MEPs divided in seats debate

11.09.2007 - 19:42 CET | By Elitsa Vucheva
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – MEPs are divided over a draft report on how their seats should be allocated after the 2009 parliamentary elections with Italian and Irish MEPs feeling hard done by.

Under proposals discussed in the constitutional affairs committee on Tuesday (11 September), Spain would get four extra seats, while France, Sweden and Austria would get two extra and Britain, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Latvia and Sweden would get one more MEP.

Responding, French centre-right deputy Alain Lamassoure and co-author of the report, said "It is not us who have decided to break the group of big countries" adding that the Italian population had not significantly increased, unlike France or the UK.

Ireland also expressed its discontent with the document, noting a "huge gap" between big and small countries."Our population is increasing all the time", while at the same time Ireland keeps losing power in all three institutions, Kathy Sinnott, an Irish deputy of the Independence/Democracy group said.

EU leaders recently agreed to raise the parliament's ceiling to 750 – providing an extra 16 seats to be reallocated.The current number of seats in the assembly is 785 – a temporary raised ceiling from the previous 736 to accommodate the membership of Bulgaria and Romania. The extra 16 seats comes from the ceiling changing from 736 to 750 plus fixing new limits for the upper and lower threshold of seats – freeing up another two seats.The authors of the report themselves admitted that their proposal was imperfect and only a temporary solution, which would later on have to be reviewed, particularly if new enlargements take place.

Patrick Cockburn: Ignominious end to futile exercise that cost the UK 168 lives

Published: 03 September 2007

The withdrawal of British forces from Basra Palace, ahead of an expected full withdrawal from the city as early as next month, marks the beginning of the end of one of the most futile campaigns ever fought by the British Army.

Ostensibly, the British will be handing over control of Basra to Iraqi security forces. In reality, British soldiers control very little in Basra, and the Iraqi security forces are largely run by the Shia militias.

The British failure is almost total after four years of effort and the death of 168 personnel. "Basra's residents and militiamen view this not as an orderly withdrawal but rather as an ignominious defeat," says a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "Today, the city is controlled by militias, seemingly more powerful and unconstrained than before."

The British military presence has been very limited since April this year, when Operation Sinbad, vaunted by the Ministry of Defence as a comparative success, ended. In the last four months the escalating attacks on British forces have shown the operation failed in its aim to curb the power of the militias.

The pullout will be a jolt for the US because it undermines its claim that it is at last making progress in establishing order in Iraq because Sunni tribes have turned against al-Qa'ida and because of its employment of more sophisticated tactics. In practice, the US controls very little of the nine Shia provinces south of Baghdad.

The British Army was never likely to be successful in southern Iraq in terms of establishing law and order under the control of the government in Baghdad. Claims that the British military could draw on counter-insurgency experience built up in Northern Ireland never made sense.

In Northern Ireland it had the support of the majority Protestant population. In Basra and the other three provinces where it was in command in southern Iraq the British forces had no reliable local allies.

The criticism of the lack of American preparation for the occupation by Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the British Army, and Maj Gen Tim Ross, the most senior British officer in post-war planning, rather misses the point. Most Iraqis were glad to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but the majority opposed a post-war occupation. If the Americans and British had withdrawn immediately in April 2003 then there would have been no guerrilla war.

The US has held most power while officially supporting the Iraqi government because it did not want Saddam Hussein replaced by Shia religious parties with close ties to Iran. Given that Shia are 60 per cent of the Iraqi population this is probably inevitable.

Soon after the British arrival, on 24 June 2003, British troops learnt a bloody lesson about the limits of their authority when six military policemen were trapped in a police headquarters between Basra and al-Amara. I visited the grim little building where they had died a day later. Armed men were still milling around outside. A tribesman working for a leader who was supposedly on the British side, said: "We are just waiting for our religious leaders to issue a fatwa against the occupation and then we will fight. If we give up our weapons how can we fight them?"

The British line was that there were "rogue" policemen and, once they were eliminated, the Iraqi security forces would take command. In fact, the political parties and their mafia-like militias always controlled the institutions. When a young American reporter living in Basra bravely pointed this out in a comment article he was promptly murdered by the police. One militia leader was quoted as saying: "80 per cent of assassinations in 2006 were committed by individuals wearing police uniforms, carrying police guns and using police cars."

Could any of this have been avoided? At an early stage, when the British had a large measure of control, there was a plan to discipline the militias by putting them in uniform. This idea of turning poachers into gamekeepers simply corrupted the police.

The violence in Basra is not primarily against the occupation or over sectarian differences (the small Sunni minority has largely been driven out). The fighting has been and will be over local resources.

The fragile balance of power is dominated by three groups: Fadhila, which controls the Oil Protection Force; the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which dominates the intelligence service and police commando units, and The Mehdi Army, which runs much of the local police force, port authority and the Facilities Protection Force. One Iraqi truck driver said he had to bribe three different militia units stationed within a few kilometres of each other in order to proceed.

In terms of establishing an orderly government in Basra and a decent life for its people the British failure has been absolute.

Turkey elects Gul president despite army anger - 28.08.2007 - 17:27
Abdullah Gul has been elected as president of Turkey, making him the first
person with an islamist background to take on the post since the secular
Turkish Republic was established in 1923. The European Commission has
welcomed the result.© 2007 EUobserver, All rights reserved 

Sarkozy seeks to give EU greater world role

28.08.2007 - 09:22 CET | By Renata Goldirova
As France prepares to assume the EU's driving seat in July next year, president Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated he wants to turn the 27-nation bloc into a decisive player in the global arena – something he says would result in a fairer and more harmonious world order.

"Europe must progressively affirm itself as a first-rank player for peace and security, in co-operation with the United Nations, the Atlantic Alliance and the African Union", Mr Sarkozy said in the first foreign policy speech of his presidency on Monday (27 August).

According to the French leader, it is time for Europe to form a common perception of the main global challenges and of ways in which to tackle them. He himself identified relations between Islam and the West as the main issue that currently needs to be examined.

"The European Union alone has accumulated, during the long process of building the community, the practical experience of a shared sovereignty that corresponds well to the demands of our times", Mr Sarkozy told his audience of 180 diplomats, stressing the EU bloc has at its disposal a broad palette of instruments, ranging from military force to humanitarian and financial means.

While outlining new ideas, Mr Sarkozy urged the 27-nation club to boost its common security strategy – namely to improve its conduct of joint military operations, to rationalize its arms procurement as well as boost countries' contributions to Europe's defence budget.

"The construction of Europe will remain the absolute priority of our foreign policy", France's Nicolas Sarkozy concluded, underlining that "France is not strong without Europe, just as Europe is not strong without France".

Different to Chirac
During his speech, president Sarkozy also reached out to new powers in Asia and Latin America, suggesting they should be granted seats at the UN Security Council table.

"France demands new permanent members – Germany, Japan, India, Brazil – and fair representation for Africa", Nicolas Sarkozy said, while also pushing for the G8 grouping of industrialised powers to expand to the G13. This would include China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

Compared to his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, the new French president has chosen a more pro-US tone, although he also condemned the US-led invasion of Iraq and called for a clear timetable for withdrawing foreign troops from the country.

On Russia, Mr Sarkozy used surprisingly tough words.

"Russia is imposing its return on the world scene by using its assets, notably oil and gas, with a certain brutality" Mr Sarkozy said, adding "when one is a great power, one should not be brutal".

Turning to Iran, he said the world must tighten the screw on the country's nuclear ambitions – by imposing new sanctions and offering new incentives to Tehran.

"This initiative is the only one that can enable us to escape an alternative that I say is catastrophic: the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran", president Sarkozy concluded.

© 2007 EUobserver, All rights reserved

Italian Oil Company

Kazakhs halt work at Kashagan field

By Isabel Gorst in Moscow

Published: August 27 2007 08:56 | Last updated: August 27 2007 11:55

Kazakhstan on Monday called a three-month halt to work at the giant Kashagan oilfield, claiming that a consortium led by Italy’s Eni had broken environmental rules at the project and evaded customs duties on imported equipment.

The move will intensify pressure on Eni, which opens talks Monday with Kazakhstan about possible changes to the contract terms at Kashagan, where repeated delays and soaring costs have angered authorities.

Scores die as Greek fires rage

By Kerin Hope in Athens

Published: August 26 2007 14:45 | Last updated: August 26 2007 20:12

More than 30 forest fires raged out of control across southern Greece for a third day on Sunday, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and threatening ancient Olympia, site of the first Olympic Games.

The death toll reached 58 and was expected to rise as firefighters reached isolated mountain settlements in the western Peloponnese, the hardest-hit region. Most victims died trying to protect their homes or were trapped in cars as they fled from the blaze, police said.

Costas Karamanlis, Greek prime minister, declared a nationwide state of emergency and called a halt to campaigning for the country’s September 16 parliamentary elections.

Athens on Sunday night offered a reward of up to €1m for information leading to the arrest of arsonists believed responsible for starting the fires, the public order ministry said in a statement.

Responding to an appeal by Mr Karamanlis for international assistance, six European Union states and Israel on Sunday sent more than 30 water-dropping aircraft to bolster Greece’s overstretched fire-fighting squadron, the foreign ministry said.

High temperatures and poor visibility because of dense smoke have slowed aerial efforts to contain the fires. More than 6,000 Greek soldiers have joined forestry service firefighters on the ground but most have little firefighting experience.

Strengthening winds brought flames within a few hundred metres of the ancient Olympic stadium and the archaeological museum, residents said.

Greek fires map

Mr Karamanlis said in a television address on Saturday, a day when more than 70 serious fires were reported, that arson was suspected in a number of cases.

“So many fires breaking out simultaneously in so many parts of the country cannot be a coincidence. The state will do everything it can to find those responsible and punish them,” he said.

Arsonists seeking to clear land for development are believed to cause most fires. While building in forest areas is banned, land may be re-classified after a fire, letting developers move in.

Elinda Labropoulou in Zaharo

Published: 28 August 2007

On the outskirts of Zaharo there is a burnt black line; on one side everything is ash, burnt tree stumps, charred buildings and smouldering cars. On the other side is all that remains of the town - a handful of buildings, shops and homes that were saved from the flames in a desperate, last-ditch battle. Until this week, Zaharo was known - if it was known at all - as a staging post for tourists en route to the beautiful Peloponnesian beach of Kaiafas. From now on, it will be synonymous with the deadly fire that has changed this part of Greece permanently.

There's no such thing as daylight here. The air is thick with ash; everything has been burnt to a dark-grey. Smoke still fills the air, making it hard to breathe. What you can see of the ruins of the town is visible only through a greyish-yellow haze. The sun is a dark red circle.

People here are still in shock at the speed with which the fire attacked. Forest blazes are commonplace in Greek summers, especially when the temperature has regularly been above 40C. So Nadina Christopoulou saw little reason to panic when she saw the flames initially. "I was having lunch on my balcony when I noticed a fire on the nearby mountain. I couldn't believe it that within half an hour a beautiful pine forest was totally destroyed. I never thought this was possible. But I quickly stopped worrying about the forest as the fire approached the town. We called the authorities but no one came for us. We just watched our land burn.''Pantazis Chronopoulos, the Mayor of Zaharo, is one of the few people left in the town itself. He is facing the aftermath in what looks like a war zone. "There's nothing left here now, only God can help us,'' he said.Zaharo and the surrounding mountain villages have been the worst-hit in five days of fires with at least 30 people dead in this area alone. The locals are exhausted. Buses and helicopters deployed by the police and fire service have evacuated residents and then been forced to transport them home again as the fires changed direction, fanned by changeable, gale-force winds.As a result, tension has risen and fights have become commonplace as anxious people reluctant to leave behind their homes and possessions resist attempts to evacuate them. A man who gave his name as only Spyros summed up the feelings of many when he said: "I'd rather stay with my house and try to fight the fire with a hosepipe.'' Many feel the response to the disaster has been slow and, often, incompetent.The more remote villages in the surrounding hills give testament to the power of the fires. Old stone houses have remained standing, though their timbers are burnt out, but the newer concrete homes are blackened shells, their uPVC windows melted from their frames. Old women dressed in the traditional widows' black, wander around looking completely lost. Cars by the side of the road offer mute evidence of the panicked, last-minute flight that many attempted. Human remains have been removed from the vehicles, but it is impossible to know which were abandoned by those who made it to safety and which became final resting places.

Historic sites under threat


The birthplace of the Olympic Games narrowly escaped being engulfed by raging forest fires on Sunday as firefighters and volunteers rushed to extinguish the blaze. The city, though mostly ruins, is a World Heritage site.


The Temple of Apollo Epikourios, in the Arcadian mountains, was threatened last night. The shrine, built during the 5th century BC, was the first Greek building to be listed as a World Heritage site.


Residents of Athens awoke on Sunday to find flurries of ash swirling around the ancient sites of the Parthenon. The blaze was halted on the outskirts of the city.


Fires are raging on Evia, Greece's second largest island, which is home to archaeological sites such as the Byzantine basilica of Aghia Paraskevi and the remains of the Temple of Dafniforos Apollo.


A man was charged with arson in Areopolis, the town in the far south of the country where the Greek War of Independence began in 1821. It is home to the protected church of Taxiarhes and the famous towers of Kapetanakos and Barelakos.

Police tear-gas farmers in clash over French GM crops (MON810)

By John Lichfield in Paris

Published: 27 August 2007

Growing tensions in France between opponents and supporters of genetically modified crops have led to violent confrontations.

Gendarmes used tear gas and batons to prevent pro-GM farmers from invading a picnic for militant opponents of genetically modified maize at the town of Verdun-sur-Garonne in south-west France over the weekend.

Hardly a day has gone by this summer without opponents of GM maize - both environmental campaigners and small farmers - invading fields and trampling or cutting down crops. The protesters, led by the small- farmers' leader, José Bové, claim a citizens' right to destroy crops which, they say, threaten ecological calamity and the subjection of farmers to the whims of agro-industrial, multinational companies.

Material on MON810 in the Institute for Science in Society site.

Unstable Transgenic Lines Illegal

Further evidence that most if not all commercially approved transgenic lines are genetically unstable and non-uniform has come to light. The transgenic lines fail to satisfy the current EU Directive requirements for proof of genetic stability and uniformity, and are hence illegal. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports.

In a recent study [1] on five commercially approved transgenic lines carried out by two French laboratories [2], all five transgenic inserts were found to have rearranged, not just from the construct used in transformation, but also from the original structure reported by the company. This was clear evidence that all the lines were genetically unstable.

Further evidence has come to light since. The Service of Biosafety and Biotechnology (SBB) of the Scientific Institute of Public Health (IPH) in Brussels has published on its website ( reports on the molecular characterisation of the genetic map of six transgenic lines, four of which overlap with those analysed by the French laboratories: Bt 176 maize (Syngenta), Mon 810 maize (Monsanto), T25 maize (Bayer CropScience) and GTS 40-3-2 soybean (Monsanto).

GM Food & Feed Not Fit for "Man or Beast"

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins

Last year, up to 100 villagers in the south of the Philippines living near GM maize plots suffered debilitating illnesses when the GM maize came into flower [2]. Prof. Terje Traavik of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology in Tromsø found antibodies to Cry1Ab produced by the GM maize against the corn borer in the blood of 39 villagers [3]. The maize variety was Dekalb 818 YG, a hybrid between Monsanto's Mon 810 and a locally adapted variety (Dekalb 818). Report has come in of the same illnesses recurring this year [4].

Bt toxins known to be harmful
The Cry proteins, dozens of them, are also called Bt toxins because they are produced by different strains of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis [5, 6]. Reports in the scientific literature have documented that bacterial spores of B. thuringiensis, containing a mixture of different toxins, can cause allergic reactions in farm workers; that some toxins are immunogenic in animals, Cry1Ac in particular, has been identified as a potent immunogen, as potent as cholera toxin; that cells in the lining of the small intestine in rats have proteins that bind to the toxins [7], and further, Cry1Ab protein is 92% indigestible in pigs [8].

Regulatory sham over Bt crops
The findings on Bt toxins have been completely ignored in a regulatory process that can only be described as a sham [5].

Worse still, Bt genes in crops are synthetic or hybrid constructions, with important changes from the naturally occurring bacterial genes. Yet, toxicity tests are routinely done using the natural toxins, and not the toxin produced in the GM crop plants, with the result that the Bt toxins in GM crops are almost completely unknown and untested for toxicity [5, 6].

There’s evidence that the natural toxin is not the same as, or “substantially equivalent” to, the GM toxin. Green lacewings suffer significantly reduced survival and delayed development when fed an insect pest (lepidopteran) that has eaten GM maize containing the Bt toxin Cry1Ab, but not when fed the same pest treated with much higher levels of the natural toxin [9, 10]. This is an extremely important effect passed on through the food chain; and has been documented in several laboratories. Unfortunately, the researchers misrepresented the results to mean that Cry1Ab does not harm beneficial insect predators [11].

Tempers have risen to boiling point since the suicide earlier this month of a farmer in the Lot département who had agreed to plant a small section of GM maize. He took his life a few days after he had been warned that anti-GM protesters planned to hold a picnic on his fields.

The largest French farmers' federation, the FNSEA, called for Saturday's demonstration to protest against attacks on crops and alleged government inaction. Gendarmes used tear gas to prevent the farmers from crossing a bridge to the site of the anti-GM picnic, which was addressed by the extravagantly moustachioed M. Bové.

"If Bové keeps on cutting down our crops, we're going to shave his moustache," said one protester.

Michel Masson, head of the FNSEA in the central area of France, said: "There has already been one death and I can tell you that many farmers, rather than hang themselves from a tree, are now ready to take their rifles off the wall."

The confrontation is partly between town and country. It is also a confrontation between two different approaches to agriculture. The FNSEA supports a "scientific" and highly productive approach to agriculture. M. Bové and his supporters argue for a traditional, small-scale approach.