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José Bové Comes To Town

by afew Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 10:09:18 AM EST

 EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 

My local town (you may have gathered), could easily qualify for one-horse status and doze in rural quiet. Yet, of late, it's become the projected site of an international airport, a ring motorway fifty kilometres out of the city, a mega Factory Outlet, (all now on the skids), and the French capital of GM maize two years ago when more MON 810 was planted here than in any comparable area in the country (jury's out on whether it will return).

So, small town though it be, there was some justification for inviting José Bové the other day to halt on the campaign trail for a bite to eat (bread and cheese, unsurprisingly), with local sympathisers and people from orgs and associations tinged with green and red. Bové heads the list in the South-West region of France for Europe Ecologie, a list concocted by les Verts, the "Hulotistes" (friends of former presidential candidate Nicolas Hulot), other environmentalists and unionists, featuring household names like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, financial judge Eva Joly, and Bové himself.

José Bové is a farmers' unionist and good food activist, best known for "deconstructing" a MacDonald's to point up the contrast between the money-and-marketing-fuelled wave of industrial food, and the stubborn fight that small producers of better-quality foods have to put up to survive. So there were small (some organic) farmers present, and members of Bové's union, the Confédération Paysanne. I was invited for the "locavore" food cooperative we run in the area, bringing together about 120 families with about 15 local producers of fruit, vegetables, flour, oil, meat, cheese, etc. Others were members of the Verts or environmental committees. Some were there for Europe, or perhaps not so much (some Esperanto speakers, also a lady who wanted only regions, no more nations and even less a supra-national umbrella). Of about fifty people, four or five of us were non-French EU citizens.

The idea was to bring up and discuss grassroots ideas and concerns so they could be taken on board by the Europe Ecologie campaign. The South-West campaign director was there early, so we started in.


Local concerns would have been airport and highway projects, but they didn't come through. The discussion moved very positively (imo) between local and global. The current crisis (though opinions differed on its causes) appeared to be assumed by all as an inevitable factor of change. Food and energy were essential topics, they were discussed in local terms but also in terms of global imbalances and resource limits, and also in terms of European institutions, politics, and policies. I pointed out that our food co-op couldn't find enough local producers of quality (organic where possible) foods to satisfy constantly growing demand, and that, though there were local responses to the problem (get municipalities to preempt land on sale and lease it for vegetable and other production, for example), the broader issue was the overall intent of the Common Agricultural Policy to do away with small producers of anything, which has now so completely succeeded after several decades that there are none left: even in a region where climate and soil easily permit market gardening, most of the vegetables sold through local retail outlets are trucked up from the unsustainable "industrial facilities" in southern Spain. What weight could the EP bring to bear on the modification of the CAP? How quickly could it increase its influence in practice? If candidates didn't go out there fighting, determined to swing power to the EP (as the crisis, potentially, lights a fire under the national government members of Council), what hope was there that voters would consider the election as of any relevance? (33% turnout predicted).

One thing I must say: I was probably just about the only person in that group who (would have) voted "oui" in the 2005 referendum on the constitutional treaty. (Holding my nose, but still...) José Bové campaigned for the "non". Yet the overwhelming feeling I get is that I was talking to pro-Europeans, and what we should be discussing (burying that old fault line) is how we want to see things move forward towards an EU that is more democratic and no longer driven by a neoliberal agenda.

We'd been talking for an hour when José finally walked in, tired and hungry. He spoke in response to a number of the questions raised, but his obvious tiredness set a limit: he was rolling out boilerplate, which was a pity given the possibility of a better level of debate that was on offer. Even so, he has considerable presence and persuasiveness. He was also, unsurprisingly, much more conversant with questions he has dealt with as a unionist (farming) than, say, energy, where he put out some standard stuff about demand destruction and renewables without unifying it into a satisfying policy proposal. Here are a few points I picked up as he spoke:

  • jobs: very affirmative on a programme of insulating buildings as part of an energy efficiency drive - a large number of jobs across Europe for years to come.
  • more stable jobs thanks to a development of co-operative ventures in which all workers were stakeholders; a need to build networks of these ventures that could help support those in difficulty, could provide capital... (he slid over that quickly, probably needs to consult Chris Cook ;))
  • there was a lack of political will to deal with the financial crisis by tough regulation. He pointed out that, after proposing a European list of "black" tax havens, the EU hadn't put any country on it (!) He was still in favour of a Tobin tax.
  • Treaty of Lisbon was no change from the constitutional treaty. It was sufficient explanation for the low turnout forecast. (Hmm...)
  • what should be done about the constitution: a Constituant Assembly should prepare a text to be submitted to referendum the same day throughout the Union. If ratified by that referendum, national governments would have to submit or take their country out of the EU.
  • food: he was very affirmative that people's understanding of what was in their plate was growing, to the point where it was possible for (farmers, environmentalists, good food advocates, consumer outfits) to join up with civil society to bring weight to bear on policy. The aim at European level was the transformation of the CAP (an end to scuttling poor country agriculture by subsidising exports, support to small farmers, food sovereignty as a global principle), and an end to the Blair House agreement with the US; no GM crops.

What didn't get handled, though, was why go to Parliament, and what could be done proactively to advance Parliament's power...

Display:
How many EP seats will the South-West region fill?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 10:27:06 AM EST
10.

Last time, the list of the Verts got one candidate in, Gérard Onesta, who is not standing for re-election (though actively supporting Europe Ecologie).

So the N° 1 on the list (José Bové) stands a fair chance of being elected.

If so, he will sit with the Greens/EFA.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 11:50:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great writing, as always, afew...and an interesting meeting too!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 11:16:15 AM EST
Absolutely, it is really interesting to learn about movements in this way and how they can link to and influence at the EU level.  Small steps maybe but important ones.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 11:41:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - José Bové Comes To Town
the broader issue was the overall intent of the Common Agricultural Policy to do away with small producers of anything, which has now so completely succeeded after several decades that there are none left: even in a region where climate and soil easily permit market gardening, most of the vegetables sold through local retail outlets are trucked up from the unsustainable "industrial facilities" in southern Spain
So, when the CAP is nowadays sold as supporting the survival of local rural communities, what are the people who stay in the countryside supposed to be doing? Posing for tourists?

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 11:45:28 AM EST
Running big, productivist farms. Cereals mostly, with here and there a "milk" factory or a pork/beef operation.

One of the aims of the PAC was always stated to be "defence of the small farmer", which meant "drastically reduce the number of farmers".

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:02:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
Running big, productivist farms.
With floating, migrant labour as in the "unsustainable farms in Southern Spain"?

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:05:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With machines.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:18:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The "unsustainable", btw, referred principally to water resources.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 01:11:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes.

They call them "white fields" because the entire desert is covered in the white plastic of greenhouses.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 01:12:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An irony of the Abdalajís tunnel disaster (a tunnel boring machine bored into an aquifier, drying the wells of a town above) was that much of the waters coming out of the tunnel... was used to fill up aquifiers down-valley depleted by irrigation.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 03:17:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The share of small farms in the overall CAP funding is something ridiculous like only 8%. This is totally against biodiversity, health (more and more people interested in organic here in Finland too), product choice, apart from the social implications of maintaining rural communities. Maybe we no longer have wine lakes and butter mountains, but I still feel the system is screwed.

The problem though lies partly in the fact that CAP is administered nationally and then reimbursed by Brussels. Overall national sums are agreed in Brussels according to quite detailed funding estimates, but nevertheless the local region admins have quite a lot of discretion as to who gets what.  If you are a local bureaucrat, it's much easier to deal with one big industrial farm than dozens of smaller ones.

The other part of the problem is that we need to see national disbursements based on achieving better balances in funding between industrial and local farming. So once again it comes to the Parliament, who can try to change the rules by which CAP is administered.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 11:50:03 AM EST
Sven Triloqvist:
So once again it comes to the Parliament, who can try to change the rules by which CAP is administered.
Isn't that incompatible with subsidiarity?

Also, the EP can only act on a proposal for legislation initiated by the Commission.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 11:54:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And the Commission is installed by the Council of the European Union - the national leaders ;-)

While the Commission proposes legislation and is installed to take an EU wide viewpoint, rather than serve national interests, in practice that legislation does not come out of nowhere. The C of the EU, the Parliament etc can all make noise that influences the choice of those proposals for legislation. With Lisbon, the noise coming from the EP would be that little bit louder.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:09:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, the overall lines are written by the Commission, and member states decide on the exact shareout of subsidies in their country. (I think, for example, that aid to market gardeners is allowed, but France at least chooses not to distribute any: there are now not many left in France, either organic or not).

How much can Parliament do re the framing of the CAP, is a question I'm interested in finding out about.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:10:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Commission is accountable to Parliament, and also the Court of Auditors, for how the 52 billion is spent each year. How accountable, it is difficult to understand.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:17:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's excellent that you got to meet with Bove!  It's a bummer he wasn't more engaging though.  I think some activists are best off being activists.    


"Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms." -Dostoevsky
by poemless on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 11:58:04 AM EST
The man was shagged out! Have you no compassion? ;-)

Being an activist means, well, being active.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:13:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well it certainly wasn't meant as an insult.

And being an activist does not mean, well, being active.  Lots of people are active.  They're not all activists.  

Great activists use their skills and talents and resources to draw attention to an issue or cause, to start a dialogue and get the ball of reform rolling.  Those skills and talents and resources do not always translate well into legislative or executive prowess.  Some people make it work, of course.  But I suspect those people were all along more cut-out for politics than activism.  Politics often requires you to give up that very courage and idealism and independence from the Establishment that make people become activists.  It's often a trade off of freedom for results.  I mean, go look at Swedish fish's diary.  We can all sit here and be idealists.  I'd LOVE people like Bove to be in charge.  But to get into that position and stay there requires political savvy and the ability to make people feel secure.  Activists are usually driven to do what they do because the politicians dare not go near their cause and because their cause involves scary things.    

I think in Europe there is more expectation and acceptance of incorporating activism into daily politics (I'm not talking about revolutions and coups - which are also more acceptable in Europe) than in America.  But while it might be easier for an activist to become a politician in Europe, I suspect they probably face the same challenges once elected.  

"Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms." -Dostoevsky

by poemless on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:58:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He's actually very engaging and straightforward. But he was really beat when he arrived, and was visibly just getting his act into gear for a long following day.

The question of whether he was cut out for being an elected representative, though, was broached (politely) by several, but didn't get much response.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:15:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess I would be turned off by that.  Or rather, more concerned.  First, if he's that exhausted now...  everyone's exhausted on the campaign trail.  Everyone.  That can just never be an excuse.  I'm just thinking like a campaign manager now.  That's a major red flag and the time to reassess if it's really worth it.  If you're unable to run on adrenaline alone, you might not be up for the job.  You might not want it enough.  Or if you do, you might have a problem getting people to be excited enough.  That's probably not a huge concern for Bove, because of his name recognition.  But still...  Secondly, avoiding the question of your ability, qualifications, motivations for running for office ... that's almost always the main thing people want to know.  And if you don't know it, I mean, it speaks to a naivete about politics.  Don't get me wrong, I'd probably vote for Bove, on the basis of his badassness alone.  But if you don't know, are not absolutely certain of why you belong in politics and what you can accomplish there, and if you don't have a plan for accomplishing it, you're not going to last very long, I don't imagine.  


"Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms." -Dostoevsky
by poemless on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 01:12:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A significant amount of that seems applicable. He's not used to political campaigning. If I tell you he drove himself a two and a half hour drive down here, which is fine and simple and modest and so on, but work he shouldn't be doing - there's no shortage of volunteers who'd drive him. OTOH, he was just supposed to be having something to eat with sympathisers, not convince the multitudes.

But the question about the European Parliament is there, subjacent: if it had real clout, there'd be a tooth-and-nail fight to get elected, it wouldn't be these lists of people who've made a name in something else, or those their party wants to get rid of by sending them to Siberiathe EP.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 03:11:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Treaty of Lisbon was no change from the constitutional treaty. It was sufficient explanation for the low turnout forecast. (Hmm...)

As I remember it, the Treaty of Lisbon (as the Constitution) will hand budgetary authority to the Parliament over the CAP. Right now it doesn't have any say over most of the spending. With the right kind of parliament, that will allow major changes to the CAP.

On the other hand, the goals of the CAP as defined in the Lisbon Treaty and the Constitution are still the same as in the Treaty of Rome, which is quite sorry.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:31:26 PM EST
This is what I find from the Treaty of Lisbon:

Article 43
(ex Article 37 TEC)

1.  The Commission shall submit proposals for working out and implementing the common agricultural policy, including the replacement of the national organisations by one of the forms of common organisation provided for in Article 40(1), and for implementing the measures specified in this Title.

These proposals shall take account of the interdependence of the agricultural matters mentioned in this Title.

2.  The European Parliament and the Council, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure and after consulting the Economic and Social Committee, shall establish the common organisation of agricultural markets provided for in Article 40(1) and the other provisions necessary for the pursuit of the objectives of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy.

So would it come down to co-decision, and how much change is on offer in that procedure?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 01:06:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It does come down to co-decision. This is a big change as the old article 37 had (well, has) a consultation procedure:

37 (2)

[...] The Council shall, on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, acting by a qualified majority, make regulations, issue directives, or take decisions, without prejudice to any recommendations it may also make. [...]

The change in the budget rules might be even more significant. From an EU site on Lisbon:
Lawmaking: the 'co-decision procedure' (renamed 'ordinary legislative procedure') has been extended to several new fields. This means that Parliament now has the same degree of lawmaking power as the Council in some areas where it used to be merely consulted or not involved at all. These areas include legal immigration, penal judicial cooperation (Eurojust, crime prevention, alignment of prison standards, offences and penalties), police cooperation (Europol) and some aspects of trade policy and agriculture. From now on, then, Parliament will have a role to play in almost all lawmaking.

Budget: the new treaty confirms the established practice of working with a multiannual financial framework, which Parliament will have to approve in future. It also abolishes the current distinction between 'compulsory' expenditure (like direct income support to farmers) and 'non-compulsory' expenditure, with the result that Parliament and the Council will determine all expenditure together. This innovation creates a new balance between the two institutions when approving the EU's budget.


The current set-up flows from what happens in the case of rejection of the budget. See this article:

273 EC

If, at the beginning of a financial year, the budget has not yet been voted, a sum equivalent to not more than one twelfth of the budget appropriations for the preceding financial year may be spent each month in respect of any chapter or other subdivision of the budget in accordance with the provisions of the Regulations made pursuant to Article 279; this arrangement shall not, however, have the effect of placing at the disposal of the Commission appropriations in excess of one twelfth of those provided for in the draft budget in course of preparation.

The Council may, acting by a qualified majority, provided that the other conditions laid down in the first subparagraph are observed, authorise expenditure in excess of one twelfth.

If the decision relates to expenditure which does not necessarily result from this Treaty or from acts adopted in accordance therewith, the Council shall forward it immediately to the European Parliament; within 30 days the European Parliament, acting by a majority of its Members and three fifths of the votes cast, may adopt a different decision on the expenditure in excess of the one twelfth referred to in the first subparagraph. This part of the decision of the Council shall be suspended until the European Parliament has taken its decision. If within the said period the European Parliament has not taken a decision which differs from the decision of the Council, the latter shall be deemed to be finally adopted.

The decisions referred to in the second and third subparagraphs shall lay down the necessary measures relating to resources to ensure application of this Article.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Apr 17th, 2009 at 07:55:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As for the question of the point of the EP, among my RSS feeds there's Alain Lipietz's blog - Alain Lipietz is currently a Frenchh Green MEP, who's not a candidate in these elections - and he talks about what he does in the EP. It seems he does plenty, influencing EU diplomacy (particularly trade diplomacy), modifying directives, etc... Reading that blog certainly made me feel the EP is useful.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 07:12:24 PM EST
Useful, yes. I got the same impression from Michel Teychenné, PES MEP. There's good work done in commission, particularly. But, with all the energy put in, the effect is still only on the fringes.

And look what happens to the MEPs who work hard and know the ropes: they drop out or get sidelined by their party (whatever party: examples are Alain Lipietz and Gérard Onesta for the Greens, Teychenné for the PS, Alain Lamassoure for the UMP).

As it is we have (in France anyway) the contrary tendencies of those desperate to cling on to the real power networks at home, and those on the other hand who are jockeying for a temporary gig with the EP. If the EP was a real source of power in the EU, the elections and the list-making would be much more seriously undertaken.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Apr 17th, 2009 at 01:38:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I visited the Parliament with the UK Lib Dems it was clear that the Lib Dem MEPs were doing a lot of interesting and useful work and a couple of them said they liked being there better than Westminster...

Then again, others like Nick Clegg started out being sent to the EP very young and then went back to the UK because what they were interested in was a home-country political career.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 17th, 2009 at 03:54:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My understanding of the Lipietz case (and supposedly the Greens MEP in general) was that Lipietz at least was starting to burn out (He and Onesta have been MEPs for 10 years), and also that the Greens aren't all that much into looooong stay in elected positions.

My understanding of the PS situation, with also Savary not being in an eligible position again, is not as nice and power struggles are the reason they didn't get a position.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Apr 17th, 2009 at 04:36:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I also wanted to add that although the work is effective at the margin (and even then, the potential annulation of HADOPI is more than at the margins), enough seems to be done to make a "protest" vote not all that attractive, compared to votes that may have an influence in the parliament....

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Apr 17th, 2009 at 04:38:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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