European groups challenge Commission's trade policies

Civil society groups from all over the EU met this week to oppose the European Commission's "aggressive" corporate-led policies on international trade issues.

The "Seattle to Brussels Network", a pan-European network campaigning to promote a sustainable, socially and democratically accountable trade system, held its annual gathering in Budapest.

Participants paid testimony to the negative social and environmental impacts of corporate-led trade policies within their own countries, as well as to the undemocratic character of the negotiations both at a European and international level (see related story).

Environmental and social groups have also stated their concern for trade policies and urged decision makers to make them fairer, with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) being cited as one of the places that would benefit socially, economically and environmentally from international trade reform (see related story).

"We have learned how the whole decision making on trade policies within the EU is flawed and undemocratic, and how EU citizens are getting organised to reclaim political space and our right to define which trade policies we want if we are to protect the environment and fundamental social life values," stated Zsolt Boda, spokesperson for Protect the Future.

"We have to see that not only our governments and local business interests are putting forward the privatisation of hospitals, the closure of small post offices and the favouring of agri-business over small farmers, but that this is a trend aggressively promoted and supported from Brussels and by other international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO)."

Civil society activities this year will focus on up-coming European Council trade ministerial meetings with an aim to denounce the Commission's responsibilities in aggressively pursuing further liberalisation at the expense of citizens and to the advantage of trans-national corporations.

All efforts will be aimed at challenging EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson at the next WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong.

"With Mr Mandelson as EU trade commissioner, democracy takes another body blow from spin and big business," Friends of the Earth campaigner Alexandra Wandel stated. "Big corporations will be the big winners, people and the environment the losers of the EU's trade agenda. The time has come to fundamentally change the EU's trade policies and make them just, sustainable and democratically accountable."



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