Saturday, March 5, 2011

Support the campaign to audit Europe's public debt

Costas Lapavitsas writes for the Guardian:

... These austerity policies pose major problems of democratic accountability, quite apart from their social and economic implications. Working people have been called upon to shoulder the burden of public debt, but have they been properly informed about its composition, its terms, and its sources? The answer is a resounding no in several European countries. Publicly available information is scant, partial and hard to obtain. Important aspects of issuing debt, such as the operations of banks in the bond markets, remain shrouded in mystery. Even less is known about the role of politicians and their connections with financial institutions, property developers and other captains of private enterprise. Parliamentary elections are completely insufficient to shed light on these questions.

In Greece and Ireland the issue is burning. Can we be certain that the bulk of Greek public debt is legal, given especially that it has been contracted in direct contravention of EU treaties which state that public debt must not exceed 60% of GDP? The creditors – mostly core European banks – were fully aware of flouting this legal requirement when they lent to the Greek state. Is Irish public debt legitimate, given than much of it is speculative bank lending with a public tag placed on it? Is debt in both countries ethically and morally sustainable if servicing it implies the destruction of normal social life?

To find answers, countries should form audit commissions that will be independent of political parties but also of parliament and other mechanisms of the state. They should comprise public auditors, economists, lawyers and other specialists, but also representatives of civil society and organised labour. They must have powers to demand public documents, call upon civil servants and others to give evidence, and even access bank accounts. On this basis they should examine public debt to determine whether it is illegal, illegitimate, odious, or simply unsustainable. Society will then have more secure grounds to decide how to tackle public debt. Not least, audit commissions could act as a first step in exercising democratic control over future public debt, instead of accepting the arbitrary rules that Germany now wishes to impose on the constitutions of eurozone members. ...

A revolution against neoliberalism?

By Walter Armbrust, Al-Jazeera

... The hunt for regime cronies' billions may be a natural inclination of the post-Mubarak era, but it could also lead astray efforts to reconstitute the political system. The generals who now rule Egypt are obviously happy to let the politicians take the heat. Their names were not included in the lists of the most egregiously corrupt individuals of the Mubarak era, though in fact the upper echelons of the military have long been beneficiaries of a system similar to (and sometimes overlapping with) the one that that enriched civilian figures much more prominent in the public eye such as Ahmad Ezz and Habib al-Adly.

To describe blatant exploitation of the political system for personal gain as corruption misses the forest for the trees. Such exploitation is surely an outrage against Egyptian citizens, but calling it corruption suggests that the problem is aberrations from a system that would otherwise function smoothly. If this were the case then the crimes of the Mubarak regime could be attributed simply to bad character: change the people and the problems go away. But the real problem with the regime was not necessarily that high-ranking members of the government were thieves in an ordinary sense. They did not necessarily steal directly from the treasury. Rather they were enriched through a conflation of politics and business under the guise of privatization. This was less a violation of the system than business as usual. Mubarak's Egypt, in a nutshell, was a quintessential neoliberal state.

What is neoliberalism? In his Brief History of Neoliberalism, the eminent social geographer David Harvey outlined "a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade." Neoliberal states guarantee, by force if necessary, the "proper functioning" of markets; where markets do not exist (for example, in the use of land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution), then the state should create them.

Guaranteeing the sanctity of markets is supposed to be the limit of legitimate state functions, and state interventions should always be subordinate to markets. All human behavior, and not just the production of goods and services, can be reduced to market transactions.

And the application of utopian neoliberalism in the real world leads to deformed societies as surely as the application of utopian communism did. ...

~ more... ~

European Commission to make new proposal on the Regulation on public access to EU documents - the state of play

- Commission move to break the "institutional impasse"
- Commission proposal fails to reflect changes in the Lisbon Treaty: all documents concerning the legislative process should be made public as they are produced


see full story on: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2011/mar/02eu-access-regulation-state-of-play.htm

The European Commission Programme for 2011 (ref no: 2011/SG/006) states that, in March, it will put forward a proposal to amend the Regulation on public access to EU documents (1049/2001) with the stated aim of:

"Incorporate in regulation 1049/2002 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents the changes brought about by the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon (Article 15(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) extending the regulation scope to all institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the European Union."

This proposal by the Commission begs two big questions:

1) Does Article 15.3 of the TFEU in the Lisbon Treaty have wider implications than simply proposing to extend the scope of the Regulation to "all institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the European Union"?

2) how will this proposal affect the April 2008 proposals put forward by the Commission for changes to the Regulation which has been stalled for nearly two years because of a fundamental disagreement between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament leading to an "institutional impasse"?

For the background documentation and developments see: Observatory: the Regulation on access to EU documents: 2008 - 2011:
http://www.statewatch.org/foi/observatory-access-reg-2008-2009.htm

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