EU Services Directive a threat to public services


The future of public services across the EU has been thrown into doubt after MEPs in Strasbourg voted to adopt a controversial Services Directive today.

The directive paves the way for commercial service providers from flower-arrangers to funeral directors to trade across borders within the EU – just as the single market legislation already allows for goods. But the UK’s Green MEPs voted against the proposals, warning they provided inadequate protection for public services – and could hit consumers hard.

Speaking after the vote the Vice President of the Green Group in the European Parliament, Jean Lambert MEP for London, said that the directive poses more questions than it answers:

“This Directive, does improve a disastrous Commission proposal, but it still lacks clarity.

“The Greens had offered a radical amendment of the legislation to make sure it could work for small businesses but still offer real protection of public services, however Parliament has chose a different route.

“Far too many doors have been left ajar for further liberalisation of public services and there are no assurances that the deeply controversial Country of Origin Principle is gone. The end result is a deal which leaves everyone claiming a victory but with nobody sire of the impact.”

Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for South-East England, added: “Though the directive does explicitly exclude health services, it does allow for international trade in education and social services: these should not be treated like widgets and washing machines – and we now need a separate law to protect vulnerable users of these essential services from the ‘race to the bottom’ in service levels which invariably accompanies the opening up of new markets.”

but i like smokey pubs!

Well as you know yesterday the government voted for a blanket ban on smoking i n pubs and clubs. Before I go into my political position on this let me start by explaining my personal vantage point. I have nearly all my life been a non-smoker. Recently i decided i like the odd cigar when go out to pubs (a bit fucking poncy i know) but this has not really effected my position.

To be honest i think the government has gone overboard – and that the actual aim of the decision was to move towards a de facto ban on smoking (ie a society in which it is so uncomfortable and annoying to be a smoker that people stop). We all know that smoking is bad for your health. Yet it is – or at least can be – a pleasurably activity. We are constantly faced with decisions where we have to balance the need to protect our health against pleasure. Drinking as much as I did last night was probably not good for me healthwise but i made a decision that the enjoyment i got out of getting fucked outweighed – for me – the damage i may be doing to my liver. A similar argument applies to smoking. In fact i find the idea that each cigarette takes 20 seconds off your life quite appealing – it means if I smoke a whole pack i’ll probably shit myself one less time before i die. Of course smoking and drinking are not completely equivalent – most obviously second hand smoke can damage your health. What this means is not that we need a blanket ban of smoking of deference to non-smokers but instead that we need to provide opprotunites both for people who choose to smoke and those who do not to enjoy themselves. We could for example liscense a certain number of smoking pubs for each locality hwile keeping the others smoke free. This is similar to the way things worked on trains with smoking cars. To be honest I do not understand why we no longer have smoking cars. In fact I do understand – it’s because the neo puritans pushing all of these restrictions are hiding behind the passive smoking argument. The reality is that they cannot bear wto see people choosing to harm their health and regard it as their right to intervene.

A Message to Respect members from George Galloway MP

The first thing that I want to say is how grateful I am to all those members and supporters of Respect who defended me personally and the party as a whole in recent difficult weeks.

I regret not being able to prepare you for it but I hope that all Respect members will understand that I entered the Big Brother House with the best of intentions: to reach a wider audience with our message and to raise money for Interpal.

One of these aims has certainly been achieved, Palestinians and their children served by Interpal will eat or will be clothed because of it. The exact sum raised is not yet known but it is well into five figures.

The aim of getting the message across has been more difficult. Endemol, the producers of Celebrity Big Brother, gave me assurances that I would be able to do just that. I feel that they have acted in bad faith, especially in actually censoring me, although the press coverage since I came out has allowed me to make a variety of political points to a much wider audience with greater success.

The press onslaught was greater than any of us could have predicted but I am now back at work in Tower Hamlets and assisting Respect groups around the country prepare for the May elections.

As New Labour threatens Iran, faces a renewed crisis in Palestine and forces through its privatisation agenda we all have plenty of work to do. And then there is what brought most of us together, Iraq, with another melancholy milestone passed, the death of the 100th British soldier.

I know that everyone in Respect realises that these issues weigh far greater in the balance than the outcome of a celebrity TV show. So do I. And I look forward to campaigning alongside you in the coming year.

George Galloway MP

Interview with Nepalese Maoist leader

There is a fascinating full transcript of Nepali Maoist leader Prachanda’s interview with the BBC, that really is worth reading.

As over 13000 have died so far in the war, and due to the experience of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, I think some caution is understandable! However the Maoist rebels have recently built a working relationship with the constitutional opposition parties. And their determination not to disrupt the tourist industry suggests that they do not share the ideas of economic and cultural autarchy that led to disaster in Cambodia.

There was a good article in Socialist Worker last year from Dave Seddon, but things have moved on quite a bit since it was written:

Palestine conference

Testing this out for the first time I’m writing on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign conference on Saturday but using that as a vehicle to discuss the political situation as well. I know its a bit long for a blog but I ended up cutting back on my summary of the debates as you’ll realsie if you can make it to the end….

Leaving aside the ‘internalised’ organisational debates the conference featured three fascinating, and very articulate contributions by invited speakers who all recognised the need to reassess the politics of the movement in the light of recent events, both inside Israel and with the electoral victory of Hamas. There was also an attempt to shift the campaign’s political stance on the two-state solution to a more ‘open’ position which failed but which had a resonance which I gather would not have been there in the past (it was my first PSC conference).

The first invited speaker was the new official delegate from the PA to Britain Dr Manuel Hassassian. I know nothing of the man’s background but he has clearly been some sort of academic and I was very surprised by the analytical tone and ‘objectivity’ of his contribution which spoke about the reasons for Hamas’s victory which he attributed to Israeli intransigence, the role of Hamas in Gaza and the coruption of the authority (maybe he doesn’t expect to keep his position for very long anyway – but as somebody commented this was a little unusual for a ‘diplomat’!). Then in response to a question he noted that Israel and the US had helped to create Hamas 20 years ago (as an alternative to Fateh – see also Michel Warchawski’s piece in the latest International Viewpoint – and this is an opportunity for me to plug Warchawski’s superb memoir of an anti-Zionist Jew On the Border).

Jeff Halper’s contribtions are easily available on the ICAHD ( Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions ) websiteb and there was little new here for those who have followed his recent work but it was superbly delivered as usual (but this time without the maps he normally prefers to have on display for good reason). He did confirm that Olmert will continue Sharon’s cleverly designed strategy for a unilateral ‘solution’ in the West Bank as well as Gaza based on the Apartheid Wall constituting the new border (by the way one thing which infuriates me is to hear or read supposedly intelligent liberal commentators such as Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian talking about Sharon’s transformation into a ‘man of peace’ – no doubt we’ll get more of that nonsense when Sharon finally expires).
The strategy has been evident for some time ( so lets have no more nonsense either about Sharon not thinking ahead!) and is designed to surround the West Bank with the Wall absorbing the major settlement blocs and Greater Jerusalem as its known into Israel, but abandoning the smaller outlying settlements and the religious fanatics in places such as Hebron which are simply indefensible like the settlements in Gaza. They will then be able to declare that the Palestinians have 90% of the West bank ( a figure which will anyway exclude the Jerusalem area), get US backing for a ‘generous offer’ and abandon the Palestinians to a ‘caged existence’, life in a number of economically unviable bantustans with borders still under Israeli military control…
Its a very persuasive and deeply depressing analysis for anyone who, like myself, has visited the West bank in the last year and seen what the wall and the expansion of settlements such as Maale Adumim (actually a new town already as big as Hemel Hempstead by the way) actually mean for thePalestinian communities in the area:los of land, water supplies, employment, access to hospitals etc etc etc…. Halper repeatedly used the analogy with a prison where the inmates might well inhabit 90% of the area – and he’s absolutely right to do so. The recent and very welcome Guardian articles by Chris McGreal on Israel and Apartheid ( ) if anything understate how bad life will be ‘on the reservation’ (and referring to Reuben’s post earlier – he’s right to note the difference with South Africa as Palestinian labour is now excluded from the Israeli economy – Moshe Machover’s analogy with native American reservations is more accurate in that respect. However the comparison with Apartheid remains vital for campaigning purposes, and the boycott issue has been and remains at the heart of campaigning across Europe now.

Despite having no illusions Geoff Halper somehow manages to retain a note of optimism ( he’s been nominated for the Nobel peace prize along with a Palestinian I gather by the American Quakers but give some of the recipients of that would he want it?) . As he correctly insists, the Palestinians have been resisting for 40 years and their struggle has made a continuation of the military occupation in the manner of those decades impossible – they remain ‘the gatekeepers’, without whom no final settlement and therefore no stability in the MIddle East is possible, and they will not go away. But what the Israeli stance also means – and Dr Hassassian had noted this as well if not quite so bluntly – is that the two-state strategy is now utterly bankrupt , and what remains is a strategy of the Israeli rightwing and the US government to maintain an entity, the PA, which will exist solely to contain and discipline the Palestinian masses but with no meaningful autonomy, or ‘viability’ (the term repeatedly emphasised by Halper) in any other respect.

The threat the Hamas victory poses to that strategy was highlighted by Dr Mushtaq Khan from SOAS. His talk was too dense to summarise adequately here but he emphasised one point in particular which I’ve not heard elsewhere put so cogently. If all aid is cut off by the US and EU to a Hamas led government ( he called this a game of chicken by the way but does not expect Hamas to blink first) the first move by Hamas will be to stop paying the armed militias who are almost all Fateh supporters. This is likely to provoke civil war – and indeed there is already evidence of that in Gaza. That is quite apart from the fact that teachers, doctors etc already struggling to survive in the state sector will not get paid ( Dr Khan did not say this but it seems likely that the explicitly Islamic schools which are already better funded with money from outside, as I saw when I was there, will continue to operate whilst the ‘secular’ schools would shut down). The possible scenario is horrifying but precisely because of that he expects the EU at least to find some reason for maintaining ‘aid’ whilst continuing to pressurise Hamas to toe the line.

The debate on a motion ‘That this campaign makes a m,arked shift of image to better accomodate the Single State solution’ which followed later was very interesting. It revolved around two lengthy amendments ( I could reproduce in full but I think they can be found on the PSC website if you are interested) – one from Mike Davies from Leeds which I supported which acknowledged that the choice over ‘one-state or two-state solution’ was up to the Palestinian people but said that PSC campaigning should ‘accomodate’ both possibilities ( ie not in practice back the two-state solution’ as it has done since Oslo). This lost but there was a card count for the only time on the day (I think the vote was 26 for 42 against).
The other amendment, proposed by Bernard Reagan for the executive, which then carried overwhelmingly, basically said its not up to the PSC to decide, and Bernard used his rhetorical skills to emphasise the principle of ‘self-determination’. Who could disagree but as one speaker from the floor commented, by referring to a ‘Palestinian state’ the executive’s amendment already prejudged the issue.

This is a debate which will not go away either inside or outside Palestine….and I would welcome other comments here.

how did i miss this?

I wonder how i manage to miss this:

On the 11th of Febuary a march was called
‘To defend the rights of all individuals to be able to think freely, criticize, be able to use their imaginations, to have the right to freedom of speech, and of expression’ in front of BBC TV station in London.

Significantly it does seem to have been genuinely called by middle eastern progressives – including the Iranian civil rights committee who encountered once on a stall in london and who seem very good.

Organisers included:

Organisation of women’s freedom in Iraq-UK Branch, Middle East Centre for Women’s Rights (MECWR), International Federation of Iraqi refugees (IFIR) International Organisation of Iranian Refugees (IOIR), Iranian Civil Rights Committee and others. Iranian Civil Rights Committee (Iran CRC), Organisation for Emancipation of Women in Iran (OEWI).

The Economist on Venezuela

Periodically the economist appears in my college common room and I will get the chance to laugh at their somewhat ridiculous coverage of Venezuela. For a publication that has the reputation of being a kind of weighty journal, their coverage of Chavez is surprisingly bad. This week they asserted that Venezuelans were looking on unimpressed by Chavez’s programme of 21st century socialism while their countries infrastructure crumbled around them. A neat point – but not one based in fact. If they had looked at any independent research as to how Venezuelans felt they would have found it hard – in the last year at least – to find a poll demonstrating less than around 70 per cent support for Chavez. In fact in october 2005 a poll found that 77 per cent of people approved of Chavez’s handling of the presidency. The reason? quite simple, while the wankers at the economist assert that venezuela’s infrastructure is crumbling, doctors are being sent to neighbourhoods in which a doctor has never been seen and hundreds of thousands of people are being taught to read and write; and land poor and landless peasants are being given the support they need to form co operatives and collectives.

The economist did for once say one thing i agree with. A page near front carried the headline ‘Free Speech Must Override Religious Sensitivities’, but thats a whole other debate….



John Rose On Palestine

Last night I saw John Rose – SWP activist and recent author of The Myths of Zionism speak in Cambridge on the subject Zionism after Sharon. He was extremely good – he didn’t simply stick to the safe subjects of Palestinian sovereignty and Human rights but actually took on Zionism and demonstrated how the idea of a specifically Jewish state in that part f the world was fundamentally flawed.

The discussion was interesting. I asked John if, in the light of Peretz’s victory in the labour party, Israeli workers, whose interests run counter to those of the Israeli military industrial complex, could play a progressive role – John responded by giving a history of reactionary stances taken by Israeli labour (something which hardly makes this section of workers unique). It is certainly true that Israeli workers have taken and do in general take an anti-arab stance. But this is not sufficient to remove them from the equation. History has countless examples of social forces that are at one moment reactionary transforming themselves rapidly. Almost by accident an interesting point was raised during this meeting by a zionist who argued that zionism was not colonialism because it did not involve the exploitation of Palestinian labour – a fairly stupid argument. John quite rightly argued that the Israeli policy of exclusion as opposed to exploitation was in many ways worse. That it is. However, It is nonetheless significant when looking at Israeli society, to be aware of the fact that Zionism has been based upon more on exclusion than the super exploitation of Palestinian labour (as took place in South Africa). In the latter case the socio-economic position of white workers was thoroughly warped -a white construction worker would have black servants in his or her house. In Israel – though their is a racial divide in the job market -the exlpoitation of working class israeli jews is not cancelled out in quite the same way. It is essentially because of this that I am unwilling to write off Israeli jewish workers as a potentially progressive social force.

Although I disagree with John on this one point, he is, as i said a real authority on the matter and – perhaps more rarely – a real thinker on the subject of Zionism. I will definitely be buying his book.

If your interested it is available on amazon