Western European News Digest
Blair Agrees To Full Debate on Terrorism Bill
After an almost unprecedented, all-night marathon, followed by a full day of debate March 11, the British House of Lords continued to defy the government on two key features of the "prevention of terrorism" bill backed by Prime Minister Tony Blair: The Lords demanded a "sunset clause," that would have the bill automatically expire in one year, and a higher standard of proof for detention. Blair, despite repeatedly declaring "no more compromises," finally backed down on the "sunset clause," which allowed the bill to pass.
The debates lasted 30 hours, after the Blair government forced it to continue through most of the night March 10, but the House of Lords sustained its institutional revolt, and refused to back down. The bill has gone back and forth between the two houses of Parliament four times.
The earlier anti-terror bill, passed right after Sept. 11, 2001, allowed for suspects who are not British citizens, to be imprisoned without trial. This was declared illegal by Britain's Law Lords in 2004. The new bill allows Britons and non-Britons alike to be detained. Originally, the Home Secretary was to be allowed to put suspects under house arrest rather than prison, but this was rejected, for a demand that only the courts could make such decisions.
On March 11, the Lords continued to sustain their two key amendments to the bill, and voted for the fourth time in 24 hours to ensure a higher standard of proof for detention of terrorist suspectsproof based on a balance of probabilities, rather than just "reasonable suspicion"and to back a "sunset clause" that would force the bill back to Parliament after 12 months.
Royal Wedding: Much Ado About Nothing
Queen Elizabeth fears an emergency bill in Parliament to ensure the legality of Prince Charles' civil marriage on April 8, because she fears such a bill could open the door for "republican mischief," the Independent on Sunday reported March 6.
There could be a High Court challenge to prevent Charles marrying Camilla Parker Bowles in a civil ceremony. The Blair government offered to push through emergency legislation to allow the marriage, but the Queen rejected it. "The Palace doesn't want to give any opportunity for republicans to cause mischief in the Commons. They don't want to provide a focus for it," one minister said. But Parliament does want to pass a bill to prevent Camilla from becoming Princess of Wales.
Nine formal objections to the marriage have been filed with the Registrar General. The objections hold that royals are prohibited from marrying in civil ceremonies, but Britain's Lord Chancellor claims that the European Human Rights Act (which Charles opposed) allows them to marry. If the Registrar General allows the marriage, his decision is open to judicial review in the High Court.
German Industry Holds Commodity Crisis Summit
At a conference in Berlin on March 8, sponsored by the federal association of industries, BDI, the heads of German industry discussed the dramatic increase in commodity prices in recent months, which is now turning into an ever bigger threat to German exports.
One issue was the fear that the price hikes for iron ore, steel scrap, and coke, which are hitting the steel sector, will further escalate tensions between the automobile producers and their suppliers. Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder appeared at the conference and called on German corporations to further increase their ties to Russia in order to help secure Germany's future oil and gas supply. Probably the most interesting statement was made by BDI head Juergen Thumann, who demanded that, in light of the current energy price explosion, Germany has to completely rethink its rejection of nuclear power.
GM Contract in Germany Cuts Wages; Promises No More Layoffs
The layoffs which caused German auto workers to demonstrate against General Motors subsidiary Opel in Russelsheim and Bochum last year, will end in 2010, General Motors promised in a new contract signed March 4. However, Opel will exact wage cuts in two forms. First, its German workers will not be paid for more than an average of 35 hours per week, even if they work overtime; and second, they will give up 1% of their previously negotiated wage increase for each year between 2006 and 2010.
GM lost $2.6 billion on its European operationssome of which are carried out by its Japanese subsidiary!in 2004.
German Chancellor Holds Emergency Meeting on Unemployment
A meeting between Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the leaders of the two main opposition parties, Angela Merkel (CDU) and Edmund Stoiber (CSU), was expected on March 11. A meeting is also going to be held between the governing Social Democrats (SPD) and the labor unions, whose date is not yet set.
Meanwhile, the labor committee of the SPD, the AfA, issued an urgent appeal for a state-funded (via the Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau) emergency conjunctural incentives program in the range of 10 billion euros, annually. This is to be invested in the municipal sector, with the main emphasis on social, economic, and transport infrastructures.
EU Finance Ministers Hit Brick Wall on Maastricht
After marathon talks March 7-8 in Brussels were concluded without result, the 25 finance ministers of the European Union will meet again, for a "last-chance" round of talks, March 20. But positions are so far apart between the Franco-German camp on the one side, and the Dutch on the other, that an agreement is not very likely. The issue is reform of the European Union's Maastricht Treaty, which strictly limits government deficits. Under current conditions of widespread unemployment and industrial shutdown, this is creating a crisis in the member nations, most notably France and Germany.
Therefore, the ball is now in the court of the heads of government, who will convene on March 22. It is not entirely clear what French President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder are going for, but they called for "more growth" and "more flexibility of the criteria." The German Chancellor also held a surprise meeting with Luxembourg's Prime Minister Juncker, March 8about which no details have been made known, so far. Juncker warned of a complete failure of the talks on Maastricht reforms.
Schroeder, for his part, announced that the week of March 14, he will present the German national parliament with his thoughts about a growth-promoting program, and that this will also be the platform for the March 17 meeting which he has scheduled for talks with the opposition leaders Angela Merkel (CDU) and Edmund Stoiber (CSU).
North Rhine-Westphalia Labor Leaders Launch Offensive vs. Greens
In an initiative called "Pro Industriepolitik," factory council chairmen of, so far, 25 of the larger industrial firms in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), have attacked the Greens as job-killers, and thereby responsible for a large part of the record high unemployment in Germany. The initiative demands an end to the ban on genetic engineering in agriculture and on certain pharmaceutical products. It demands that the Red-Green exit from nuclear technology be reversed. The Greens are to be kicked out of the government in NRW, after the May 22 state parliament elections, the initiative states.
The initiators include factory council leaders from Bayer Chemical, Thyssen-Krupp, Ford, Ruhrgas, EON Energie, Metro (wholesale). This is the first explicitly anti-Green action of labor leaders in North Rhine-Westphalia since 1997 (when the ferment was suppressed, to open the door to the Red-Green state government coalition), and it may have to do with BueSo/LaRouche Youth Movement campaigning.