Western European News Digest
British Defense Secretary Attacks Geneva Accords
Speaking before the Royal United Services Institute, British Defense Secretary John Reid called for a revision of the Geneva Conventions, specifically the convention against preemptive strikes, the London Guardian reported April 4. He also called for revision of the laws against torture of prisoners, the most basic of human rights, whether the person being tortured is innocent or guilty.
Reid went so far as to declare, "The laws of the 20th Century placed constraints on us all which enhanced peace and protected liberty. We must ask ourselves whether, as the new century begins, they will do the same." Answering his own question, he added, "The legal constraints upon us have to be set aside against an enemy that adheres to no constraints whatsoever...."
Reid was denounced by Nick Harvey, defense spokesman for the Liberal Democratic Party, who said, "After the disaster of Iraq, the idea that the doctrine of preemptive strike should be expanded will be met with incredulity in the West and alarm in the ministries of Tehran."
Millions Again Take to the Streets in France
Close to 3 million people were once again out in the streets in cities across France April 4, demanding the withdrawal of the First Job Contract (CPE) labor "reform" law. The demonstrations and day of action launched by the high school and university students and labor unions against the CPE were a resounding success, even though the strikes mobilized somewhat fewer than the previous day of action.
From the government, President Jacques Chirac has been indicating more and more clearly that his intervention on March 31 was a disavowal of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's stubborn refusal to negotiate a compromise on this contract, which would permit employers to fire young workers within their first year of work, without cause. Chirac named the heads of the UMP party caucuses in the National Assembly and the Senate, and the two Ministers of Social Affairs, to negotiate a compromise with the students and labor unions, thereby clearly withdrawing responsibility for this dossier from de Villepin. But by giving responsibility to the parliamentary party group heads, Chirac has brought Nicolas Sarkozy, UMP president, to the negotiation table. Sarkozy had been pleading for a compromise.
However, up to the April 4 day of action, Chirac has not indicated willingness to withdraw the contract, and is sticking to his compromise proposal: a reduction in the trial period from two years to one, and obliging companies to justify firing any employeebut no withdrawal of the contract. The group designated to start the negotiations, invited the unions to meet on April 5. The unions accepted, on condition that there be no preconditions, and have announced they would plead for the withdrawal of the contract.
Italian Candidates Promise To Increase the Deficit
Figures published April 5 show that the Italian budget deficit in 2005 is at 4.1%-4.2% of GDP. This, in itself, is in line with the two-year plan agreed upon between Rome and the EU Commission, in order to bring the deficit down below 3%. However, if the two opposing coalitions want to implement their electoral promises, the balancing plan must be modified.
Former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who is challenging Premier Silvio Berlusconi in parliamentary elections April 9-10, has promised to immediately cut by 5% taxes paid by corporations for employee benefits, which will cost at least 10 billion euro. Berlusconi has promised a mix of the same measures, plus pension increases, plus repealing home property taxes, for a total of at least 12-14 billion euro. If either of the two keep their promises, the deficit will grow instead of decreasing as agreed upon with the EU Commission.
"The European Commission can, realistically, only take notice of that," said the business daily, Il Sole 24 Ore.
Paris Event: 'Heading Towards the End for the Euro?'
This was the provocative theme of a public meeting organized in Paris April 3 by two magazines critical of globalization: Alternatives Economiques and Esprit. Guest speakers were economist Christian de Boissieu, president of the Economic Analysis Council of the Prime Minister, and Claire Vezant, Director General at the Treasury Department of the Economics and Finance Ministry, Undersecretary of European Economic Affairs. This is the first time that institutional economists such as de Boissieu and high-level civil servants such as Claire Vezans, have publicly expressed disappointment and criticism of the euro. Unfortunately, neither is proposing an end to the euro, but, rather, reforms.
In a short introduction, Christian Chavagneux from Alternatives Economiques noted that some time ago such a subject would have been impossible to discuss, and that while there is still adherence by the citizens in France to the euro, the problems are becoming deeper and deeper.
In his presentation, Christian de Boissieu, who said he was speaking in his own name, stated that, in the beginning he was favorable to the euro, thinking it would allow Europe to relaunch growth and deal with mass unemployment. Nothing confirms this today, he stated, underlining that we have massive unemployment in Europe. De Boissieu, however, still favors a reformed euro, and criticized the European governments for not having implemented the decisions of the Lisbon European summit of 2000 calling for massive investments in research, innovation, and university training. De Boissieu proposed a more flexible interpretation of the treaties, and improved coordination by the nation-states of their budgetary policies and increased powers for the euro group, which has none at this point.
Local German Paper Runs 'Joke' About Trans-European Maglev
The April Fool's story run in the Wiesbadener Kurier April 1, alerts readers to a fictitious event at a site opposite to the central train station. The event is a public display of the project for a Wiesbaden-Moscow maglev line, attended by prominents such as Chancellor Angela Merkel, Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee, Vice President of the EU Commission Guenter Verheugen, Hesse Gov. Roland Koch, and Saxony Gov. Georg Milbradt, as well as numerous mayors and the like. And, "all Wiesbaden citizens are invited" to a free glass of champagne, served by the Wiesbaden-based firm Henkell & Soehnlein. The half-page article includes a map depicting a maglev rail line running from Luxembourg to Moscow and Kiev, via Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Dresden, and Wroclaw, with a branch from there to Minsk.
The story as such is not so fictitious as it seems: As a matter of fact, until three or four years ago, there still was a heated discussion in the institutions about a maglev in the Rhine-Main region. The mayors of Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Mainz, and Bingen made a joint appeal for a maglev from Frankfurt Airport to the airport at Hahn, running through their cities. The state governments of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate were for the 110-kilometer route; there was talk about an extension from Hahn to Trier and Luxembourg and Brussels, and an extension to Erfurt, Leipzig, Dresden, and on to Europe's East. The project would, as the Kurier story says, include 3,000 kilometers of track, investments of EU350 billion, and would reduce travel time from Paris to Moscow to seven hours.
Of course, Wiesbaden is the location of the offices of EIR in Europe, where Lyndon LaRouche's associates have campaigned for precisely such a "Eurasian Land-Bridge" for many years.
Memory of ENI Founder Enrico Mattei Smeared by Company
ENI, the Italian oil company, has been expelled from the oilfields in Venezuela in the context of changes in the oil policy implemented by Hugo Chavez's government. Chavez wants to renegotiate exploitation rights with foreign companies, and strangely enough, has found no hostility from Chevron, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell. Instead, ENI and the French Total company chose a hard line. ENI has threatened international legal action.
"The current ENI leadership has turned upside-down the old policy of its founder, Enrico Mattei," a former collaborator of Mattei's told EIR. Mattei offered an advantageous 30/70 royalties deal to producing countries, instead of the usual 50/50 imposed by the oil cartel. Additionally, ENI would finance all research, and only in cases where oil was found, would ask governments to share 50% of costs.
ENI, after privatization, is a public company with the state as a majority shareholder. It no longer follows long-term investment policies but is wedded to creating "shareholder value."