Mar 272012

greenpeace For years I’ve received press releases from Greenpeace and have done little more than glance at them before they are consigned to an archive. Very few, if any, have had a direct bearing on climate change. The activities of the Japanese whaling fleet seemed to be the most popular topic, a controversy that lies beyond the remit of Harmless Sky.

This morning yet anther release arrived, but this caused me some concern as, although it too had nothing to do with climate change, it sounds a rather a scary warning about the path that green political activism might follow in the future. Here is what it had to say:

Greenpeace submitted the first test case European Citizens’ Initiative in December 2010. Please find below and online a concise briefing outlining our position on this engagement tool.

European Citizens’ Initiative – Greenpeace briefing

The Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in December 2009, enshrines the right for one million Europeans to petition the European Commission and require it to draft legislation on the basis of their demands (or justify its refusal to do so). This right is known as the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI).

In December 2010, Greenpeace and Avaaz submitted a one million signature ECI in accordance with the rules established by EU treaties. The ECI was in response to the first authorisation by the Commission in March 2010 for the cultivation of a genetically modified (GM) crop in Europe in 12 years. This authorisation was in direct breach of a request by all 27 member states for a review of the approval system for GM crops. It also raised serious health and environmental concerns. The ECI therefore called for a moratorium on all new authorisations and a review of the GM approval process.

Now drumming up a million signatures on a petition sounds like a pretty onerous task – or it does until you look at the demography of the EU. With 27 member countries and a population of just over 500 million things seem a little different. To put it bluntly, fooling 1 in 500 of the population all of the time is not likely to pose much of a problem for organisations with the kind of spending power that Greenpeace, WWF or Friends of the Earth now have.

That said, the press release continues like this:

Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said: “The citizens’ initiative is a good idea in principle, but in reality one million euros will go a lot further to lobby the Commission than one million signatures. Data requirements for the citizens’ initiative are far too restrictive, while lobbyists continue to have direct access without disclosing names and addresses, let alone their passport numbers. Over a year ago, one million people from all over Europe signed a one million citizens’ initiative for a moratorium on GM crops and a strengthening of safety assessments. Their voices have been heard, since the Commission has yet to authorise new GM crops.”

(At present, signatories are required to provide their date and place of birth together with other information from their passport or identity papers.)

So it appears that in the opinion of Greenpeace one million euros can buy lobbying on a scale that trumps a procedure requiring the EU  to either legislate or justify not doing so. And the cost is peanuts for exerting influence on a trading block that contributes a significant part of the global economy.

Just how much power over our politicians, our governance, and our lives to these organisations have now?

The whole press release can be found here.

4 Responses to “When you can fool some of the people all of ……”

  1. I have to admit I think Greenpeace are right in saying that the requirement to give passport or ID details is absurdly restrictive, and they make a good case arguing that the new rules would be found to be illegal if brought before the European Court.
    It’s easy to see why the Commission has changed the rules. They must have thought that only NGOs financed by the EU like Greenpeace would be wealthy and powerful enough to collect a million signatures. But economic crisis and the spread of the internet has changed the public mood radically. You could probably collect a million signatures in favour of banning all immigration or stringing up bankers with ease.
    I find the whole idea of government by referendum repugnant, since it is so obviously designed to plug the democratic hole in the European Project. The average Briton knows as much about what is happening in say, the Netherlands as the average Yorkshireman knew about affairs in Hampshire in the Middle Ages. No democracy is possible in these circumstances. Financing the likes of Greenpeace to provide a veneer of public participation in European politics doesn’t fool anyone (except maybe Greenpeace).

  2. What worries me is the blasé way in which Greenpeace’s corporate management is so publicly weighing off the relative cost effectiveness of bending EU policy with a million signature petition or a million Euro anonymous lobbying campaign. I seem to remember that WWF has a $500m plus budget these days and that Greenpeace’s is getting on for half that.

    Or in other words, if eNGOs of this size decide to intervene in EU politics they can do so for what, to them, amounts to little more than loose change. And what impact does the rest of their spending power have elsewhere?

    Are these organisations becoming too big, and too unaccountable, to operate without regulation of any kind?

  3. Geoff. you make a good point about the changing public mood, and I believe what we are seeing now is economic matters becoming a burden to the political class that is threating to distract them from all other matters. The breakdown in our economic systems and the damage that printing of money has caused has matters running out of control. But just as with climate change our MSM is completely useless at doing any real analysis.

    I bet that when Greenpeace set out to change the rules they would have had no issues getting a million signatures. Now they would be lucky to get just the activists. Seismic changes are underway in Australia after the Queensland state elections in a way that only can happen down under. We see the mess our own government is in over pastes a subject that would not have warranted a mention back in the days of Gordon Brown.

    Not a single sensible action has been taken anywhere in Europe yet to ease the economic issues. The only measures that will work are those that are at odds with the continence of the European project. So we continue toward the train-crash and economic stagnation. Only when we have completely run out of money will we get a government fully committed to winding back all the stupidity of the last 30 years.

    As for government by referendum, all it will do is stop spending. We may have to take this step to get to a situation where we limit in law what governments can spend. Because at present representative democracy is little more than dictatorship.

  4. I can see why Greenpeace would want to join with Avaaz for this sort of operation – Avaaz is basically an organisation which has been good at mobilising e-petitions and gathering thousands of signatures for the numerous causes they espouse. They are not without their critics – here, for example, is an article describing the way in which at least one of their recent petitions appears to have been stealth-edited after already having gathered 4,000 signatures.

    The anti-advertising activist Micah White (he holds a similar sort of stance to Naomi Klein) calls what Avaaz does “clicktivism”, and he wrote this about it here in the Guardian:

    Gone is faith in the power of ideas, or the poetry of deeds, to enact social change. Instead, subject lines are A/B tested and messages vetted for widest appeal. Most tragically of all, to inflate participation rates, these organisations increasingly ask less and less of their members. The end result is the degradation of activism into a series of petition drives that capitalise on current events. Political engagement becomes a matter of clicking a few links. In promoting the illusion that surfing the web can change the world, clicktivism is to activism as McDonalds is to a slow-cooked meal. It may look like food, but the life-giving nutrients are long gone.

    I think he has a point, although where White appears to see thousands of potential leftist activists diverted by “clicktivism” from fomenting an “emancipatory revolution”, I see thousands of people who might be utter conformists at heart and who click as an easy way to support a cause they vaguely agree with but who in reality would probably run a mile from Micah White’s revolution, if it happened in front of them, and would soon begin to chafe under the strictures of Greenpeace’s low-carbon future, should that come to pass.

    Here’s another article about the ECI. The writer states that the process does not guarantee success for petitions:

    But is “vox populi” becoming actually part of the legislative process? Not exactly: there is no obligation on behalf of the European Commission to turn the content of an ECI into a law, or to even discussi [sic] it in the Parliament. The Commission is only committed to issue a formal response, regardless of the adoption of the proposal.


    Politicians may not like these forms of direct democracy, but may also be willing to “adapt”, to use the words of Commissioner De Gucht: Earlier this week, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann declared that these new petitions could be used in order to convince the European Union to abandon nuclear power, Reuters reported. (Austria banned atomic plants in 1974). Faymann said that he expects anti-nuclear activists to gain support and the petition drive on that issue to start next fall.

    Here’s the Reuters article re Faymann and the possibility of an anti-nuclear petition drive this autumn. What are the odds that Greenpeace/Avaaz will be big players in this?

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