Sixty million spent on security so that people could have a peaceful protest, Obama parades around as a man of peace as bored school students listen on and the local politicians get to bask in the reflected glow of the G8’s ’great’ leaders. But when the media are discussing all that, what were those behind the huge security fence around the Lough Erne Resort actually discussing?
"Fire up the world economy?"
In the Belfast Telegraph we are told by Cameron that “the whole point of this meeting in Lough Erne is to fire up our economies and drive growth and prosperity around the world, to do things that make a real difference to people’s lives.” The summit began with an announcement of EU/US free trade agreement. This is despite the fact the mandate to negotiate the deal was approved by trade ministers meeting in Luxemburg the week before and discussions had been ongoing. Of course never let the facts getting the way of a good story!
Cameron claims that such an agreement would create two million jobs and mean adding as much as £100bn to the EU economy. These figures are effectively plucked out of the air and change in every statement made by the key proponents of this free trade agreement. The real agenda of these negotiations is the ’liberalisation’ of our public services and a race to the bottom in terms of workers’ rights and environmental standards.
This agreement will include an ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ mechanism that would allow foreign investors both in the EU and the US to bypass the normal legal system and directly challenge governments at international tribunals whenever they find that laws in the area of public health, environmental, labour or social protection interfere with their profits. For example, many of those protesting against the G8 visit in Fermanagh were specifically concerned by the issue of ’Fracking’ or hydraulic fracturing. This mechanism is used in other free trade agreements and currently by a US energy firm to challenge a moratorium on fracking in Quebec.
This agreement is will be used as part of a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms workers’ wages and conditions and to undermine trade union rights in the name of competitiveness and free trade. Including making it easier for EU companies to access the labour market in the so-called ’Right to Work’ states i.e. states that deny basic trade union right such as to collective bargaining. (For more on this Free Trade Agreement see: EU-US Free Trade Agreement: Race to the Bottom of the Atlantic)
Rewriting the rules on tax?
We are also told that the summit would deal with transparency around tax issues. The leaders of the G8 clearly feel the pressure on tax evasion. Global tax evasion means multinationals get away with hiding $3 trillion a year in profits, according to research from Tax Justice Network, while as much as $32 trillion could be stashed away by individuals in tax havens. Every time these leaders close hospital or propose new austerity measures they are faced working people asking what about Vodaphone or Starbucks taxes. The capitalist leaders claim that action on tax evasion has to be dealt with at international gathering and a big song and dance was made that it would be dealt with at the G8 summit.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the summit declaration had "the potential to rewrite the rules on tax and transparency for the benefit of countries right across the world, including the poorest countries in the world." Unsurprisingly, however the ’Lough Erne declaration’ on tax commits governments and multinational to very little. It outlines a few basic principles, such as the sharing of tax information among authorities and that more steps are taken to force companies to report where they pay taxes. But, in the words of a War on Want spokesperson, “as always the devil will be in the detail, and there’s no detail here."
The deal falls far short of the comprehensive public register of owners that NGO groups had being calling for. The deal does not commit countries to making information public, only to share it with other tax authorities. Of course talk is cheap! Not a penny more in taxes will be paid by Amazon, or any of the other companies that operate intricate webs of offshore companies to avoid tax.
Syria: “Blood is on the hands of both parties."
Away from the formal sitting of the G8, the focus of the meeting was on Syria, a conflict which has left an estimated 93,000 people dead and which is a source of massive tension between the G8 leaders. With the US, Britain and France wishing to more openly arm the rebels (in reality, they already do through Turkey and Gulf regimes) and with Russia central to arming the Assad regime, this tension is reflected in the comments of the Canadian Prime Minister Harper that the summit is “the G7 plus one.”
On the eve of the summit, Russian President Putin and Cameron held a press conference. When Putin was asked whether he had “the blood of Syrian children on his hands” - a reference to Cameron’s recent comments at the UN - Putin replied that “the blood is on the hands of both parties." Obama is now public in his intention to arm rebels and Putin claims that all that his government is doing is supplying "to the legitimate government of Syria.” Even within Harper’s G7 there is divisions. While Chancellor Merkel is complicit in dropping the EU’s arms embargo, she ruled out taking part in arming the rebels and stressed the need for a ’political process.’
The resolution the G8 managed to cobble together on Syria stressed the need for a "political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria". For all the Western powers claiming to be defending the Syrian people, the resolution makes no reference to the alleged use of chemical weapons or the future of Assad, due to resistance from Putin. It only states that a transitional government must be formed "by mutual consent" between the different sides of Syrian society. Importantly, however, it makes clear that Syria’s military and security forces will be allowed to remain intact following a transition of power - seen as a tacit encouragement to Assad’s senior officers to launch a coup.
In reality, while both sides will continue arming their respective sides, the Western powers do not feel confident enough in the opposition, either politically or militarily, to openly fully back and arm them, at this point. Some of the powers fear further destabilising the region and they also realise there is little public support for imperialist intervention in Syria. A Pew Research poll indicated that 70% of Americans oppose arming the opposition.
For socialists, the Syrian civil war, which is also a proxy conflict between big powers’ interests, is a testament to the failure of capitalism in the region. None of the parties – all of which have blood on their hands - offers anything for the Syrian masses. Arming factions or holding ’peace conferences’ or encouraging a military coup will just replace one butcher regime with another. It will take revolutionary struggle, as we saw in Tunisia and Egypt, armed with a socialist alternative that can end the rule of the reactionary forces trying to carve up Syria.
The rule of the 1%
Despite a massively publicised campaign by charities around aid and world hunger, where was that on the G8 agenda? In fact, the amount of money the world’s richest countries give to ’developing countries’ fell by $2.9 billion between 2011 and 2012. And on climate change, the issue is all but ignored accept a tag on page at the end of the summit communique.
The pro-big business politics pursued in the ‘Ring of Steel’ at Lough Erne, is a vindication of what the Socialist Party and others who organised against the G8 said in the course of our campaign; the G8 represent the interest of the 1% and the policies of austerity, war and criminal environmental policies. We need to build a socialist alternative, so that the decisions that affect the future of our society are not taken by CEOs in boardrooms or unrepresentative politicians behind Steel fencing. But instead the resources of society are publically owned and democratically controlled and managed by working people.