellow-pack jobs

Far from being altruistic to our young, the ERT wants to provide them with a future of stress, uncertainty and yellow-pack jobs. A litany of demands from the group states that "employment protection measures must be re-designed and modernised" in most EU countries.

Its idea of "modernisation" involves retreating to an era before organised labour had won significant advances. If the ERT gets its way, big companies will have to give much shorter notice before making workers redundant and severance payments for those losing their jobs will be drastically cut. Payments for overtime and unused holidays may be abolished in the name of "flexibility".

Jacques Delors is often hailed as a kind of visionary here in Brussels. If his objective was to widen inequality and immiserate millions, then I guess he was a visionary. For that is exactly what the Frenchman has achieved by backing the single currency project so effusively when he was the European Commission's president.

Today, Delors runs a "think tank" called Notre Europe that is partly-funded by the energy giant GDF Suez. His devotees continue to give the impression that the euro is worth saving, once its facade is scrubbed a little.

A new Notre Europe paper argues that the spending rule underpinning the euro should remain based on the principle that those disobeying them are punished. Any "social dimension" that is introduced, on the other hand, should rely on incentives, rather than sanctions.

Snuggling up

That sums it up, really. Governments can still be bullied and coerced into slashing expenditure on health and education. But any measures to cushion the blow will be considered optional.

It would be heartening if trade unions were fighting this antisocial agenda. While numerous union activists are on the frontlines of resistance, some big players in the labour movement are too busy snuggling up to the bosses.

The European Trade Union Confederation has recently teamed up with the corporate coalition BusinessEurope to issue a joint proposal on tackling youth unemployment. With its emphasis on "reforms" and "competitiveness" - both of which are synonyms for weakening labour rights - it reads like a diluted version of the ERT's aforementioned litany.

The euro has been a curse for ordinary people. Burying it is necessary if we are to envisage a fairer Europe.

•First published by EUobserver, 1 October 2013.