Europe in Focus: the Anthony Coughlan column (November/06)

The Irish Democrat's Dublin correspondent, Anthony Coughlan, highlights a number of key EU developments with serious implications for democracy, workers' rights and peace

IRELAND IS to join in EU "battle groups" but Irish neutrality will not be affected, said defence minister Willie O'Dea

"Peace groups" would be a better name than "battle groups", according to minister O'Dea, a Limerick solicitor who famously had his photo taken squinting down a gun barrel on the front page of Ireland's Sunday Independent. He clearly prefers being boss of the Irish army to shuffling legal affidavits.

"Peace-keeping" is one thing, for it implies there is already a peace to be kept. "Peace-making", on the other hand, really means war making, for it implies clobbering existing belligerents on the head to get them to stop fighting.

Proposed EU military missions will be mainly in Africa. The former African colonial powers who decide EU foreign policy whenever they can agree among themselves, regard Africa as their backyard, just as the USA regards Latin America as its own.

EU battle groups and the EU Rapid Reaction Force of 60,000 men which the Dublin government has also committed itself to joining, are central to the project of turning the EU into an imperial superpower, in which Ireland goes along with a collective neo-colonial foreign policy and its back-up military missions.

Top officers of the Irish army are delighted to fly off and take part in the EU Military Planning Staff in Brussels. There they are in with the big boys as they plan the military side of the EU empire-in-the making. Meanwhile Fianna Fail ministers assure everyone that "Irish neutrality" is unaffected and unchanged.

Irish troops to protect Franco-Belguim Interests in Congo

FORMER NATO secretary-general and aspiring EU foreign minister, Xavier Solana, has asked the Irish government to send troops to the Congo as part of a EU force to supervise elections there. Belgium - the Congo's former colonial ruler that raped the entire region during the reign of King Leopold II - is backing Solana's request, as is France.

Belgium and France were complicit in the massacre of 700,000 Tutsis in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994. French president Mitterand's son was chief arms salesman to the Hutu government of Rwanda that perpetrated this holocaust.

Franco-Belgian support for the Hutu forces, which then fled to the Congo, was crucial in destabilising the entire region. Local proxies for Belgium and France have since been fighting a civil war in the Congo.

Now it seems France and Belgium want Ireland and smaller EU countries like Sweden to act as their frontmen in the area, flying EU or UN flags, rather than the Belgian and French tricolours. The former central African colonial powers are willing to provide troops for this Congo mission, but are unwilling to be nominally in charge. They want some country like Ireland or Sweden to fulfill this role, thus acting as a fig-leaf to this latest proposed Congo adventure.

Irish troops will effectively be there to serve Franco-Belgian interests under an EU flag. When Irish troops were last in the Congo in 1961, the situation was different. There were few, if any, independent African countries able to contribute soldiers then, whereas there are many now.

Why should Irish troops go to the Congo, if African troops do not? What does South Africa, for example, think of this latest EU proposal?

Defence minister Willie O'Dea may well want to see himself being blooded as an international warrior on a new Congo mission. If Irish soldiers are killed in this latest proposed Congo lunacy, their blood will be on the heads of minister O'Dea, foreign minister Dermot Ahern and taoiseach Bertie Ahern for failing to tell Xavier Solana to get lost.

Biggest 'snoop' in history planned

AN EU directive requiring telecoms firms in Ireland, Britain and across the EU to keep records of all phone, e-mail and internet records of their customers for between six months and two years was adopted in February by the Council of EU justice minsters, according to the Irish Times (22 February).

EU member states have 18 months to implement the directive. Each telecoms firm must keep a record of who contacts whom, and the time and location of calls for the required time.

The supposed purpose of this biggest snooping exercise in history is ostensibly to combat crime and terrorism. This drastic new EU law has not been discussed in the Dail, House of Commons or any other national parliament. Yet another example of EU-style democracy at work, the directive is based on Article 95 of the European Community Treaty, which relates to the approximation of laws affecting "the establishment and functioning of the internal market."

This Article makes no reference whatever to crime, justice or 'terrorism'. The new law is a clear example of "creative interpretation" by EU ministers of justice, who continue to legislate behind closed doors to increase EU powers.

'Open Skies' treaty to increase global warming

IRELAND COULD lose its ability to impose environmental taxes, pollution restrictions and safety safeguards on airlines under a draft treaty between the EU and the US.

The draft treaty to 'liberalise aviation' includes a requirement that EU states reach agreement with each other and with the USA before taking measures to tackle noise or pollution from airplanes.

The Guardian (20 February) leaked the text of the "open skies" draft treaty. It will alarm environmental activists as growth in air travel is among the main causes of global warming. Aviation emissions are now the fastest growing sector of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Article 14 of the draft treaty forbids any environmental measures that could have "possible adverse effects" on the free traffic of aircraft. US negotiators insisted on the clause's inclusion when negotiating the draft treaty with the EU Commission. The Americans feel that controls on aircraft emissions will increase costs and push several of its airlines, already under bankruptcy protection, out of business.

The new Treaty will be adopted by the EU Council of Ministers by qualified majority vote, which means Ireland will not have a veto and must comply with its terms.

Services Directive still a threat

A COMPROMISE EU services directive proposal backed by the European parliament in February remains a threat to workers' wages and conditions and heralds an increasingly anti-social Europe. Conditions still exist to exploit cheap foreign labour while battering down hardwon national standards. The directive is a smokescreen for privatising Europe. It does this by seeking to open up private and public sector service provision to the free market and corporate carpetbaggers whose only interest is profit piled on profit.

Among the service directive's chief pushers are the European Roundtable of Industrialists and UNICE - the EU employers' confederation.

To calm trade union opinion the services directive's "country of origin" principle, whereby foreign workers could work in Ireland at the much lower standards of the poorer EU countries, has been formally removed for the time being, but it is not replaced by a "country of destination" principle. The amended text is silent on that.

The separate Foreign Posting Directive continues to give east European, low-wage countries the right to undermine Irish wages and its collective bargaining model. Some sensitive issues have been removed from the services directive, which means that the judges of the EU Court will be able to decide them instead by means of their case-law in years to come. The court is notorious for interpreting EU directives in such a way as to extend EU powers - and its own - to the maximum possible extent. EU Court judgements will now be used to push to privatise health and education services.

An amendment to the services directive invites the Court of Justice to legislate directly "in accordance with the principles of non-discrimination, necessity and proportionality". These terms are EU jargon for the Court of Justice in Luxembourg being able to decide that a national law must be treated as illegal if foreign companies do not have actual access to national markets to bid for service projects and to deliver their own services within them.

If this services directive comes into force, the Irish employment standard and hard-fought labour laws will become illegal trade barriers in the eyes of the EU Court.

Dictators issue 'directives'. Democracies elect people to make laws.

Interference in Serbia-Montenegro

THE EU has welcomed the election of a new pro-independence leader in Kosovo, while urging Montenegran and Serb politicians to agree on an upcoming referendum that could break up the Serbia- Montenegro alliance.

What business is it of the EU to be backing independence for the former Serbian territory of Kosovo or to be trying to break apart what in international law is still the sovereign state of Serbia-Montenegro, the last remnant of former Yugoslavia?

The real reason they are doing this is to make it easier for German, French and Italian investors to buy assets in these countries, and above all to buy land in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe.

What business is it of Irish foreign minister Brian Cowen to be backing such schemes and identifying us all with them? It is a further example of Ireland getting ever more sucked into EU neo-imperialism.

New policing powers sought

As part of the EU's drive for a pan-EU police force the European Council is debating proposals to allow police forces to conduct surveillance and pursue citizens across national borders.

The Austrian EU presidency has put forward new amendments to an existing proposal that would allow foreign police forces to continue surveillance on Irish residents suspected of committing a crime in another EU member state, even if the offence is not a crime in Ireland or Britain.

This means that foreign authorities could conduct surveillance operations or pursue Irish citizens for offences such as "racism" and "xenophobia", or more imprecise offences such as "swindling", which are not recognised as offences by Irish or British courts, but which are regarded as offences under the EU treaties.

Decisions cloaked in secrecy

TRUMPETS BLEW in Brussels in December last year when it was announced that the Council of Ministers would allow TV cameras in to see them making EU laws. Now it turns out that the cameras can come in only for the Council's initial deliberations after the EU Commission, which has the monopoly of proposing EU laws, has presented its proposal.

"The debates in between will still be closed to the public," said the EU Ombudsman in an interview with EU Observer.

"The intermediate debates are the more delicate ones, where decisions are hammered out and negotiations take place."

The December decision only covers certain EU policies, but not all. So the main EU legislature will in practice remain as closed and secret as North Korea's. It will remain literally an oligarchy, a committee of 25 ministers making laws in secret for 450 million people.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2007-01-30 13:24:02.
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