Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Germany: G7 meets amid mass protests

Schloß Elmau, venue of the G7 summit
Tens of thousands of anti-capitalist, environmental and social justice activists have taken to the streets and the country roads of Bavaria to protest the Group of Seven (G7) nations summit, which took place on June 7 and 8 in a secluded castle in the German Alps.

On June 4, over 35,000 demonstrators marched peacefully in the Bavarian capital Munich, protesting the destructive policies of the G7 industrialised nations – climate change, militarisation and NATO expansion in Europe, economic austerity and poverty, democracy-destroying free trade deals and more. 

Some protesters dressed as clowns, while others wore black or even traditional Bavarian lederhosen, and carried rainbow flags and banners bearing slogans such as “Stop the G7 now!”, "G7 go to hell" and “Revolution is the solution”.  

On June 8, another 8,000 protesters marched through the alpine resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a few hours south of Munich, in the shadow of Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze. 

The meeting between the leaders of the G7 nations – the United States, Britain, Canada, Italy, France, Japan and Germany – was held nearby at Schloss Elmau, a picturesque castle converted into a luxury hotel, at a cost of approximately US$350 million.

Over 22,000 police were deployed to protect the summit – the largest police operation in Bavarian history – and 17 kilometres of temporary fenceline was erected to keep protesters out.

The police presence was so heavy in Garmish-Partenkirchen that traffic jams of police vehicles became a regular occurrence in the small town.

The protests were overwhelmingly peaceful, dominated by a carnival atmosphere, with families and children participating, and organisers of the Stop Elmau alliance – the coordinating group for the protests – expressed hope that the demonstrations would not turn violent.
Police confront protests in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

On Saturday, however, police pepper-sprayed and charged one section of the protests in Garmish-Partenkirchen with batons, resulting in several injuries to both protesters and police. 

Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s European Union (EU) Office, highlighted some of the protesters’ concerns in a statement on June 2. 

“Today 85 people own as much wealth as half the world’s population. At least US$18.5 trillion is hidden by wealthy individuals in tax havens worldwide representing a loss of more than $156 billion in tax revenue; money that could be invested in promoting equitable and sustainable growth and jobs.” 

“Europe’s dependence on dirty energy is pushing up fuel prices and driving climate change, which means higher food prices in Europe and across the world,” said Alonso. “If leaders don’t break their fossil fuel habit, poor people may be left to choose between eating and heating.”

In the shadow of Russia and Greece

Inside the G7 summit itself, discussion ranged from economy and trade, energy and climate change, as well as a session on fighting terrorism. 

While few tangible commitments emerged from the summit, the ongoing crises in Ukraine and Greece also cast a long shadow over proceedings.

For the second year in a row, Russia was excluded from the summit, having been expelled from the G8 after its annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The current sanctions against Russia for “aggressive behaviour” in the region were reaffirmed, with ominous threats of “further restrictive measures“ and “further steps” if it did not comply.

The ongoing stalemate in Greece also cast its pall over the meeting, as negotiations between the Greek left-wing SYRIZA government and its international creditors had stalled once again on the eve of the summit.

In the lead up to the meeting, Greek Prime Minister Alxis Tsipras warned the G7 that time was running out for Greece to avoid bankruptcy, and an exit from the Eurozone.

There is a growing fear that no deal will be struck, and Greece will be forced out of the Eurozone, with potentially dire consequences for the European and world economies.

Climate Change success?

On the other hand, the issue of climate change has been greeted as a key success story of the summit, especially by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The G7 nations have pledged to work towards “a decarbonisation of the global economy” by the end of the century, with a 70% cut in greenhouse gas emissions on 2010 levels by 2050.

While Germany, the US, and the UK already have much stronger targets, the pledge is being described as a “diplomatic coup” for getting Canada and Japan – regarded as "climate recalcitrants" – to sign up.

Some groups have welcomed the announcement as a signal that the world was moving away from fossil fuels, but the timeframe still fails to match the urgency of the climate science, which demands a rapid shift to renewables and near-immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace climate message on mountain above G7 summit
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has previously said that to meet the internationally agreed target to limit warming to below 2 degree Celsius – the level frequently quoted as necessary to avoid the “most dangerous” effects of global warming – global emissions in the electricity sector would have to reach zero before 2050.

Jennifer Morgan, director of the global climate program at the World Resources Institute, told The Guardian on June 9 that a target of zero fossil fuels by 2100 would not keep warming below 2 degrees.

“It totally depends on the pace of the decarbonisation. You either need to be there by 2050 for CO2 and a bit later for all greenhouse gases if you want a high chance of staying below 2C. If you’re up for a 66% chance then you can go longer out into the century,” she said.

While the G7 pledge is therefore unlikely to prevent a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius, some hope it will help secure an “ambitious, binding agreement” at international climate talks scheduled for Paris in December.

However, an OxFam report, "Let Them Eat Coal", published on June 6 shows that coal use in five of the G7 nations actually increased between 2009 and 2013. Only the US and Canada had reduced their reliance on coal since the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

“The G7’s addiction to coal is hiking up costs for developing countries and putting more and more people on the frontline of climate change at risk of hunger,” warned the report.

“If G7 coal plants were a country, it would be the fifth biggest emitter in the world. They are still burning huge amounts, despite efficient, affordable, renewable alternatives being available.”

Japan has come in for particular criticism for approving a further 52 new coal-fired power stations, while Canada is investing heavily in opening up its tar sands to exploitation.

The G7 also pledged to help create a US$100 billion a year fund from 2020 that developing countries can access to facilitate a transition to renewable energy.

Trade deal controversy

One of the biggest issues for the G7 protesters – uniting anarchists with environmentalist and even farmers – was their opposition to the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal.

The TTIP has been negotiated in secret between the United States and the European Union, with the draft text known only by the negotiators, a group which includes representatives of multinational corporations. 

Not even members of the European and national parliaments, and the US Congress and Senate, have been allowed to see the text.

Similarly comprehensive trade deals are being negotiated around the world, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) involving Australia, the US and ten other countries in the Asia Pacific region; the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement; and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU.

In addition to concerns about the democratic, economic and environmental implications of such a far-reaching and secretive free trade agreement, the TTIP also threatens to fundamentally undermine national sovereignty of signatory nations.

A proposed clause – the so-called Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement procedure (ISDS) – would grant corporations the right to sue governments for passing laws that “breach” the TTIP and either damage or even just threaten to damage their profits.

Wrapping up the summit, G7 leaders indicated their intention to have the TTIP agreed within “the next six months”, however events in the European Parliament have put a dampener on those hopes.
GUE/NGL MEPs protest the TTIP in European Parliament

A vote planned to endorse the EU’s negotiating position on the TTIP on June 10 were cancelled at the last minute, after over two hundred amendments to the motion were submitted. 

Discussion on the bill was also cut short after MEPs voted by a margin of only two votes to suspend the debate.

The European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group released a statement criticising the cancelling of the debate as a political decision, designed to hide the fact that there was growing disunity amongst the pro-TTIP parties. 

The GUE/NGL also called for genuine public consultation on the TTIP and trade policy in general, and called for a suspension of the TTIP negotiations.

Meanwhile, public opposition continues to grow. An online Stop TTIP petition has received well over 2 million signatures so far, while thousands more have joined a campaign emailing MEPs with their concerns over the deal.

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