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Just Because The Art. 133 Committee Doesn't Legally Exist Doesn't Mean It's Not After Your Services

category international | eu | feature author Friday July 09, 2004 20:58author by cdotedot - Article 133 Information Group Report this post to the editors

'All These People Want is Everything' sez Wag

Those International trade deal-making privateers who orbit silently around the Article 133 Committee in Brussels have suffered a couple of serious setbacks in recent weeks. Firstly there was a conditional restoration of the Member States national veto on the privatisation / liberalisation of health and education in the final draft of the proposed EU constitution. Admittedly it is with the weasly insertion of a get out clause if a trade deal looks like it will cause a 'risk to the delivery of public services' in a member state.

We in our innocence had all thought semi-secret EU / WTO trade deals were not going to harm or affect our control over our public services one little iota. Mary Harney had 'reassured' us all on this front in 2002 and Ruairi Quinn backed Bertie up repeating the same line in the Dail in the days immediately preceding the Nice II referendum. Indymedia reported on their barefaced lies at the time. No-one else in the Irish mainstream media seemed to even notice or give a damn that this was happening.

Secondly, the Article 133 Committee which the privateers use as their in to the EU Commission, and which became the bete-noir of the left campaign against the Nice Treaty (II) might just turn out to be a legal black hole and is due a trip to the courts courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund over its legal standing / existence.

We knew already that the 133 Committee wouldn't say anything whatsoever about what they talk about in their meetings - even to the Parliamentarians of Member States - as 19 TD's, 2 MEPs and 5 MLA's found out last February. Their basic role is to negotiate between EU Member States on who will offer what for privatisation (cough) liberalisation in trade deals such as GATS between the EU and the World Trade Organisation. The price of the Bus Service, or Aer Lingus is commercially sensitive and so won't be released -at least not to us who own the things. Those who know what is good for the populations of EU member states are most likely also concerned at the reactions they might get if it came out in the open that they are trading away publicly owned services in secret closed door deals without a whiff of democratic oversight. A fait-accompli works better and the role of the 133 Committee is and was basically to do the groundwork for a never-ending series of such fait-accomplis.

The People in Government, in Corporate Lobby Groups such as LOTIS (Liberalisation Of Trade in Services) , and even in the Irish Civil Service who are trying to hand the Public Services owned by the citizenry of Ireland surreptitiously over wholesale to the Private Sector have the time to dot their i's and cross their t's and to follow the labyrinthine processes of International Trade Negotiations to their bitter ends. They also have names and addresses.

If Irish and European Activists are going to have any chance of effectively opposing them when they come gunning for the privatisation of Health, Education and Water then they need to get to grips with these complex issues and oppose the privateers at every junction in the labyrinth. Boredom is not an option. These people want our eyes to glaze over when we hear 'Lisbon' or 'liberalisation' or 'Article 133' or ‘GATS’. Let’s not give them what they want.

What they want is EVERYTHING which is why the anti-capitalist movement has since it’s inception consistently targeted the WTO and affiliated trade deals such as NAFTA and GATS in an attempt to bring such machinations out of the shadows where they thrive and into the light.

1.Detailed Background Information on Article 133 and GATS from the Article 133 Information Group. Includes the Phone Numbers of Irish Representatives on the Article 133 Committee. Give them a ring and let them know that just because you can’t look them in the eye does not mean you don’t see them.
2.More background from DAPSE: Health and Education as a Business Opportunity
3.More on the WWF / Article 133 Committee Legal Challenge

A history of the trade talks and recent EU treaties.

Peter Sutherland & Bertie Aherne In 1995 the WTO[1] was founded. It replaced the GATT[2] so that Services and Intellectual Property as well as import and export taxes could be raised and judged on by the new WTO court system. An Irish guy, Peter Sutherland[3] brokered the deal, and the public, democratic sphere lost any ability to control the trade in goods in countries that signed up. The Single European Act[4] had given the EU competency to sign the 1995 deal and the bilateral deal[5] between the US and EU forced the world into a new trade order.

However, in a European court case in 1994 (about bananas) it was found that the services sector could be too integral to the public sphere and so was outside the competencies of the EU. At the core of recent EU treaty negotiations, especially Nice and the Constitutional Convention, have been attempts to roll back on this get out - as the EU trade commission attempts to continue to negotiate trade deals without the nation states having any competency and without any parliamentary oversight.

In 1999 a movement in the US defined itself by protesting against and shutting down the WTO talks in Seattle - the loss of democratic control and legal sovereignty contained within the WTO trade negotiations were the most visible and important face of the changing landscape. But the EU court case was a block to further progress as the larger, more important areas of the developed knowledge economies were proving 'inefficient' and moving into the WTO process.

The Nice Treaty marked a shift in this approach as the national veto was lost in a range of services sectors (public transport, waste management, banking). This was the very veto that the EU Commission comforted us with, saying that the EU was a Social Democratic place protected against the ravages of free market globalisation because of this veto. It's unfortunate that the Trade Unions who were so vocal at the treaty negotiations in relation to the Charter of Rights dismissed concerns in these areas - given what their members in these areas are currently going through.

When an attempt was made to point this out during the ratification process we (The original Article 133 Open letter)[6] were told that the Nice treaty posed no risk to the delivery of public services - Mary Harney courtesy of a cut and pasted WTO website quote and Bertie courtesy of a Dáil statement. The Nice Treaty was passed, on the second attempt and now services were under EU competency - with the exception, as kindly pointed out by Bertie in the Dail, of Health and Education and Cultural and Audio Visual services.

This didn't seem to be enough - or maybe the absence of legitimacy and transparency from the process finally started to catch up as the WTO negotiations in Cancun came crashing down last year and no deal was signed. So the services in the Nice treaty still have no deal and seem safe - for now.

Since the law making for Europe seemed to have built up a head of steam - mainly on the back of trade deals as the economic area gradually extended its influence - a constitution was decided - Let's set this thing up right once and for all. But in trade this meant the whole shebang - telly, hospitals, schools the lot. So the first draft of the constitution extends QMV[7] into Health and Education and Cultural Services and makes sure the parliamentary position is ambiguous at best. But when the IGC[8] breaks down last December in Italy and no constitution is agreed everything is up for negotiation again. Surprisingly Mary Harney expressed a preference for a Member State veto in Health and Education to go along with the stated position of a veto on tax policy. Then the European parliament decided, despite Proinsias De Rossa's best efforts to spin it otherwise, that the loss of the veto on cultural and audio visual services endangered the cultural and linguistic diversity of the union. So a clause on a veto to maintain linguistic diversity got added to the constitution, along with the veto in Health and Education that Mary Harney wanted. But only in the case of a 'risk to the delivery of public services' - exactly what Mary Harney and Bertie Ahern told us did not exist. So Mary Harney and Bertie Ahern, told us, during the Nice campaign and in the Dail respectively, that WTO trade deals can not damage public services … and now, the EU Constitution says that WTO trade deals could indeed damage public services!

For the constitution is the ultimate fudge - even the role of the institutions is left unclear in a document that weighs in at 8 times the size of our own beloved book. But unless the court judgements are kind and quick and the citizenry vigilant it is likely that this constitution could end up delivering the whole shebang.

How do Trade deals affect you

Last December I posted an article to Indymedia that discussed the 3 ages of the bin - including the future in the post-GATS utopia. There had just been a series of blockades in my neighbourhood - bin lorries held in cul de sacs by my neighbours. Other neighbourhoods had seen people go to prison for the same activity as non-collection was fought and held at bay in the city of Dublin.

There is a French company (SAUR) that has started to run water services in many African countries. To be facilitated to do this a deal was struck - allowing access to that market and preparing the market for privatization. The introduction of waste charges was the first step in privatising the bins here in Ireland - putting a price on the bins and getting people used to rubbish in the streets. Here's how a company gains access to that market.

Firstly there are the regulations - the WTO trade deals are designed to get rid of these - having to perform uneconomic tasks just because everybody has decided they are good ideas (food hygiene, workers rights, public health issues). In Ireland, the 2003 Environment Act removed the incovenient legal requirement that all bins becollected : deregulation is enforced through GATS if not done before. Get rid of the regulations and then create a level playing field - where even if a company needs a subsidy from our taxes because we want pensioners to travel free on buses you can't give preferential treatment to an Irish company over a (foreign) competitor. The way you do this is through trade regulations - which are subject to the highest court in the World - the WTO Court - which no popular vote can ever impact.

Fingal Anti-Bin Tax Campaign

In April 2003 Pascal Lamy, the EU Trade Commissioner, announced a series of offers and concessions on trade that the EU had received and made. These included the offer to liberalise waste management. Some company had probably made representations at a lobby meeting. A country or an EU body had presented this proposal to the Article 133 Committee (the Brussels based committee that do the trade deals on our behalf, the group that the WWF have discovered have actually no legal basis to exist). They didn't tell anybody - except the EU Commission. The unelected commissioners then decide whether to include this specific detail in a briefing to the Council of Ministers at mandate request meetings. But the ministers can't pass on any information to others and they have to decide on whether they want to argue for public bin services.

This is why the veto is important. When QMV is in that area, any minister can say he was opposed to the measure but lost on the QMV so, sorry. When there is a veto you know every minister had to say yes. This is important because these are the only democratically elected people in the whole process - and they know they are not accountable under secret QMV.

Because the EU parliament is irrelevant - in the new proposed constitution there is the possibility that parliamentary approval could be required but the Article 133 committee has refused to tell the parliament what it is discussing. It just gets ready to negotiate, cuts deals and then - years later - the trade unions are seeking letters of redress for the workers left in the public rump of the service as it is prepared for sale.

Because after the move into a market economy, after the removal of democratic oversight ... then the vultures come swooping in and asset strip.

Telecom is gone and Aer Lingus is on the way. Half of waste and some of electricity has gone and the airports are on the way. Trade deals matter because we keep losing battles and can't decide on how our society is structured because they are just soooo boring. Smart tactics by those mad trade dudes.

Footnotes / References:

[1] The WTO (World Trade Organisation) is an intergovernmental body that deals with the global rules of trade between countries. Unlike the GATT agreement which dealt only with trade in goods, the agreements that govern the WTO deal with trade in goods, services and intellectual property. The WTO oversees the implementation of the trade agreements adopted by member states, serves as a forum for negotiation of revision of trade agreements and rules on trade disputes between member states.

[2] The GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) is a package of trade rules and tariff concessions negotiated between a number of capitalist countries that came into force in 1948. While a provisional agreement and an ad hoc organization, it provided the framework and rules for much of world trade until 1994 when it was replaced with the WTO.

[3] Peter Sutherland, Fine Gael party member was Attorney General of Ireland in the early 80s, European Commissioner for Ireland in the late 80s, Chairman of Allied Irish Banks and Director General of GATT in the early 90s and became the first Director General of the WTO when it was created.
He is currently Chairman of BP and Goldman Sachs International, on the board of many more multinational corporations and a member of other groups such as the Trilateral Commission, LOTIS (the secret Liberalisation Of Trade in Services lobby group) and the even more secretive Bilderberg group. Last year, Indymedia reported on how he was confronted by activists in Dublin.

[4] The Single European Act was the first major revision of the Treaties of Rome which bound the states of the then European Economic Community (EEC) together. It was signed in 1986 with the primary aim of creating a single market in Europe by removing trade barriers between member states.

[5] Bilateral Trade Deals are trading agreements made between two parties. Multilateral deals are deals agreed by a larger number of entities. Agreements made between the EU and the US are considered to be bilateral agreements as the EU acts as a single trading block.

[6] Community Trade Policy is decided according to Article 133 of the EC Treaty. The Article 133 Committee is a working group of the European Council, composed of representatives from each member who are accountable only to the their Minister for Trade. The Committee effectively sets the European Commission's trade policies and is the body that negotiates on behalf of the EU at the WTO. It is consulted by the Commission on trade matters which then acts upon recommendations made by the Article 133 Committee. Despite the importance of the impact of their decisions, all their deliberations are kept secret - even from elected MEPs with the result that there is no democratic accountability to EU citizens. The only information that is published for members of the public to read is the Agenda of their meetings which is chaired by the country currently holding the EU Presidency and published on their relevant website. In Ireland, the representative for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is one Tony Joyce. As a civil servant, he keeps a low profile and you're unlikely to come across his name mentioned very often in the mainstream media.

[7] QMV (Qualified Majority Voting) is a voting procedure employed in the Council of the European Union for ceratin decisions, under which each member state has a fixed (weighted) number of votes. Currently, about 71% of the votes have to be reached in order for the Council to adopt a decision. Each succesive revision of the EU treaties has extended QMV into more and more areas of decision making that previously would have required unamimity in order for changes to be made. This meant that each country had a veto and could block a proposed change. The rationale for more QMV is that as the EU grows in size with more countries joining, there's increased likelihood of any one country blocking desisions. However, the drawback for democracy is that the votes are cast in secret and a Minister can now vote for an unpopular measure and claim that he was outvoted by the other ministers.

[8] Changes to the Treaties on which the European Union is founded require the agreement of the governments of all the Member States. The process of Treaty changes happens at Intergovernmental Conference (or IGC). The recent draft European Consitution was developed in a series of such IGCs.

author by R. Isiblepublication date Sat Jul 10, 2004 23:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'm still digesting this and reading around to try and get to grips with the villainously ambitious plans of the latter-day buccaneers that call themselves corporations.

I don't like the use of the phrase "intellectual property" without pointing out that this very phrase is a meme designed to muddy the waters. It's been pointed out by people like Richard Stallman and Lawrence Lessig that this term is a portmanteau word that includes the legally very different concepts of copyright, trademark, patents and licenceses.

Using it uncritically helps to channel thinking about the issue into the direction that the corporate privateers want.

Related Link: http://www.fsf.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html#IntellectualProperty
author by paul cpublication date Mon Jul 12, 2004 17:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

My interpreation ofthe news that the World wildlife Fund are taking the Article 133 commission ot court a organisation the big wigs are pretending doesn't exist?

The WWF take on  the Elephant in the Living Room
The WWF take on the Elephant in the Living Room

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