Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pesticides sneak in the EP

War of words on the pros and cons of usage

Since the days of yore, the role played by pesticides in the agriculture sector can not be denied but with the advent of synthetic products, the accompanying dangers to humans have multiplied. The European Parliament, the only directly-elected European institution, is set to vote on new legislation regarding the authorisation, sale and use of hazardous pesticides in the European Union.

Commenting on the subject after a September vote in the EP Environment Committee (ENVI) on her report revising existing legislation on pesticide authorisations, German Green MEP and rapporteur Hiltrud Breyer said, “Pesticides are toxic substances, manufactured with the intention of killing, yet they end up on our plates and, ultimately, in our bodies. Future legislation must ensure that pesticides that are dangerous for consumers and the environment are gradually taken off the market, a fact that was strongly made in my report, which was adopted by the ENVI Committee today.”

Breyer called for more applied research in the sector saying, “Well-designed provisions for substitution of harmful substances with less dangerous ones can create a win-win situation: reducing risk for consumers, users and the environment, while at the same time stimulating innovation in the chemical industry. This approach should be strengthened for EU-wide approval of active substances, as well as for national authorisations of pesticide products.”

In view of the upcoming vote in the European Parliament, an event organised on the Brussels premises of EP took additional significance. Presenting its findings, Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) and Pesticide Action Network Europe said that in July 2007 they had purchased eight fruit items from the GB Express supermarket in the European Parliament building (Brussels) and analysed them for the presence of pesticide residues.

“All 28 pesticides detected have known or suspected links with negative impacts on human health, while residues on apricot, grapes and oranges exceeded legal limits, making these fruits illegal to sell,” they alleged. The statement added, “In total, the eight fruit samples analysed contained some 28 different pesticide residues, including 10 known carcinogens, three neurotoxins, three developmental toxins, and eight suspected endocrine disruptors.

Two of contaminants are classified as being ‘Highly Hazardous’. None of the food items was pesticide-free.” Three of the eight food samples analysed (apricot, grapes, orange) contained pesticide residues in excess of EC Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) – thus rendering their sale illegal.

The apricot contained excessive levels of a suspected endocrine disruptor, one bunch of grapes showed illegal amounts of a known carcinogen, and the oranges were contaminated with elevated concentrations of two different pesticides, both linked with cancer and reproductive or developmental toxicity.

The Belgian-grown strawberries contained a staggering 14 different pesticide residues, of which five are known carcinogens.

The oranges, grown in Spain, contained the toxic pesticide imazalil at levels substantially above the “Acceptable Daily Intake” for a five-year old toddler.

Commenting on the results, MEP Breyer said, “The result of this pesticide test is alarming. It clearly shows that it is high time to better protect consumers and the environment from the harmful effects of dangerous pesticides.” “The results come as a big worry to all parents wanting to make sure that their children grow up healthily. Times and again pesticides are found in residues which exceed the provisions of the EU baby food directive by up to 200 percent. Children are especially susceptible to toxic pesticides. There are over 90 pesticides which harm children’s neurological development and impair their IQ.”

“These findings represent a total indictment of food products on sale in the EU,” said Elliott Cannell, a spokesperson for Pesticides Action Network PAN Europe. “And most of these fruit items were grown here too. All eight pieces of fruit that we tested contained toxic substances that simply shouldn’t be in the European food chain.”

“Three percent of EU food products contain pesticide residues above what is suspected to be harmless in the longer term,” said Dr Ludo Holsbeek, an Ecotoxicologist from the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. “Even more than with the European Chemicals regulation, the new regulation on plant protection products offers the chance of a healthier environment and better food protection – all this without endangering agriculture.” “The goals of creating a healthier environment and better food protection are not in contradiction with the principles of long term sustainable agriculture, nor with the search for new, less stable, non-bioaccumulative and non-environmentally harmful pesticides,” Holsbeek added.

Agreeing, “The root cause of food contamination is very simple,” Cannell aptly put it, “We spray excessive quantities of toxic chemicals onto our food as it’s growing in the field. So it’s no wonder that many of these substances end up on our dining tables.”

On the other hand, agriculture sector pundits pointed to the fact that the approval and use of pesticides is put under strict controls by the EFSA (the European Food Safety Agency) and by the competent authorities in the members states, participating in this process with environmental authorities.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is working under a tough deadline until December 2008 to complete its review of existing active substances in plant protection products. It has more than 300 crop protection products to process, but it is only able to examine four products per month.

The National Farmers’ Union NFU, representing farmers in England and Wales recently lamented this unrealistic deadline and called for an extension of this time barrier. NFU vice President Paul Temple said, “Farmers face having their hands tied by a ridiculous situation of not being able to protect their crops if this arbitrary political deadline stays in place. It is a bureaucratic decision, which has nothing to do with food or environmental safety.”

Farmers’ Guardian cited Temple as saying, “We don’t want manufacturers having to withdraw products which they have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds getting onto the market simply because of a political deadline. Pesticide resistance will become an issue if farmers are forced to use one or a very small range of products.”

After a visit to EFSA’s offices in Parma, Italy, Temple added: “We were very impressed by the independence and firmly science-based nature of EFSA. They have a significant and challenging job to cover all the required issues from 27 member states, and should not be put under pressure by needless deadlines.”

Speaking in Belgium another agriculture guru said, “Healthy crops contribute to improve the environment, compensating the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases of other economic and social activities and to generate wealth and jobs in rural areas. It offers consumers a diversified basket of products and favours the maintenance of a healthful diet.”

“For this reason EFSA has set Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for each crop to protect consumers from any possible harm arising from residues. So even eating food with residues at the maximum limit will not cause any adverse health effects. This is largely because the responsible on-farm treatment of a given crop leads to even lower residues than the MRL. Processing, storage, washing and cooking all combine to further reduce residues. It is important to recognise that a residue does not mean a risk. No groups of the population are exposed to residues in food at levels that threaten their health,” added one market analyst who did not want to be named.

“It is regrettable that large retailers as GB/Carrefour have not understood the message and confront their consumers with non-conform products. Quality has a price and this should be known by each responsible purchase manager of the superstores,” regretted the Belgian agriculture pundit.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wahhabism tightens grip over Kosovo

Ahtisaari’s plan for independence may help terrorism flourish

Islam has flourished in the Balkans over the centuries with a peaceful and modern outlook but over the last decade, especially now with the talk of Kosovo independence, there are questions being raised about the external influence in once-tranquil religious relations.

Wahhabism, a fundamental form of Islam with origins in Saudi Arabia has been rearing its ugly head of intolerance in the Balkans starting from Bosnia a decade ago. With the recent manifestation of its hardcore modus operandi in Kosovo, which has more than a 90 percent Muslim population, the ongoing impact of Wahhabism demands serious attention.

First, let’s look at origins of Wahhabism.In the deserts of the Middle East, Muhammad al-Saud, a tribal leader, had in 1750 formed an alliance with Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab, a religious leader and al- Wahhab’s name defines the Islamic interpretation that remains the Saudi Arabian kingdom’s ideology. The present Saudi Arabia was formed in 1902, when Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud captured the town of Riyadh but its greatest victory came in 1924, when it captured Mecca from the Hashemite dynasty that had controlled the city for centuries.

With the arrival of the 70s, the mud houses and camel caravans in Saudi Arabia started coexisting with the ultra-modern infrastructure. The newly found wealth of “Petro-dollars” brought phenomenal changes in a few decades. But like every “gift,” this one also came with a package and that has thrown young Saudis to face many nontraditional problems.

According to official estimates, the last two decades have seen the native-born population in Saudi Arabia doubling to nearly 18 million but on the other hand the per-capita income during the same period dwindled to almost half of what it was.

Add to that unemployment figure of about 30 percent in the adult male population with no chance of finding a job in sight. Now, compare that to the average monthly stipend of about USD 30,000 for a low ranking hierarchy prince in the Saudi ruling family, and, according to rough estimates the number of them is as high as 25,000. In the process, the Saudi government gets about 50 percent of the oil revenue as the rest is pocketed by the Saudi royal family at source.

Ironically, most Saudis are aware of this fact and that fuels the unhappiness in the Vox Populi.It is thus not the lack of wealth but a disproportionate distribution system that is one of the major factors that attracts Saudi youth to terrorism which according to sources has the silent support of most people under 30.

Getting uncomfortable with domestic unrest, the Saudi ruling family in 1980s decided to export this home-grown militancy to Afghanistan to fight Soviets and the rest is history.Today, Wahhabism needs new breeding grounds along with training and survival fields. It will not be long after the “independence” of Kosovo that the Kosovoan version, of “Muttawa,” the religious police since 1926 of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia that enforces prayer five times a day, monitors mobile SMS and arrests women for failing to cover themselves completely, will be a reality on the streets of Kosovo.

One look at the local media reports in Kosovo and neighbouring arena will suffice to convince any sceptic about the dangers of Wahhabism form of Islam. The UN and Kosovo police in the southern part of the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica on September 19 arrested one of the leaders of the Wahhabite movement in southern Serbia and Kosovo, according to local media reports.

According to these reports the arrested man was Bajram Aslani, allegedly the main Kosovo connection with the recentlyarrested Wahhabi group in Novi Pazar, Southern Serbia. The local reports suggested that the Belgrade Special prosecution for Organised crime on September 14 pressed charges against a group of 15 Wahhabites from Novi Pazar for terrorism and unlawful possession of arms.Some of the defendants were arrested near Novi Pazar on March 16 and large quantities of weapons, ammunition and explosives were found during the operation.

Moreover, in late April reports stated that in the village of Donja Trnava near Novi Pazar, the police had a clash with two Wahabis, which resulted in the killing of one of them, Ismail Prentic, and the wounding of one police officer.

Two recent explicit cases involving Wahhabis in Kosovo can be put forward in addition to every day media reports of Wahhabis being arrested, exchanging fire with law-enforcing agencies or simply taking over mosques that have been there for hundreds of years in Turkish style and converting them to conform to Wahhabi way of architecture and worship.

The first case is in the Gazimestan area which has historic values with a famous medieval battlefield dating back to 1389, stretching from Pristina to Mitrovica. In addition to the remains of Serbian Prince Lazar and Ottoman Sultan Murad, there in the vicinity are two shrines called “Turbe” existing for hundreds of years and have never got disturbed until recently when these were vandalised.

According to local reliable sources who wanted to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, it was allegedly the work of Wahhabis as they believe tombs should not be kept as shrines. The allegations are strengthened by the fact that even in Saudi Arabia there have been such cases like the Jannatul- Baqi, the famous cemetery in Medina, also known as the “Tree garden of Heaven,” which is alleged to have been destroyed in order to keep up with the Wahhabi ideal of not worshipping graves.

Another important case that did stir strong local resentment happened in Prizren, an old historic town that has a history of multiethnic population represented by an Orthodox Church, a Catholic Church and a Mosque, more than 350 years old from the days of Ottoman Empire. According to local sources, the mosque was getting refurbished with Saudi money and the new Imam allegedly preaches Wahhabism. The local Muslim population is disgruntled with the actions of the new Imam who without consultations first made living quarters for himself as an extension of the ancient Mosque and then replaced “irreplaceable” decorative wooden work on the inside ceiling and other parts with new aluminium frames thus the Mosque lost forever its historic heritage.

Another practice that is prevalent in Kosovo today is Wahhabis allegedly paying poor people to wear visible signs of Islam. According to local sources the alleged rate today varies from 100 Euro to 300 Euro per month depending on how much of face or body is covered in Islamic clothing.Money talks and it sure does as is evident with its contribution to the replacement of moderate Islam in Kosovo with the financing of “Islamic studies” trips for youngsters. After a stint of such religious learning abroad in Saudi Arabia or Egypt, lasting around six to 12 months, the youngsters upon returning back in Kosovo sport Islamic beards and robes instead of their jeans.

Watching those alarming signs in Kosovo, socio-religious pundits and political observers warn that slow but steady moderate Islam with its Turkish roots is on its way out and with the talk of independence in Kosovo picking up, soon the days when girls sport western clothes will be history. The mix of Saudi Wahhabism with their oil money is proving dangerous to the world.

The question that comes to mind is: Was it a coincidence that 15 of the 19 hijackers of September 11 terrorist attacks on the US were Saudi citizens and so is the mastermind Osama bin Laden? In a Catch- 22 situation, the West is financing for spread of fundamental Islam in the form of Wahhabism which will boomerang to hurt them. By supporting the UN envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari’s plan for Kosovo’s independence, many Western governments are unwittingly working to carve out a safe haven for criminality and fundamentalist Islam in the heart of Europe.

It’s time to rethink Kosovo independence: another Taliban in the making and this time right in the heart of European Continent from where it will be easier not only to strike in Europe but also travel across the Atlantic.

Another dilemma: EU money for high-tech or food innovation

Another dilemma: EU money for high-tech or food innovation

Galileo, the satellite navigation system and the European Institute of Technology EIT, two of the dream projects of European leaders got the financial backing of the European commission, the executive arm of the European Union.

The Commission last week decided to overlook the welfare of the European citizens with proposals to finance the extra 2.4 billion Euro for Galileo and yet another 309 million Euro for the European Institute of Technology (EIT) through a smart revision of the Financial Framework 2007-2013. The proposal will enable the commission to transfer 2.189 billion Euro from the agriculture budget within the margin available in 2007 and 2008 under heading “Preservation and Management of Natural Resources.”

According to common knowledge, the “Preservation & management of natural resources” programme is intended to assist European farmers in the EU citizens’ demand for safe, quality food, produced without unnecessary waste, and a healthy environment. In 2003-4 the reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were ending to a large extent the unhealthy link between subsidies and production. Farmers are since then free to produce what consumers want in a truly competitive market, while ensuring higher standards of environmental protection, food quality and animal welfare.

Moreover, the commission had announced proposals to increase spending on Rural Development to boost growth and create jobs in rural areas - in line with the Lisbon Strategy. Thus the money was set for use not only for innovation and diversification but also for more agricultural activities.

In its quest to quench the thirst of scientific programmes, the Commission announced that these funds which were meant for the benefit of the European citizens won’t be needed, thus leaving a staggering margin of two billion Euro under the ceiling in 2008. To a layperson, this can not be explained as price tags on food shelves are renewed upward everyday and coming after a long period of relative price stability in the food sector. This is more than obvious to every person. Prices of milk and dairy products, vegetables oils have climbed up and the latest flour and bread price hikes have made headlines in all media outlets with Italians deciding to go without pasta one day recently.

The wave of demand that is sweeping across the Continents is also helped by panic buying on the Asian and South American areas as food shortage looms. Although harvest failures, crop mismanagement and other causes can not be ruled out, there is a clear cut case of high subsidies in the European Union for valuable fields being set-a-side and as high subsidies are pushing for the production of energy raw materials.

According to media reports, this year in Germany alone two million hectares out of the 12 million hectares arable land or about 17 percent of the total is dedicated for energy crops. The obvious fallout is on the areas for cultivation land for food and feeds.

On the heels of this turmoil came the tug-of-war between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mariann Fischer Boel. With Sarkozy throwing his weight behind communitarian preference, the commissioner, during the informal meeting of agriculture ministers in Portugal, rejected that the future CAP will be based on the principle of communitarian preference that favours the domestic agricultural productions.

The spokesman for Commissioner Boel declared that “It is not in our interest to turn the communitarian preference as a strength of European agriculture,” since the EU has become a net agricultural product exporter. We see opportunities to export our foods of quality in markets like China and India,” and added that the communitarian preference can only be used “in relation to our international obligations within the framework of the World Trade Organization.”

Stressing the need for an European protectionism policy while talking in the negotiations in the WTO, Sarkozy declared that “the developing nations want the rights of the big nations, but they must also accept the obligations, consider that they have only rights and have no obligations in a system of multilateral commerce” and emphasised this to India, China, Argentina and Brazil.

The French president added that “We cannot impose rules to our producers” and at the same time allow imports from other countries that impose the “environmental, social, fiscal and monetary dumping.” Sarkozy stirred not only strong reaction from commissioner Boel but also from trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, who declared that accusations of the social dumping cannot be made because that would mean that the developed countries are not prepared to accept the comparative advantage that grant the low labour costs of third countries.

With this war of words going on at the top level, the farmers have nothing to gain except to miss out on a European tool to produce what consumers want in a truly competitive market, while ensuring higher standards of environmental protection, food quality and animal welfare. Last, but not least, it is incomprehensible for ordinary European citizens to fid that the Commission on one hand, reiterates at every possible opportunity strong interest in innovative farming and the creation of jobs in rural areas - in line with the Lisbon Strategy while on the other hand it is ready to siphon money out of agricultural sector to pump into high tech satellite applications. Only time can tell which one of the two can generate more jobs: Satellite industry or applied agricultural innovations.

Cereals dilemma: space for cereals or for birds

Cereals dilemma: space for cereals or for birds

Following on the heels of the coverage of “Ethanol dilemma: Fuel for vehicles or food for humans” last week on this page, the European Commission proposed to reduce the rate of set-aside of farmland to zero percent for the 2008 harvest year.

With the EU reserves for grain stocks on the low side, the solution was to put all available farmland in production but that did not go down well with wildlife watching organisations and BirdLife International, the global alliance of conservation organisations working together for the world’s birds and people, regretted the decision as the annulment of set-aside for 2008 could deal a severe blow to the already struggling farmland bird populations and other wildlife. The wildlife pundits pointed that the set-aside represents an important refuge for wildlife in intensive farming landscapes.

Speaking to New Europe, one wildlife conservationist wondered how much irreversible harm this rushed decision can do as it was noted that in the past the Commission has recognised the environmental benefits of set-aside and had promised to do a full assessment of it in the upcoming next year’s Common Agricultural Policy “Health Check.”

Moreover, the Spanish portal Eldia.es pointed out that the European Commission is stating that today only 1.7 percent of the cereal production is used for energy products but in reality everywhere in Europe there is a mad rush for development of entirely new plants for biodiesel and ethanol, using crude vegetable oils and grains as raw material. Obviously, the process will lead to a much higher percentage production needed for fuel mixings.

Moreover, a recent report of the OECD has highlighted that the European plans are set to strangle food markets as OECD recommended only three kinds of biofuels as preferable to oil: cane sugar to converted to ethanol, the by-products of paper-making and used vegetable oil and strange but true none of these feature prominently in the EU’s plans for biofuels.

In addition to this, the World Trade Organization is discussing the Brazilian complaint against the US agriculture subsidies including the topic “energy subsidies,” which attacks tax exemptions on diesel fuel and gasoline. With this new set of alcohol-induced WTO battle lines being drawn there will be increasing pressure on the EU and US to open their markets for ethanol.

Overall, the burgeoning ethanol industry is already generating a new wave of prosperity for rural towns around the globe. With major corn farmers pushing for more ethanol production as the industry see the creation of an enormous new market for their crop, giving corn prices the kind of lift they haven’t seen in years.

Last, but not least, there is a slim fallout on the family farmers in developing countries which grow corn and wheat on their 2-3 hectares farmland and they should be the first beneficiaries of the hike in cereal prices and they are worth to be rewarded for their hard labour but the closed markets of the EU and the US need to be opened sooner rather than later.

Ethanol dilemma: Fuel for vehicles or food for humans

Ethanol dilemma: Fuel for vehicles or food for humans

Less pollution is the agreed mantra of today’s environmental friendly world opinion running to beat the emissions. In this arena gets mentioned the name of ethanol, a clear, colourless, liquid fuel produced from a variety of crops including sugarcane and corn. The usage originates because ethyl alcohol with a higher octane rating than gasoline when mixed with latter reduces the level of emission created by fuel combustion in gasoline engines and also extends the use of gasoline. It all sounds very efficient and environmentally-friendly till one looks at the fallout on the food sector. The biggest thrust is coming on the American continent where not only the United States is shifting the usage of its corn production to get more and more ethanol but also countries like Brazil are obsessed with producing and exporting the same even circumventing US restrictions.

Let’s first look at the US scenario where billions of gallons of ethanol are manufactured mostly from corn and according to corn industry sources, within next eight to 10 years all the corn grown in US will be used for ethanol. The fallout on the food sector is imminent with corn prices not only pushing grocery budgets up but also meat products costing more. Add to that a large chunk of agricultural land will go under corn production which demands greater area as more ethanol-producing plants are springing up across US. The US Energy Policy Act of 2005 boosted this by launching a renewable fuel programme which gave a mandatory clause to increase absolute amounts of renewable fuels, including ethyl alcohol, to be blended with gasoline. With this programme the amount of renewable fuels produced in the US is required to increase from about four billion gallons in 2006 to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012.

Moreover, there is an added incentive for fuel distributors in the US where they get an income tax credit when they blend ethanol with gasoline in addition to a partial exemption from the federal excise tax on motor fuels provided for ethyl alcohol that is derived from renewable resources and used as fuel. In terms of 2005 world production, the United States ranked second, accounting for 45 percent of world production; the largest producer, Brazil, accounted for 46 percent of world production. Although the US has bilateral agreements with many nations, Brazil falls under a dutiable source thus in a way the increasing US production is shutting out Brazilian produce which is now looking out to European countries to promote its ethanol exports. With the US currently importing a meagre three percent of its ethanol consumption, there is an impending glut of ethanol in Brazil in next couple of years as outlined recently in Sao Paulo by one of the market leaders.

With more and more corn being siphoned off to ethanol pipelines, there will be less and less available for exports to traditional food importing countries thus exacerbating food shortages in such dependant poor countries. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned last week that skyrocketing prices for such basic food imports such as wheat, corn and milk had the “potential for social tension, leading to social reactions and eventually even political problems.” “If we continue to see an increase in their (food) prices and in their import bill for food, there is a serious potential situation,” Diouf was quoted as saying.

Diouf aptly pinpointed that although the biofuel industry is directly responsible for annihilation of a few items like corn from food sector, the fallout is greater because less and less acreage will go to non-biofuel crops and add to that the cost of feeding livestock with grain. “The biofuel industry is a new factor creating demand for food for a non-food use,” he was cited in the media reports.

On the one hand, we see the White House blindly pushing for biofuels and self-sufficiency angle without giving any thought to the risky fallout on world food sector, the reaction in Europe has been more humanitarian.

Mariann Fischer Boel, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development writing in her blog said, “In this whole debate about food prices, we cannot lose sight of the effect on consumers. It hurts consumers in their pockets when food prices go up.” But she also advocated EU products calling European consumers to “put their money where their mouth is and be prepared to pay a little bit more for EU produce.”

Talking of fallout on food sector, there is another impending squeeze that is coming on world sugar markets as Brazil uses cane sugar to manufacture ethanol and world sugar prices are crashing. The European Commission which launched its sugar policy reforms in 2006 is already alarmed about the new threat posed by “ethanol production” and fluctuations in demand-supply in the sugar sector in coming years.

There is also the Catch 22-situation with respect to environmental factors. The very environment, that ethanol usage as fuel is trying to save, gets damaged by excessive corn production. It’s an established fact in agricultural sector that corn production needs more insecticides and herbicides than any other crop thus releases of nitrogen and phosphorus from corn fields damage soil quality, contaminating groundwater and polluting rivers. Talking of water, there is a double edged drawback as in addition to corn production, more water is needed to produce ethanol thus in most cases straining the same underground sources used for crop irrigation.

Ongoing droughts parching the Great Plains in US for the past five years continue to project a very ominous sign for the food sector. Fluctuating weather patterns in Europe and other parts of the world are of not much solace to the market observers as such.

In the light of these factors agricultural pundits are advocating development of more non-food sector sources like cellulose plants like switchgrass, a perennial grass grown on marginal agricultural land and does not require fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides, for the production of ethanol.

With no direct competition with food production and providing higher yields than corn and cane sugar crops, there is renewed hope to cut down the spiralling food prices if a serious effort is made about using such alternatives.

Last, but not least, a pragmatic knock came from a market specialist in Brussels as he quipped, “I hope that the European and US negotiators in Geneva know that they have a final word in the soaring food prices.” With APEC leaders meeting in Sydney last weekend getting ready to issue a statement urging the global community to conclude the Doha round of world trade talks by the end of the year, there appeared a silver lining in the dark clouds that have hovered over WTO Doha round talks.

Interview with Terry Davis, Secretary General, Council of Europe, Strasbourg

CoE on abolition of death penalty

“EU at risk of duplicating Council of Europe work:” Terry Davis

Interview with: Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is making an all-out effort to abolish the death penalty from the face of the planet and uphold the human rights of every man and woman even in facing justice. Speaking to Tejinder Singh in Strasbourg, Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, warned against risks of duplication of works in European institutions.

Q. You took office in September 2004, three years down the road, how do you feel the pace of progress?

We have come a long way in last three years. There have been reformative changes in the administration of the Council of Europe. We have already done a lot of reforms in resources with much more rigorous in our approach to financial matters and we have been running some very successful campaigns such as campaign against discrimination, campaign against trafficking in human beings and campaign against domestic violence. We are on a course, a process of becoming a campaigning organisation.

Q. Death penalty: You are committed to its abolition and you commented against Texas in strong words. What are your efforts to abolish the same?

I am personally against the death penalty. I voted against the death penalty in the United Kingdom when I was a member of Parliament. At the Council of Europe, we are united to oppose the death penalty. All our 47 countries have views against death penalty. In the USA, lets remember that some states do not have it and when some states do execute. I do comment on US executions as I do with Japan because they are observer countries of the Council of Europe.

Canada and Mexico are observer countries as well but both Canada and Mexico have abolished death penalty. It’s still being used in Japan and some parts of US. Since its an agreed policy of Council of Europe, I am authorised to comment when people are executed in Texas.

Q. You are cooperating with OSCE, UN and EU but it seems there is some duplication in EU projects with regard to Council of Europe work. Will you like to comment?

Our mandate is human rights, democracy and rule of law. We have activities which support these and activities in education, in culture, in youth, in sports and in social cohesion. These are what we call enabling factors and its true we are very active in these fields.

For example, sports, some people are surprised at our activities in the area of sports. There is an international organisation against doping and there is a doping agreement. The Council of Europe organises the representation of Europe in that body and it can not be done by the European Union because they only have 27 countries while we have 47.

There is a great risk of duplication, I agree and I am strongly opposed to duplication. Of course, there are some cases where its not duplication but partnership. There are many examples where we work in partnership but I will agree there is a tendency, there is a risk of the European Union duplicating what we do. Its against the interests of Europe, particularly against the interests of taxpayers who will finally be paying twice for same work being done.

Q. You recently spoke of “Commons Heritage of Europe.” During a recent visit to the Balkans especially Serbia, I found that Wahhabism, a fundamental form of Islam that is exported out of Saudi Arabia, is spreading very fast replacing centuries-old Turkish moderate form. Do you feel the threat of terrorism taking roots in these areas and what will you like to suggest as a remedy?

Terrorism comes not only from Islam or extreme fundamental form of it. Let’s be clear that terrorism comes from other sources also like the IRA or some of the Basque people. We believe in intercultural dialogue. The majority of Muslims are opposed to violence, opposed to terrorism. They want to attract people to their faith, not impose it on them. Christians share that point of view.

We need to have much more understanding at the local level, certainly to encourage intercultural and inter-religious dialogues at national levels but also at local levels. The fact is that a lot can be done by local religious leaders, local priest, local rabbi and the local mullah working together can lead the people who follow their faith to a greater understanding of each other and to concentrate on real social evils.

Q. You now mentioned intercultural dialogue. Will you like to comment that some states like France are not allowing Sikhs to wear turbans?

As far as the wearing of turbans is concerned, we have the European Convention of Human Rights and from time to time, people apply to European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe, complaining that the human rights are not being protected by the authorities in one of the member countries. Some of these decision do affect the wearing of turbans. I will not comment on a case that is going on before the court.

Q. You have been invited to join Global Rapid Reaction Force. What are its goals and what will you contribute to it?

It’s a programme organised by Jorge Sampaio, the former President of Portugal and now representative of the UN Secretary General to put into practice Alliance of Civilisations. We are going to comment quickly and take rapid reaction to events which take place and are damaging to people. For example, the recent march in Brussels Against Islamisation of Europe. Also some authorities try to ban gay pride marches. I am against all discrimination. My personal motto here is “All Different, All Equal!”

Interview with Vuk Jeremic, Foreign Minister, Serbia

Kosovo hogs the limelight at the CoE

Jeremic advocates “seeds of harmony” for the Western Balkans

Interview with: Vuk Jeremic, Foreign Minister of Serbia

In a candid interview on the sidelines of Parliamentary Assembly session of the Council of Europe, Vuk Jeremic, Foreign Minister of Serbia and current Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers, Council of Europe spoke to Tejinder Singh about the experience, the ongoing dialogue and choices for future scenario of the Western Balkans.

Q. October 5, 2007 marks the 7th anniversary of democratic Serbia, seven years since a democratic change took place. How would you explain the fact that Serbian people are still not free to travel abroad, especially to the European Union without visas, and stand in the endless lines in front of embassies?

This is one of the most difficult problems we are facing when it comes to furthering the cause of European future for Serbia. Each and every time we go for elections, we push forward a European vision of Serbia and we continue to win elections. Every time since October 2000 we have won elections on the European ticket and it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain this vision and to maintain the democratic support for this if people are not able to see firsthand what Europe is about.

In the last elections, we, as the strongest pro-European party in Serbia, got 25 percent of votes and 64 percent of the people who voted for us never had a chance to travel to the European Union. So 64 percent of the people who voted for the European party whose main goal and top of agenda is Europe never had a chance to travel to the European Union.

This we see as a tremendous difficulty for maintaining democratic support for a European future. This becomes even more painful and more frustrating if you look around in the neighbourhood. Our neighbours can travel freely. Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Croats: they travel freely to the European Union and we can not. That makes for acrimony which is not a good and useful ingredient for the stability of the Balkans.

Q. During a recent visit to your country and also in talks with reliable sources in UNMIK, it got confirmed that Wahhabism, a fundamental form of Islam originating from Saudi Arabia is deepening roots in the region, especially in Kosovo now. If independent, Kosovo will becomes a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism catering to terrorists, right in the heart of Europe. Have you taken note of this and brought it to the notice of Europeans?

It is really very important that we realise all the dangers that can come out of disintegration of the European front, disintegration of the European vision of the Western Balkans. When we are talking of perils of a solution that is not a compromise solution then we are worried about a strategic danger. This part of the world is going to have a European future only if there is peace and stability in the region.

If there is no peace and stability in the region, this shaky foundation for a European accession process is going to unravel and then we will be outside the gravitational pull of Europe in the political sense. That may lead to all sorts of things to happen. We can talk of religious extremism finding a fertile ground, severe criminal activity, corruption, nationalism and we can actually talk of all kinds of nasty things. The threats and perils of unilateralism will combine to cause unprecedented misery in the Western Balkans and destabilise the region.

The only way to avoid all these perilous routes is to stay firm on the course of European integration and to do that we need to arrive at a compromise solution for Kosovo. If we don’t, the situation is just going to blow up. We need to sow “seeds of harmony” in the Western Balkans instead of “seeds of acrimony.”

Q. What will Serbia do the day after December 10? (When Kosovo says it will declare independence.)

We are now in the negotiations process and last thing that is useful for the negotiations process is to start focusing on what’s going to happen if the negotiations fail. If one engages in a debate, what’s going to be done if the negotiations fail, the failure then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I will like to not spend time talking what happens if it fails and at this stage we need to concentrate in best ways to negotiate so that we arrive at a compromise solution with a way forward.

Q. How do you personally feel about the ongoing negotiations?

Right now they are at the critical stage. We have just now started negotiating directly. It’s the first time we are negotiating directly. At this stage, the international community should really move in heavily in terms of supporting the process and encourage the parties to arrive at a compromise because so far this has not been the case. So far, there has been a pre-judgment:
There could be only one thing, independence, and therefore let’s now even bother thinking, let’s not bother trying and let’s not bother pressing anybody into anything else.

Now the situation is very different and it’s obvious that there are a growing number of countries that feel uncomfortable when it comes to endorsement of outright secessionism because these things have not happened in the past.

In the post-1945 world, since we had the UN Charter and especially since we had the Helsinki final act in Europe, we have not had situations in which you had the right of determination being pushed to the point of secessionism, especially against the will of democratic authorities. Now there is a growing number of countries in the world that are getting more closely acquainted with the details of the situation and growing more and more uncomfortable.

Q. You said recently in Bucharest, “If we do the right thing, Serbia will succeed, and if we succeed, the rest of the West Balkans will surely move forward.” Would you like to expand on that?

Serbia is a central and largest country of the Western Balkans. From the point of view of infrastructure, geography, economy it is at the heart of the region. If Serbia is accelerating, the whole region is accelerating. If Serbia is locked and blocked, the whole region is locked and blocked. We saw this in the 1990s. One of the reasons why the region is falling behind in the European accession process, in comparison to Central and Eastern European countries, is because Serbia was going through a quagmire in the 1990s.

We have, unfortunately demonstrated our destructive potential for the region. Now this potential should be used in accelerating the building of the region. If Serbia is pushed in the right direction, Serbia is like a momentum generator.

Q. Why is Serbia failing to fulfill the request of delivering general Radko Mladic to the Hague tribunal? Is Serbian intelligence still governed and influenced by people from the previous regime, and therefore blocking the search for Mladic?

The European Union, the European Council has reached a decision that Serbian accession to the European Union is going to be politically conditioned in co-operation with the Hague Tribunal. This decision is not reversible and Serbia should do and will do to make sure cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is best and not just because it’s a condition. We believe this is the right thing to do. We believe that full reconciliation can be only achieved through a full and open accountability. These people who were indicted for war crimes are going to be in a position to answer in front of the crime court, charges, and, if they are responsible, they have to be convicted.

Q. Please tell us about how Serbia is trying to contribute and cooperate in regional development?

Regional cooperation is one of the priorities for Serbia. I tried to demonstrate that by making sure that the first country, I visited in my capacity as foreign minister was Bosnia and then I visited each and every country in the region. Everywhere, I carried the message that regional cooperation and regional reconciliation are pre-requisites for stability, harmony and growth along with our European future. Serbia is investing great effort in regional cooperation at all levels and will continue to exert this.

Interview with Thomas Hammarberg

Human rights need attention even in Europe: Hammarberg

The teaching role that the Western nations play at the international bodies like the United Nation on the subject of human rights will lose its credibility if these nations fail to refresh their human rights records and adopt better ways and means to implement human rights principles, according to Thomas Hammarberg, European Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe.

On the question of flourishing Wahhabism in the Western Balkans right in the heart of Europe, the commissioner mentioned a “Mufti” (Islamic religious man) in Kiev, Ukraine where he preaches in a dilapidated mosque. The commissioner commended the moral strength and value-based beliefs of the Mufti who was visited by a delegation of Saudi Arabian Islamists offering money to renovate his mosque but with a condition that Mufti will shift to preaching Wahhabism form of Islam.Mufti refused the offer and still preaches from his old mosque but with his head held high with his own beliefs.

Recently writing (www.neurope.eu Issue number 749, dated September 30- October 6, 2007) “Wahhabism tightening grip over Kosovo,” I had received more brickbats than bouquets from different readers.

Moving on to other issues, Commissioner Hammarberg lambasted media clampdowns saying, “This is a question of human rights because not only people should be allowed to express their opinions but also if one does not have this right, it means other rights will not be fully granted. This is an absolutely crucial right and must be respected.”

Asked to comment on human rights problems on the democratic Western soil, the commissioner said, “We have human rights problems even in Western Europe which need to be addressed. There are progresses in all countries and it is very important to promote an attitude that we all have to improve.” “In the area of discrimination and inter-personal relations, we will never reach a situation where no one is discriminated or people are treating one another with respect but we need to constantly work in that direction.”

Commenting on the slow progress to implement judicial reforms in the former Soviet Union states, the commissioner explained, “When it comes to the functioning of the justice system, there are problems in countries that came out of communism. In the communist system, courts were not seen as independent bodies, they were seen as instruments of political powers and it takes time to change not only training new personnel or retraining the old one but also to change the whole climate around trials.” “Now almost 20 years after the collapse of Soviet Union, we still see problems with corruption and political influence of judges and clarification of the role of prosecutors.”

The ongoing debate about minority rights in the Baltic states was not the only topic that the Commission top officials looked at during a recent visit. The commissioner said, “With respect to Baltics we did not deal only with minority rights but a number of issues. There is a hangover from Soviet times as in prison conditions, really bad in pre-trial detention centres. In the case of minority rights, we stressed the cases of no-status citizens for those who were born in the country.”

Expressing confidence for a solution sooner rather than later, Commissioner Hammarberg said, “Two issues were raised: Every child has a right to a citizenship. There are quite a few thousand children who have no citizenship so I appealed to them to review that and to automatically give citizenship to all new born children. The point that I raised was that old people can not be expected to go through difficult exams for citizenship after spending all their lives in those two countries. I proposed that it should be sufficient for them to declare that they are interested in citizenship. They have relaxed the system a little bit as they do it now orally but it’s still asking for too much in my opinion.”

Coming to the controversial issue of the media situation in Azerbaijan, commissioner Hammarberg said, “The full report on Azerbaijan is not yet ready but they need to review defamation law and the criminalising of it. Journalists are afraid of writing on certain topics that they might be brought to prison. Our position is nobody should go to prison for what they have written and if there is a need, it should be a civil court and not a criminal court.”

With the European Convention on Human Rights already law of the land in all 47 Council of Europe member states the commissioner reiterated the importance of human rights education and the need to renew understanding of the basic democratic values by each new generation.

Interview with Robert Kocharian, President Armenia

Armenia on the move

US vote on genocide “long-awaited:” President Kocharian

The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on October 10 approved a non-binding resolution recognising as “genocide” the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman-Turkish forces in 1915. Now, the approved resolution will move on to the full House, where a vote is expected to take place by mid-November. The text of the resolution says the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians was genocide and that it should be acknowledged fully in US policy toward Turkey, along with “the consequences of the failure to realise a just resolution.”

Armenian President Robert Kocharian, on a visit to Brussels on October 11 spoke in an exclusive interview to Tejinder Singh, the first journalist to listen to the “soft-spoken tough President,” about the vote, among other subjects.

Welcoming the vote President Kocharian said, “It’s a long-awaited decision from the Committee and we could predict that the decision could be made. We know its going to continue at the House level. And we hope that this process will lead to the full recognition by the United States of America of the fact of the Armenian genocide.“Historic justice can not be ruled by current matters,” he said. He added: “And (this vote) will not bring any additional tensions in the region.” He lamented the Turkish approach, saying, “Each time such a resolution comes up, the national parliament in the Turkish side tries to blackmail and put threats on the side which is about to recognise ‘genocide’ but we all understand that we have never seen those threats coming into reality.” “Actually the list of countries that have recognised genocide is much longer than just France and US in which the process is still ongoing. Over 20 countries including Russian state, Arab states with Lebanon in particular, many European countries including Belgium, Switzerland and many others in different forms and ways.”

President Kocharian highlighted the fact that no one has denied the genocide, saying, “This is one of the situations that one of the states that has not yet recognised the ‘genocide’ has not said anything contrary to it as well.”

Speaking about his visit to the European capital, President Kocharian was candid in admitting that his country is looking forward to guidance from the European Union for the proper development of legislation and implementation of the ongoing reforms in the country including essential judicial reforms. Visa facilitation, advanced cooperation with cultural dialogue and free trade agreement along with a major thrust with European Neighbourhood Policy were other major issues being discussed, he added.

Coming back to the question of Armenia-Turkey relationships, President Kocharian said, “We have never applied to the European Union to put pressure on Turkey. Only request we have asked is we support opening of border and restoration of diplomatic relations without pre-conditions.” Moreover, Armenia is not against the accession of Turkey to the EU but only has repeatedly asked the EU “not to give preferential treatment to any country during accession process.”

On the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the president commended the OSCE Minsk Group as “professional and competent” with respect to the ongoing talks but lambasted Azerbaijan attempts to raise the issue at the UN as another sort of propaganda which “contradicts the other positive approach.”

The financial scenario in Armenia has come a long way in the last decade and the president declared, “We consider first phase of reforms are over and we have entered the stage of stable development.” From the days of inheriting a centralised totalitarian system Armenia is today chugging along building market economy with “results showing,” a satisfied president announced.

Asked to comment on latest media reports that Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russian energy company Gazprom — is reportedly considering an investment of USD 1.7 billion to build the joint oil refinery, which would process oil pumped from Tabriz in northern Iran, President Kocharian said, “It was our proposal and we are discussing the details.” Hailing the role of Gazprom in the development of Armenia, the president said, “Our cooperation with Gazprom is going on since 1998 and the period since then has passed with mutual benefits.”

President Kocharian during his visit to Brussels met European Union leaders including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Secretary General and High Representative Javier Solana.

Interview with EU Commissioner Dimas

The Earth’s last chance

EU maps climate change plan to halt global warming

Interview with: European Enviromental Commissioner Stavros Dimas

European Commissioner Stavros Dimas is in the driving seat of European Union’s leading role in guiding international efforts to combat climate change, caused by emissions of greenhouse gases and one of the gravest challenges facing humanity.

Commissioner Dimas in a exhaustive interview with Tejinder Singh explains his vision to meet the environmental challenges both at home within the European Union and internationally to provide pragmatic and feasible progress with call for new environmental technologies development and promotion throughout the EU.

Q. You must be very happy with the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore as he symbolises the fight against climate change today. What is your reaction?

I sent my warmest congratulations to Al Gore immediately after the announcement by the Nobel Committee. Scientists and politicians have known about climate change since the 1970’s but it is only over recent years that it has risen to the top of the international agenda here in Europe and increasingly in the United States.

Al Gore’s vision of how we can prevent catastrophic climate change has taken us closer towards a global agreement on cutting greenhouse emissions. Any meaningful solution needs a global response and at the heart of this must be the full involvement of the United States.
Al Gore’s work has shifted American opinion decisively and the European Union is already working with several US states to share our experience in reducing emissions. I look forward to the day, which I am sure will come soon, when the US administration joins in this common effort.

Q. With your immediate attention on the upcoming UN climate conference in Bali, will you like to elaborate on your Climate Change Strategy for the EU?

There are two months left for the Bali, Indonesia meeting in the beginning of December about the United Nations’ Convention on climate change. The meeting is of great importance because the European Union expects there to agree on status launching of 2012 negotiations. This is the objective but there are also certain items for discussion after launching of negotiations.

Q. What are the approaches that you have in mind?

Regarding climate change there is a two-pronged EU approach: international part and domestic approach.


The international part is how to exploit up to Bali the possibilities that the EU has in various possibilities in international fora like G8, Plus 5 or the unofficial meeting in Bogor in Indonesia for climate change and various bilateral meetings that the EU has with US, China, India and other bilateral meetings in order to prepare the ground for Bali.

In Bali the EU expects to agree:

*Launching of emissions for after 2012 regime because then the first period of Kyoto is expiring On certain building block elements that the new agreement should contain. These elements are:
* A common goal to be achieved by 2050 for reduction of carbon dioxide. According to what science tells us we need 50 percent reduction in global levels in comparison to 1990. This should be the goal for all members of the UN members of the Convention.

* How much the developed countries will take to reduce? What obligation the participants including the EU will have for the reduction of carbon dioxide after 2012? This will be a binding obligation.

*The participants will ask developing countries to contribute because after a few years fast developing countries like China, India, Mexico, Brazil will contribute more to the greenhouse phenomenon than the whole of OECD countries. They have to commit also that they will in the common but different negotiated way the reduction of emissions. This can be done by reducing the rate of growth of emissions. This is the difference with the developed countries. The developed countries have to have absolute reduction while developing countries have to reduce rate of growth of emissions up to 2020 and this can be done with measures like energy efficiency for example which is going to be good for saving money because they will rely less on imported fossil fuels.

* The fourth building block is investment in more research, in development, deployment and transfer of technology especially towards developing countries.

* Development of a global carbon market and the use of market- based instruments in order to achieve reduction of emissions in the most cost-efficient ways.

* Inclusion of aviation and maritime sectors in the new global agreement.

* De-forestation: to fight deforestation and find ways to promote anti-deforestation measures because deforestation contributes to about 20 percent of global Carbon emissions. It’s very important and at the same time avoiding deforestation is very good for biodiversity.

* Adaptation is very important because climate change is already occurring. We are already about 0.7 percent above pre-industrial times. We have an increase of temperature so we have to take right measures in order to avoid disasters and catastrophes which could be caused by the warming of the planet.

We have seen we have increasing droughts, water scarcity, diseases from neo-tropical disease coming up North for example – Blue Tongue disease first time seen in Britain and this is a tropical disease coming from Africa, went up to Southern Europe and now to Northern Europe. Another example also from United Kingdom is the floods a month ago and the destruction that was caused there.

The forest fires in Southern Europe that we had this summer. In Greece, we had four heat waves which had never happened before.

In Africa, water scarcity and droughts are causing havoc with movements of populations generating social problems leading to political problems like in Darfur, Somalia. Hence, adaptation is essential.


The domestic part is very essential because what we preach internationally, we need to do at home in the European Union otherwise we will not have credibility at the international negotiating tables.

Here we have the energy and climate change package which was approved at the beginning of the current year. There we have set targets 20 percent reduction in the carbon dioxide in the European Union or 30 percent if we have an international agreement by 2020. So we have a 20 percent target to deliver and we have to take all the measures and legislation necessary in order to implement this. The other target is 20 percent renewables target for 2020 and also we have a 20 percent energy efficiency target.

Q. How are you going to achieve these targets?

We have a series of proposals that we are going to bring by the end of the year hopefully.

* Renewables directive which is going to be from Potochnik but it’s very important because if there is an increase in renewables and if a target of 20 percent is reached in the total consumption of energy, it means there will be less carbon dioxide and there will be a reduction in import of fossil fuels: oil and gas.

* Second one is a Burden Sharing Agreement regarding the reduction of carbon dioxide in which it will be detailed how to distribute among 27 member states of the EU. What reduction each country will achieve in order to have a final result of 20 percent reduction.

* Review of emissions trading system, the carbon market that we have established in the European Union which is the instrument by which we achieve the reduction in carbon dioxide and also the instrument by which you encourage investment in renewables.

These three aforementioned proposals are interlinked and support each other. There is a fourth piece of legislation which is called Carbon Capture and Storage. This is necessary in order to enable use of coal without the production of carbon dioxide. For example, in a power station, if one produces electricity from lignite, one gets emissions of carbon dioxide which will be captured, transported and stored in land, say former oil fields where there is space and one can put it there and seal it and it stays there.

Q. Do you have any more proposals in addition to these?

In addition to these four legislations, we already have inclusion of aviation in emission which is in co-decision procedure; oil quality directive which is also in co-decision procedure. Then we are going to have carbon dioxide and cars: how to reduce carbon dioxide emitted from cars by establishing efficiency standards in cars. This can be seen from the point of view of emissions from the car or by the energy used by the car. This is very important as transport contributes 21 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the EU and passenger cars are responsible for 12 percent of these emissions.

We are going to propose legislation which will limit the carbon dioxide emitted from cars to 120 grammes per kilometre by 2012. These are series of measures and there are more like revision of directive on labeling of energy efficiency of vehicles with a label on the car: what is the consumption of the car which is important because the buyer/consumer will be informed about the efficiency of the car and how much they will spend.

Q. What are your objectives that you want to reach with these proposals?

All these are aiming at the following objectives:

* Reduction of carbon dioxide and contribution in the achievement of our targets

* Fuel and energy security which is very important in the EU with less dependency on imported oil

*Less expenses for fuel/electricity for consumers

* Creation of growth and jobs through innovation for example by developing, deploying clean technologies and in this respect, the EU is world leaders for example wind mills and power generation through wind energy and solar energy.

Q. How much support do you have across the EU for your efforts?

We have full support for our targets and a mandate from the European Council in which all the 27 member states agreed to the decision which was reached in March this year. We also have support in the European Parliament and in the Environment Council.

Of course, regarding the domestic measures and implementation, we are going to have discussions and we are going to take into account the concerns of the various member states regarding their individual commitments, For example, some have doubts about renewables, some have nuclear in their energy mix which other member states do not have, so each member state has its own concerns and its own potential. We are trying to take into account all these concerns so that we will have an equitable solution for all of them. The European Council has given the directions and now the implementing measures are being prepared.

Q. You mentioned implementation and you know that is a tough part. How much optimism you have about this phase of implementation?

We are going to explain to Member States taking into account their views and the consensus already arrived at the European Council in March. We have to reach our targets in a way that will be fair for everybody but I agree that implementation always poses problems.

Q. You mentioned an international part of the strategy. Although the US federal government has not ratified Kyoto Protocol, there are a large number of American cities which are working towards its implementation. Are you aware of this and if there is already any cooperation in this field with them?

In the United States there are several levels, the federal level in which President George W Bush had a conference in Washington of 16 major economies. At the cities level, there is a coalition of more than 600 cities and towns in the US and they are cooperating and taking individual and collective measures to fight climate change at the city level.

There are also states like California and Governor Schwarzneger plus other states like New York and Florida which are taking equally important measures. For example, with California we are in close cooperation as they are planning to establish an emission trading system from 2009 onwards which will be similar to ours and because of our experience and knowledge of emission trading system, there is cooperation to not only help them in setting it up but also to make it compatible with ours. We are also in cooperation with other states on the North-East and West coasts of US which are also planning to launch emission trading mechanisms.

There is great interest at local level and state level and we hope that from the debate and dialogue that is going on in the US, we are going to have better cooperation from federal level as well. There are a number of bills in the pipeline about launching of an emission trade system and very recently the US House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid have written a letter to President Bush asking binding reductions for introduction of a capital trade system similar to ours and also to have more cooperation to bring on board other countries. So we do see a movement going on in US and, of course, there are efforts by Al Gore to raise awareness among citizens about emission trading scheme and negative impacts of climate change. With so much debate in the US, we hope that the issue will come up with concrete measures.

Q. Do you see a shift in the behaviour of EU citizens?

The citizens not only in the EU but also in the US are acting in two capacities: voters and consumers. Politicians are interested in voters and businesses are looking for consumers. This is the reason we have seen the businesses offering greener products because consumer choices are changing. There is a social shift towards greener products and we see it everywhere.

Q. Even your choice of a car was governed with green factors?

Yes, I have a Toyota Prius. In order to get an objective opinion, I asked WWF as they have a list of top ten projects which are top ten products in various categories. I asked them to tell me a recommendation for a car. Using the studies of an environment and energy institute in Germany, they came up with a list and the one that was most recommended as energy efficient and less carbon-dioxide emitter was the car that I got. This is the official car and I do not have a private car as I prefer walking as Brussels is not a big city.

Q. In the energy mix of the member states, there is a thrust on nuclear energy which is talked of as low carbon dioxide emitter but the handling and storage of nuclear waste coupled with safety requirements raises doubts. What is your opinion on the subject?

The European Commission is neutral when it comes to nuclear issue because this is a matter for the Member States to decide how they will compose their energy mix. Some countries do use nuclear energy, for example, France where 80 percent of the electricity comes from nuclear power; there are countries like Finland which are introducing nuclear energy and still some others have nuclear energy but they are phasing out while some do not have nuclear at all. So this is a matter for the member states to decide what energy mix they will choose.

Yes, nuclear energy has problems that you mentioned like what to do with radioactive nuclear waste, questions of safety and security and also decommissioning of the installations at the end of their life span. These concerns have led quite a few member states not to choose nuclear option.

Q. There is a recommendation from the European Parliament to reduce pesticides use in the EU by 25 percent in next five years and 50 percent in next 10 years. How is the European Commission going to monitor it as it seems there is no reference level for present usage?

There’s a lot going on in the field of pesticides currently. The Commission has made proposals, which are now being discussed in co-decision, in particular a regulation introducing new procedures for the authorisation and placing on the market of pesticides, under the responsibility of Health Commissioner Kyprianou, as well as a framework directive and a thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides, under my responsibility. The latter pieces are new in the legislative arsenal concerning pesticides. They fill the current legislative gap regarding the use-phase of pesticides. Their aim is to reduce the risks linked to the use of pesticides and therefore to address negative impacts on health and the environment from pesticides use. They will play a key role in the environmental acquis as they have a significant impact on environmental compartments (ex., soil, water bodies, air) and environmental issues (ex., biodiversity, climate change, etc.) The European Parliament will have its First Reading vote on these proposals on October 22 in Strasbourg.

Q. With farmland moving to energy crops, biofuels, there is intensive agriculture taking over which is set to affect climate change and water management as set aside land is also being used. What are your comments on this development?

Biofuels is a very important development taking place. Everybody forgets what we have said about biofuels and the direction the European Council gave is that biofuels should be sustainable. When talking of sustainable biofuels, there must be respect for environmental concerns and social factors. Biofuels can be causing various problems like bringing down rain forests to cultivate in third countries because of the demand that will be generated in Europe or elsewhere. If more biofuels are needed, more rain forests could get destroyed in third countries.

Regarding the set-aside land, there is not so much criticism as it is the agricultural land that is coming back but it will require more water and this should be looked into carefully because of water scarcity and droughts that we had. There are also social problems generated by cultivating more crops for biofuels as it means less goes towards food sector thus creating competition between food and fuel thus raising the prices not only in least developed countries but also in Europe. Recently, Italy observed a day without pasta as prices keep rising and even meat prices shot up as crops were channeled towards fuel production. As these problems are felt more in least-developed countries there is a social impact of biofuels. We need to move carefully and bearing always in mind that biofuels should be sustainable, Sustainability has two criteria: environment and social. Sometime ago there was an enthusiasm about biofuels but it’s going down due to these negative impacts.

While looking at biofuels we need to look at the whole cycle of production and look at the positive carbon dioxide and accordingly decide on its sustainability. Some biofuels are really good and they contribute a lot towards better environment.

Q. In China there is one coal-fired new power plant going on line every week. With China saying it needs these to feed its insatiable hunger for energy, how do you plan to engage the Chinese in constructive dialogue to check its impact on environment?

Coal is playing a vital role in production of energy in countries like China and even in some European countries. This is why one of the legislations that we are proposing as mentioned earlier is Carbon Capture and Storage. This technology needs to be developed and commercialised so that we can have production of electricity from coal without the negative impacts on climate. Coal produces normally a lot of carbon dioxide and the fact that these plants are engaged for quite a number of years in future if you start a coal-fired power plant now.

With this in mind, we are encouraging the Chinese to go for Carbon Capture and Storage technology and we are going into partnership with China. There is an EU-China partnership on zero carbon dioxide emission plant which will be established there with our financing and UK financing and we hope it will be up by 2015. It will be a demonstration plant and we are also considering 12 demonstration plants in the European Union as well till 2015.