THE mass resignation of all 20 members of the European Union's Commission, following allegations of fraud, incompetence and favouritism, has all the hallmarks of a damage limitation exercise. If they'd decided not to walk, the stand-off with the European Parliament would have continued and with it the chance of even more muck coming to the surface.
The allegations are not new or surprising. It has been known for years and years that large amounts of EU money have disappeared because of fraud, corruption and waste -- the Brussels-Strasbourg gravy train has always had many passengers.
And this is what we'd expect given that even the limited checks and balances afforded by bourgeoise democracy are absent when it comes to the European Union. The EU Commissioners are not elected and are therefore not accountable at all to the voters of Europe. And the European Parliament, though it is directly elected, has no powers to legislate and no power over the Commission.
The British government has responded to the debacle by calling for the head of EU boss Jacques Santer while saying that the two British Commissioners should be reappointed. Of course just getting rid of Santer won't solve anything -- though of course we would shed no tears at his departure.
There's been plenty of talk this week about how things in Europe might be reformed. But this is largely spitting in the wind because the EU is fundamentally an anti-democratic organisation rooted in a culture of patronage.
From the beginning and the Treaty of Rome, the working class of Europe have been firmly excluded from the decision making process. The European Parliament and its elections serve only to give a veneer of democracy. More powerful than the European Parliament are the unelected Commission and the Council of Ministers.
Pro-EU politicians usually try to deflect criticism of this set up by arguing that the members of these bodies are "indirectly" elected because the governments that appoint or propose them are themselves elected. But this is no different to saying that quangos are democratic because their members are appointed by the elected government of the day.
From the Treaty of Rome to the present day the EU's treaties have been designed to strengthen the hand of European capital in its struggle with rival capitalist centres and in waging the class struggle in Europe and internationally. The EU is not simply anti-democratic, it is essentially anti-working class.
This is why our party, the NCP, maintains that we should not focus solely on opposing the Single European Currency -- we need to oppose and expose the capitalist EU itself -- our long-standing and continuing demands are to say, no to Maastricht and no to the Treaty of Rome!
The present situation certainly helps to expose the nature of the EU and uncovers the shoddy elements that swarm inside and around it.
But it is not as risible as the capitalist press seems to think. After all the billions of pounds which have gone astray in the EU came from our pockets. The millions of working people throughout Europe who fund the EU through VAT and other taxes are the victims of, these crimes of corruption and mismanagement.
Surely we should not just call for Commissioners' heads -- we should demand to be repaid and compensated for our collective loss!
And even more importantly we should point up the real power behind the EU -- the big banks and the giant transnational companies who have their offices cheek-by-jowl with those of the European Commission. Anyone taking a stroll through the part of Brussels that houses the EU offices will see from the nameplates on the buildings that this is a bosses Europe and that there is more to fight for than the scalp of Jacques Santer.
PARTIES to the Good Friday Agreement gathered at a critical point in the Irish peace process in Washington to celebrate St Patrick's Day. They focused on the hard decisions that have to be made by the Easter deadline, despite the killing of prominent solicitor Rosemary Nelson last Monday and loyalist paramilitary leader Frankie Curry two days later.
Outrage at the inhuman assassination of Rosemary Nelson from a car bomb in Lurgan, County Armagh, has come from many quarters in the north and south of Ireland, including the British and Irish government leaders, President Clinton and leading Irish-Americans.
Just hours before entering discussions with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams as we went to press, President Clinton said to the assembled leaders: "Lift your sights above the short-term difficulties." He was speaking immediately after reports that were quick to put Frankie Curry's death down to loyalist feuding.
Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness MP had no doubts who was responsible for Rosemary Nelson's murder. He said that it followed the pattern of the killing of fellow solicitor Pat Finacane 10 years ago.
He was similarly engaged in righting injustices to the nth degree. "It is public knowledge," Martin McGuinness said, "that her life has been threatened on a number of occasions by the RUC Special Branch."
Britain's Royal Ulster Constabulary has come under direct fire for what nationalists and Republicans see as a clear case of collusion in the murder, aimed at wrecking the peace process.
RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan's damage limitation exercise-amid accusations of a cover-up -- by bringing in the Kent Chief Constable David Phillips and an FBI representative to investigate, is flatly rejected by Sinn Fein. That's also the case in other guarters, notably Chris Smith, chairman of the US Congressional human rights sub-committee.
The irony of the 80s investigation into the RUC's shoot-to-kill policy by John Stalker, deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, which was blocked all along the line by the RUC and failed, is lost on no one. The Republican demand that the RUC be disbanded will fall on more fertile around now.
The Irish Times last Tuesday reported local Sinn Fein councillor John O'Dowd as saying that the bomb was too sophisticated for loyalist know how and the area had been "under curfew" over the weekend with a bigger security presence than usual.
Another local SF councillor Francis Murray said a security roadblock had been set up close to the Nelson home at 10.30am over 2hrs before her car blew up.
Significantly, Patrick Vernon, a fellow solicitor, said: "Rosemary represented people from both sides of the community". Loyalists who wanted a job done properly where an injustice had occurred, actually sought her out. And she was well known in the US as a staunch advocate for human rights in northern Ireland.
But the big cases involved those most terrorised, including the family of Robert Hamill, a Catholic whom loyalists beat to death in Portadown two years ago; she represented 200 nationalists in a compensation claim related to Drumcree and just last month took up the Garvaghy Road residents' claims with Prime Minister Tony Blair. Furthermore, she had recently added her voice to a call, endorsed by 1,100 lawyers in Britain, Ireland and worldwide, to demand an independent international inquiry into the allegations of RUC collusion in the killing of Pat Finucane.
BARBARA Castle, Bruce Kent and Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West (Wales) last week addressed a packed meeting of 200-plus pensioners, called hy Southwark Pensioners' Action Group in south London, with Lil Patrick and Tony Lines chairing.
It was the day after the budget and although pensioners were pleased to get something, they wanted above all the restoration of the link between the basic state pension and male average earnings.
The meeting was called as a prelude to the pensioners making their way to Whitehall, opposite Downing Street for a demonstration. A letter had been prepared for handing in to the Prime Minister.
Barbara Castle told the meeting we had won the argument that the earnings link should be restored. She said that without the earnings link, any future basic state pension would wither on the vine and in a few years time its value would be trifling.
So far this is a substantial victory and the simplest way to administer a pension is to make it universal and non-means tested.
Barbara reminded the meeting that Tony Blair had given two solemn election pledges.
Firstly he promised to make the basic state pension the fundamental pension provision. But instead the government is making Income Support the basis of state provision.
That not only affects the poorest pensioners who will qualify for the Income Support to bring their pensions up to a survivable level, it affects the whole lot who are just outside means tested qualifications.
Barbara Castle asked what are to be the criteria for the £75 guaranteed minimum income for pensioners when they are on income support.
If the link between the basic state pension and average earnings had not been scrapped by the Thatcher government in 1979, all pensioners would get £93 a week without any means test.
She said that when we open our campaign we need to widen our horizons and stop the government from widening the pensions gap.
Tony Blair's second pledge was to retain the State Earnings Related pension Scheme (Serps) for those who want it. The aim of Serps had been to end apartheid in old age. When there is means tested provision only for the poor, it is always poor provision.
And Barbara Castle concluded with a reminder that the government Green Paper on pensions is still in consultation. There is still time to change it. "Don't throw the coming generations to the wolves," she said.
Bruce Kent spoke on campaigning, drawing on his experiences in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
He said we need muscle. We need a national campaign with a national campaign officer to coordinate action and give a lead.
"Among us we have plenty of ideas," he said, "with a national campaign we can get tens of thousands out instead of a handful, as at present."
"For example," he said, "On next 31 December, we could get 10,000 pensioners, each with a plate and a spoon, making a ring round the Millennium Dome and banging their plates.
"We need to raise money for our fight. Our pensions are not yet indexed to earnings."
Paul Flynn pointed out misleading information from television reports on the budget, saying that the link between pensions and earnings is being restored. Many is the meeting confirmed this.
"This is not so and it is misinformation," he said. The only thing that is being linked to average earnings is the Income Support top up given to the poorest pensioners to bring the minimum income up to £75 a week.
He said there were reports that many pensioners who are entitled are not claiming Income Support because it is considered to he a hand-out. Most people do not want hand-outs, they paid for a pension and that is what they want.
He also told the meeting he knew ofa boss who paid dreadful wages but got away with it because he gave his workforce each a Turkey at Christmas. After the meeting only a handful of pensioners felt able to make the journey to Whitehall.
The letter was handed in by six pensioners, led by Tony Lines. The rest of the group stayed opposite Ten Downing Street displaying placards.
TURKISH SECURITY is on high alert Following a week of Kurdish anger in protest at the capture of guerrilla leader Abdullah "Ape" Ocalan. And in the old capital of Istanbul the police have been ordered onto the streets to try and curb the violence.
Istanbul Governor Erol Cakir blamed the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) resistance for over 300 attacks in the city following Ocalan's capture in Kenya on 15 February. Most have simply been the torching of parked vehicles. But last Saturday three youths petrol bombed a departmental store which didn't have any fire escapes killing 13 people. A group calling itself the "Revenge Hawks of Apo" said its men had carried out the attack.
Initially the PKK had pledged not to target tourists in the storm it said would come if Ocalan was not freed. Now the guerrillas have declared the whole of Turkey a war zone and warning tourists to stay away in future.
In Istanbul a thousand-strong brigade of riot police swooped on student demonstrators arresting over 200 who had rallied to mark the murder of seven progressive students in 1978. Uniformed police are out in force in the major tourist centrcs. Officers have been ordered to use metal detectors at entrances to public places. Employers have been ordered to hire extra guards and ensure adequate fire escapes and exits. Some 30,000 posters have been plastered all over the city offering turncoats leniency if they betray the PKK to the authorities.
But attempts to terrorise or bribe the Kurdish population into submission have failed. In his prison cell former MP Hatip Dicle, the leader of the constitutional Kurdish Democratic Party (DEP) until it was banned, declared his support for Ocalan.
"There are moments in history and life when words cease to have any meaning. The international conspiracy led the USA against the PKK President Abdullah Ocalan is such a moment for us," he said in a message from Ankara Central Closed Prison. "Since 16 February both in thought and action I am a PKK militant".
Hatip Dicle and the three other MPs in his party were jailed in 1995 on trumped up charges of "aiding and abetting an illegal organisation". He got 15 years. Ocalan will be lucky if he doesn't get the noose.
Ocalan is being held in an island prison near Istanbul facing a farcical "trial" which only needs to prove that he is what he says he is -- the leader of the PKK -- to be condemned to death for treason and rebellion.
But in a fighting call to the Kurdish people from the Central Committee of the PKK, the brother of their captured leader has warned the Turkish regime "a state best known for torture and murder" and its Western backers that the Kurdish people will intensify the struggle.
"We will extract a heavy price from the Turkish State for the act of piracy against our leadership," Osman Ocalan warned. "Every Kurd, in particular, those living in the country and the metropolis should take whatever action they deem appropriate on this basis. They should employ all the means available to them. We will not bow to the enemy. We will only fight it".
In Europe a new campaign demanding Ocalan's release is winning mass support "Freedom for Ocalan -- Peace in Kurdistan" was launched last week in Bonn with the support of politicians across the European political spectrum, trade union leaders, academics, lawyers, writers and artists.
The main demands of the appeal are: to send monitoring teams accompanied by an independent delegation of doctors to visit Ocalan in jail; to ensure a fair trial in an international court; to ensure international standards of human rights are observed while Ocalan remains a captive, to strike for an end to the war and take effective action to deal with the root causes of the conflict and to call for an international conference on Kurdistan.
In Britain the appeal, which has been signed by the NCP, has won support from Labour MPs including Tony Benn, Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist) MP Cynog Dafis, Bruce Kent, Fire Brigades Union leader Ken Cameron, Mairead Keane, the head of Sinn Fein's International Department and many, many more.
A separate British appeal to Prime Minister Tony Blair gathered over 12,000 signatures within the first few days of its launch. On 22 March a Kurdish delegation will deliver it to No.10.
* This Saturday 20 March the united Kurdish community in London is holding a rally and cultural evening in Finsbury Park from 6.00-10.30pm.
MORE than 100 pupils from Crown Woods School in Eltham, south-east London, staged a mass protest and march earlier this month in protest at plans to make 23 staff redundant, including l7 teachers and one librarian.
One 15-year-old girl was suspended for five days and two other pupils sent home for their role in the protest.
The pupils fear the cuts will damage their education, slashing the number of A-levels avai Iable at the school and stopping many school trips.
The school was recently praised by an Ofstead inspection.
But it has a deficit of £200,000 carried over from last year and a projected further overspend this year of £112,000.
The National Union of Teachers is balloting members at the school for industrial action.
NUT secretary Adrian Tierney, who works at Crown Woods, said: "We believe the school has no need to make 17 teachers redundant as the overspend on teaches is only £112,000, which is equivalent to about three teachers, including on-costs.
"The remaining teaches will face severe worsening of their working conditions of these cuts go through.
"The NUT and parents are asking Greenwich Council to fund the school with more money, and alternatively or in addition to allow a much longer time to pay back the deficit."