Thursday, November 21, 2013

An interview with Paul Murphy MEP, on important European issues.

For the past year we have been witnessing a lot of important developments happening in Europe and beyond. Some of them are constantly in the spotlight of the media; others are dropped from their agenda, once our attention is captured by another event.

In an interview with Paul Murphy, an Irish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Dublin constituency, we discussed a number of these issues. In certain points, he gave me a more of an insider’s point of view that most of us would not be familiar with. 

Paul represents the Socialist Party of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL). He also sits as a full member on the International Trade committee in the European Parliament as a substitute on the Employment and Social Affairs and Petitions committees. 

One of the recent scandals that rocked Europe was the US intelligence spying on European politicians and civilians alike. The NSA spying scandal seemingly has rocked EU-US relations. One after another European governments found themselves as a target of US intelligence espionage.

Ireland is not one of them yet, but in a recent statement Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny, claimed that he “always presumes that people are listening to his phone conversations.” 

“It is just incredible you know,” says Paul. “The real hypocrisy is that all the politicians are supposedly outraged.” We had the German Chancellor Angela Merkel ringing Obama to give out about her mobile phone conversations being listened to”.

 “We already know they have already had access to 500 million pieces of phone conversations in Germany, data have been monitored by the US and this is a huge amount of information,” explains Paul. 

“Every single one of us, through our G-mail, Yahoo accounts and phone calls, are monitored by the NSA and so we have a massive invasion of people’s privacy by the US authorities, but our leaders’ reactions are hypocritical”. 

“Because even the French President Francois Hollande who is apparently one of the most outraged, actually it was his government acting under the instructions of the US, that helped forcing Evo Moralles’ plane to land, because they thought that Snowden was on board,” Paul says. 

He believes that we should use these scandals to put pressure on the EU-US talks on free trade. One of the things that are so outrageous about the whole issue is that all the documents, like the EU mandate documents are secret. 

Even most MEPs can not see them but American big businesses, which are represented by their government, can see the documents through NSA. “In other words it is just an idea that the negotiating process is open between the two powers,” Paul says.
Paul thinks that the EU-USA free trade agreement is extremely dangerous. “What is all about is not primarily about Free Trade,” he says. “We have already a very low trade tariff between the EU and the USA, the agreement is a race to the bottom in environmental, health, consumer and labor regulations”.

 For Paul it is about agreeing common regulations between the EU and the US and the question ultimately would be if our leaders agree with a higher level, which the EU is in some respects while the US in some other, or do you agree to a lower level of standards.

 The agenda of both establishments is to use this agreement to impose a lower level of standards to everything and therefore to bypass the public debate on relevant issues.

The big offensive interests from the US side are the issue of the genetically modified (GM) crops, as they want access for them in the European markets. On the other hand the key European offensive interests are the so called public procurement, which means the privatization of public services in the US. Big companies like Veolia, want access to American public services.

The two sides want to give privileged access of big business to justice, with the investor state dispute settlement mechanism. With the currently existing NAFTA agreement between the US and Canada, there have been many high profile cases whereby if a company’s right to make a profit is interfered by environmental regulation or labor regulations, like a ban of fracking in one state in Canada for example, the company can take the country to court.

 And these are not regular courts, but an outside dispute resolution process that allows companies to have better access to justice, so they can win millions of euro. But this agreement is not just about the EU and the US. 

The two are the biggest trading partners in the world and if they do a deal, it will then have an effect in the rest of the world, because it will become the standard on how you can or not agree on future deals. “Leftist groups and parties have to find a way of popularizing and explaining on what is happening here in Europe and try to build a movement against it,” Paul believes. But any movement here in Europe must be combined with engaging people in America, who also are opposed to this deal. 

The next topic we discussed was the tax regime of Ireland that has the country come often under fire by other European politicians, notably the former French President Mr. Sarkozy. “It is a funny issue, because on one hand I oppose any outside forces that represent the interests of different capital, imposing any policies on us whatsoever,” states Paul.

However he believes that there is a real irony on the issue. “The Irish government has accepted everything from the EU: water charges, privatizations, massive austerity. But now they are waging a fight to defend the Irish sovereignty and the Irish Corporation tax, so that shows who they really represent” Paul adds. 

He is in favor of an increase of the corporation tax, though not when the pressure is coming from the outside. He believes the corporation tax rates are ridiculously low in Ireland with the real effective rate being at around 6-7%, while everything else is open for discussion. 

Like child benefit, unemployment benefits, or health and education services, mobility grants for disabled people and so on. “But the media corporations and the governing establishment say that they can not touch this corporation rate. It is outrageous,” says Paul. 

Europe’s handling of Ireland was not fair according to Paul. “But does anyone really expect the European Commission and the ECB to be fair to people across Europe?” 

“We had this big deal announced; Ireland’s banking debt would be taken off by the ESM. It is pretty clear now that that is not going to happen. People in Ireland are partly the victims of an establishment in Ireland that just wants to be patted on the back by the Commission and the powerful politicians of Europe”.

It suits the EU Commission to have a success story, because then they can use that against other peripheral countries. “But the victims are the people because Ireland is not a success story, that should be argued,” Paul argues. 

The scale of the banking crisis in Ireland and the level of the bail out, in per capita basis are far worse from what happened in any other European country. The debt per capita in Ireland is bigger than most, yet the Irish government isn’t saying that the debt is not payable.

Similarly in the Greek case, Paul believes that the responsibility does not lie with the Greek people. It greatly lays with the creators of the euro, the interests of the banking elite- primarily the German finance capital- the likes of Goldman Sachs who helped to cook the books in Greece in order the country to join the euro.

But also the political establishment of the country like the PASOK and the New Democracy parties, together with the local elites they protected for a long time. “Greece does have a massive tax avoidance problem, but not by the ordinary people. The ordinary tax payer has no choice but to pay taxes,” says Paul. It is businesses like those of big ship owners that have avoided paying the taxes for too long and that was not sustainable.

There have been debt audits in Greece that showed that an amount of the debt was accumulated by deals that the Greek government agreed to, spending national money on big unnecessary defense contracts with various European arms industries.  

So there has been exploitation of the Greek people for over a period of time, and that is reflected by the Greece’s debt. “But it is an odious debt and should not be paid by the Greek people,” Paul concludes. 

The interview will continue in a second part shortly in the future. 

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