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