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Anti-WTO campaign to centre on services

by Gustavo Capdevila

Geneva, 4 Dec 2000 (IPS) -- The protests announced for this week in Nice, France, during the European Union (EU) summit, may serve as a preview of future campaigns against globalisation and trade liberalisation.

A march convened by European labour unions and civil society groups for Dec 6 is intended as a protest against the liberalisation of services sectors, such as health, education and culture, by the World Trade Organisation.

In Nice, the EU heads of state and government are to discuss a new distribution of power among the EU’s member countries, and its Executive Commission, including authority to negotiate certain matters in the WTO.

Currently, under the Maastricht treaty, the EU members have “shared responsibility” with the executive arm, the European Commission, in specific areas of trade policy, like services, investment and intellectual property. In these matters, as set in Article 133 of the treaty, the EU countries can veto the commitments made at the WTO by the EU Commission.

But the EU Commissioner in charge of trade, the French socialist Pascal Lamy, and the EU “pressure groups of transnational corporations - his allies - have high hopes” that the Nice summit will modify that article, according to writer Susan George, who heads the Globalisation Observatory.

If that occurs, the fight against neo-liberal globalisation will be forced many steps backwards, she warned.

Lamy’s intention, according to Susan George, is to apply the same system of qualified majority (based on a distribution of votes at the EU Council according to the demographic weight of the members), used for decisions on trade matters, such as those on industrial goods, to services, investment and intellectual property.

Under the qualified majority rule, France, Germany, the UK and Italy each have 10 votes, Spain follows with eight, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands and Portugal each hold five, Austria and Sweden have four, Denmark, Finland and Ireland have three, and Luxembourg holds one. This system of voting requires a majority of 62 votes to approve a given decision, while 26 votes are needed to block any measure.

But Germany is attempting, in parallel talks, to ensure that the Nice conference revise the distribution of votes, recognising Germany as the most populous country and granting it more votes than France, UK and Italy.

These two matters to be debated at the summit are closely related to the uncertain future of the EU’s trade policy, and are a source of concern to the organizations involved in the planned march in Nice.

Susan George said that Lamy is developing a campaign so that the qualified majority will be applied to the three areas of services, investment and intellectual property.

The service sector includes health, education, audio-visual, transport, environment and public services. Intellectual property is currently a hot issue, as is genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Susan George, US-born naturalised French citizen, maintains that the European Commission, which shares Lamy’s approach, “wants liberalisation right and left” at the WTO.

Michel Servoz, leading European negotiator in the services area, has said that “health and education are ripe for liberalisation,” according to Susan George, in her political document “Red Alert.”

Susan George, in turn, predicts that if Lamy’s proposals succeed, the European Commission will be completely beholden to neo-liberal doctrines and the demands of the major industrial and financial corporations.

The protesters planning to march on the streets of Nice Wednesday will speak out in defence of the concept of public service, which the EU Commission “intends to eliminate under the pretext of competition,” she stressed.

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