Western European News Digest
Strikes, Protests Across Europe
Oct. 2 (EIRNS)Six of the eight major unions of France's railroad workers (CGT, CFDT, Sud, FO, CFTC, and CGC Railroad) confirmed today that they will strike on Oct. 18 against the government's pension "reforms." The strike also opposes the planned "restructuring" of rail freight, implying the shutdown of some 400 allegedly "unprofitable" stations.
In the energy sector, the CGT, the dominant union at the EDF utility (electricity) and GDF (natural gas), has already decided to support the strike. The unions of the Paris metro will shortly decide whether they will do the same. A union official said that if things did not change, "the response will be proportional to the brutality of the announced measures. In terms of strike, this will not be a simple one-day strike, but a long and tough one."
In Germany, the GDL, union of the railway engineers (locomotive conductors), confirmed its commitment to begin walkouts in passenger as well as freight transport, on Oct. 5. GDL chairman Manfred Schnell, in Berlin yesterday, detailed the unacceptable situation in the railway sector: drastic downsizing of the workforce, resulting in severe overtime work by remaining personnel, along with disinvestment and other problems. He blamed it on the fact that "there is not a single member of the railway executive board with a railway background; they believe driving a locomotive is just like pushing a small cart."
In both countries, the government has responded with a hard-line posture on "reforms." French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reiterated his intent to go ahead with his "streamlining" of public sector "special regime" pensions. German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee and Deutsche Bahn CEO Hartmut Mehdorn have denounced the railway strike, both reiterating their intent to move ahead with the privatization of Deutsche Bahn, Germany's railway system.
Italian Parliament To Discuss Nuclear Energy Bill
Oct. 2 (EIRNS)The conservative party Alleanza Nazionale (AN) has introduced draft legislation to build nuclear energy plants in Italy, which will be discussed in the Parliament starting next week. The bill was signed by the party chairman, former Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, and by 40 AN members of Parliament. Italy has no nuclear power stations, as a result of decisions to close them down after a 1986 referendum.
The bill calls for incentives to local communities that accept a nuclear power station in their "backyard," in the form of permanent tax relief on real estate and waste disposal, two major taxes that citizens currently pay to their municipalities. The bill also calls for equal treatment of all Italian provinces: Each one of them must accommodate an "inconvenient" plant, be it a nuclear plant, a waste disposal plant, or a regassification plant.
Although AN is the first party to make such a move, there is a support for nuclear energy in most Italian parties, reflecting a shift in the popular sentiment. Two years ago, an opinion poll showed 54% of Italians supporting nuclear energy, and recently another poll published by the monthly Espansione, confirmed it. Italian industrial firms pay 12.1 euros per 100 kwh, while their competitors in nuclear-driven France pay 5.8 euros. Italian families pay 15.48 euros (about $20), the highest in Europe. French families pay 10.8 euros.
Soros To Father European Council on Foreign Relations
Oct. 4 (EIRNS)The French publication Reseau Voltaire reported today that megabucks-meddler George Soros held preparatory meetings in New York recently, for the launching of a European version of the American Council on Foreign Relations. The official start-up is scheduled for Nov. 9, the 18th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, with bureaus in seven major European capitals: London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Rome, Sofia, and Warsaw.
The new CFR is primarily financed by the George Soros Foundation, by the Foundation of International Relations and Foreign Dialogue, and by the Communitas Foundation (i.e., the Bulgarian bank BRIB). On the front burner in the form of "workshops" are the independence of Kosovo and the integration of the Balkans, and the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union. The new institution will favor the total integration of foreign policies of member states so that the EU "speaks finally with only one voice."
Social Democrats Acknowledge Hartz IV Policy Disaster
Oct. 2 (EIRNS)In a major change for Germany, prominent Social Democrats, including SPD national chairman Kurt Beck, have demanded in recent days that the Hartz IV legislation of 2004 be changed. This package, named after its author, Peter Hartz, has led to the impoverishment of several million Germans, through its drastic cuts in state support for the longer-term unemployed. As a first step, the group wants to restore regular unemployment pay for citizens without a job for more than 12 monthsi.e., 67% of the worker's last pay level, before Hartz IV cut it to a shameful 345 euros (about $480) per month, which is roughly the welfare level. Only citizens unemployed less than one year still receive the 67% today.
Beck has said that the party bears a special responsibility for the working people and low-income families, and that Hartz IV cannot remain as it is. This momentum among the two leading political parties of Germany, which also form the governing Grand Coalition, reflects a broad sentiment among the German population against the Hartz IV legislation. In the case of the SPD, it also acknowledges the fact that the legislation has been a political disaster for the Social Democrats. The SPD's voter base has been drastically eroded to the benefit of the Linkspartei ("Left Party"), a party only created at the beginning of 2005, which is already above 10% support.
Belgium Close To Forming a New Government
PARIS Oct. 1 (EIRNS)In a surprise move Sept. 29, the King of Belgium assigned Christian Democrat Yves Leterme for a second time to form a new government, following the June 10 federal elections. Negotiations so far were sabotaged by Flemish neo-conservatives, who were determined to break up the country into a collection of new "entities." The problem now becomes economic. While the whole executive continues to operate with the old team, any budget reform for 2008 is frozen, including financing for the five major cities. While there is a mechanism to allow the government to continue operating on the same budget as the preceding year, the companies that the government contracts with, have not been paid for four months. Tensions will explode soon when the new parliament goes into session on Oct. 9, since the elected parliament is radically opposed to the old executive still in place. Since an agreement has finally been reached on "state reform," a new executive might be formed in the coming days while tensions remain high.
U.S. Diplomats Oppose Armenian Genocide Resolution
Sept. 29 (EIRNS)Eight former U.S. Secretaries of State and three former Defense Secretaries have appealed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to not let a resolution recognizing Armenian genocide reach the House floor. Those signing the Sept. 25 letter are former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker III, Warren Christopher, Lawrence Eagleberger, Alexander Haig, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, and George Shultz. It was supported by former Defense Secretaries Frank Carlucci, William S. Cohen, and William Perry.
The Armenian genocide resolution is becoming a big issue among the Armenian lobby in the U.S., which supports it, and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith section of the Jewish lobby, along with Turkey's lobbyists, which have opposed it. A mobilization against the Turkish government on the same issue is being mounted by the European Parliament, which is to host the second Convention of European Armenians in Brussels on Oct. 15-16, on the 20th anniversary of the parliament's first resolution recognizing the genocide.
By contrast, a more rational approach to reducing Armenian-Turkish tensions was taken by religious leaders of Armenian Christians and Turkish Muslims, who celebrated the Muslim daily Ramadam fast-breaking (iftar) together earlier this week.