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Greece, Austerity, Brexit: What might a Plan B for Europe look like?

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Plan B participants: Marina Albiol,Susan George, Eric Toussaint, Yanis Varoufakis, Zoe Konstantopoulou and Miguel Urban. Madrid, Spain. by Fanny Malinen

This is a coup! Shouted the Twittersphere when Alex Tsipras capitulated to the demands of European Union (EU) elites and signed Greece up for a new, ever more punishing, round of austerity. With that a major blow was struck to the hopes and options of the indebted countries of southern Europe. But Southern Europe has not given up. If anything the winds of change in Europe towards democracy and against austerity, are blowing strongly, and perhaps nowhere stronger than in Spain.

Since the crisis hit Spain hard, a new popular movement occupied the plazas in the major cities and announced the power of the Spanish people to affect change. A wave of 'municipalism' has brought radical mayors into power in major cities and recent elections gave Podemos, the new left party, a major role in deciding the balance of power for the country challenging the power of the previously dominant and irreparably corrupt right wing Partida Popular.

Which makes Madrid the ideal location for a birthplace of a Plan B movement to democratize Europe and to bring some of the energy of the new politics being developed in occupations, social movements and new political parties and coalitions into a Europe where, as the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Junket said, ‘There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.’

The headline speaker of the conference is former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who has recently established the Democracy in Europe Movement: 25 – a 10 year plan to transform EU institutions. With a capacity of 1,500 and 3,000 people registered in Madrid's Matadero, the rather spectacular ex-slaughter house on the banks of the Manzanares River, now converted into an impressive arts and cultural space, was packed to the rafters. An impelling soundtrack, caught somewhere between the urgency of a news bulletin and the heroism of Pirates of the Caribbean, dominated the atmosphere in the room as the audience, many of them middle aged people who, in their youth, will have struggled for the transition from the Franco dictatorship, take their seats on the opening night. As Yanis Varoufakis comes onto the stage the audience rise to their feet in a standing ovation to the man that stood up to the European establishment and their imposition of crippling austerity, and to raise an iPad and net some likes on their Facebook feed.

But interestingly Varoufakis is not the headline speaker tonight and he takes his place in the second row amongst some 30 people who would speak over the course of the conference. We hear from a panel of mainly women speakers, who successfully exemplified the organizer’s aim of putting issues of feminism, ecology and migration at the centre of the discussion alongside issues of debt, austerity and institutional change. My concern that these issues may feel 'tacked on' is allayed, although my hopes that the conference will give me an exciting experience of the kind of 'new politics' of participation and direct democracy are somewhat crushed by session after session that is an expert panel with minimal opportunity to speak from the audience, despite hearing a lot of rhetoric about building from the bottom up.

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Brexit – To flee, or to organize an uprising

All this takes place with the backdrop of David Cameron's negotiation of a new position for the UK in the EU and the announcement of the date for the UK's 'Brexit' referendum on leaving the EU. As campaigners and activists grappled with issues of how to wrest democratic control and self-determination back from unaccountable European institutions, the UK is negotiating downward in terms of human rights and financial regulation, and its right wing are campaigning for the British people to vote out in the referendum, leaving the left wing in the uncomfortable position of having to vote for an undemocratic cartel or join forces with the right. Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now and Another Europe is Possible characterized the decision facing people in the UK: ‘On the one hand you have the European Union run by an unelected commission, crushing the Greek people as they are gasping for air, and pushing corporate deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement. And who would want that. But on the other hand you have some Little England nationalists that essentially either are living in a fantasy world where we still have an empire or simply want to turn our country into an offshore tax haven owned by corrupt billionaires and oligarchs from around the world. It’s not a very attractive choice.’

Throughout the conference the fear of the right, and the responsibility not to allow the crisis of European legitimacy spark a descent into fascism, was articulated by speaker after speaker. Marina Albiol, spokesperson for the Plural Left delegation in the European Parliament spoke of 'striking a claim for the Europe that overcame fascism'. Yanis Varoufakis was clear in his opinion that the UK should remain in the EU and sees a democratic reclamation of EU institutions as the only way forward. 'Nobody loathes the EU more than I do, but the disintegration of the EU we are now witnessing will bring to power Le Pen, Golden Dawn and the forces of darkness. We must fight that through the democratization of the EU.'

Nick Dearden sees the potential of a British exit as contributing not only to the empowerment of the right in the UK but also of deepening the split between Northern and Southern Europe. ‘At the height of the Greek crisis the German/Greek division went very deep into those societies. It was frightening and reminded us of things that have happened in European history. I think if we don't transform the European Union to be honest, god knows what the future is going to look like and the possibility that Britain could be a little island out of it isn't going to make any difference. It is still going to be as awful. You can already see the beginnings of that in the way that migration is being dealt with. It shows that we have got a lot of work to do in really convincing the mass of people in Europe [to ask] “What kind of a society do we want to live in? And if you go down this path where in the hell do you think we are going to end up?”’

But the question of whether reform of the EU is even possible was a common one. French economist Cedric Durand is skeptical about the opportunities for reform within the system but more optimistic about the power of the people. ‘How much can the EU be transformed? For the EU to be a battle ground we need to have some openings of power that we don't have. The EU is not a battleground, it is a prison, and when you are in prison do you flee or do you organize an uprising. We the people is performative, no one can resist popular power.’ Miguel Urban of Podemos echoed this sentiment, ‘We have to see politics beyond left, centre, right, but from below. If we move, the people on the top will fall.’

Six ideas towards a democratic Europe

Beyond the rhetoric of 'si se puede!' or 'yes we can' of the podium speeches, behind the scenes and in the workshops a lot of work was going on to develop ideas of how we move toward a more democratic Europe. Taken largely from the summary of the different strands of the conference, here are six ideas toward democratizing Europe. Some first steps in what could well be the beginnings of a new European movement.

1. New 'International Brigades'

‘I think we all let Greece down. In a way it is the responsibility of all of us that [the Greek] government didn't succeed... When the referendum happened and the Troika decided that they were just going to [impose austerity on Greece] anyway, then that would have been a time when we through our links could have started making mass protests happen around Europe. Like we used to do when the WTO met or the World Bank met. So that Berlin or Athens becomes that mass site of protest. I think it would at least have given pause for thought.’ – Nick Dearden, Global Justice Now

Yanis Varoufakis's call in his Plan B speech for a new version of the international brigades, in reference to the tens of thousands of foreign volunteers who fought fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, was certainly playing to his audience. But the need for joint strategies, actions and proposals, for finding allies towards the centre of the political spectrum, and building a bottom up power base in Europe through connecting movements was echoed by speaker after speaker.

So many of the issues we are dealing with cannot be tackled if we stick behind national borders. Climate change is a major structural problem that can only be dealt with through international co-operation and popular resistance. Similarly a progressive response to the 'refugee crisis' requires not the militarization of borders but a new internationalism. International solidarity and popular power across Europe could make the imposition of austerity politically untenable. The Blockupy movement is an example of this, having made the European Central Bank in Frankfurt a major site of protest.

2. No to 'Debtocracy'

‘There is a sovereign right of states to refuse any debt repayment before a debt audit is concluded and to expect other states to refrain from any act of coercion. People should not be subject to the repayment of a debt that is not their own, a debt not connected to public expenses or social welfare, a debt very often linked to corruption and large scale economic crime involving government officials.’ Zoé Konstatoupoulou, former Speaker of the Greek Parliament

‘It is a dream world to think that we can pay the debt.’ Miguel Urban, MEP Podemos

The austerity policies enforced on the likes of Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal since the crash, and which have long been the cause of misery across the global South, benefit the financial markets, banks and elites of Europe. As well as rejecting austerity as a solution to the debt crisis, it is necessary to also challenge the legitimacy of the debt itself. The idea that all debts should always be paid and that there are no alternatives is deeply embedded. Debt Audits are one strategy for populations to assert which debts they believe are legitimate to pay and affirm their right to decide how to pay and how to balance debt payments with social rights. At Plan B experiences were shared from social movements in Greece, Italy, Belgium, United Kingdom, France, Poland, Ukraine, Switzerland and Spain, both at the municipal and state levels. And ultimatly debt audits must take place at the European level.

3. Rebel cities and growing the alternatives

A host of alternatives exist in Europe to the neoliberal model of trade and investment. From cooperatives and the burgeoning social economy, to producer organizations of organic farming, through to initiatives to re-municipalize privatized utilities such as energy.

The new 'rebel cities' in Spain embody the hopes of many to change the rules of the political game. In 2015 radical mayors took power in many of Spain's larger cities, their power coming from citizen’s platforms and unconventional alliances between social movements and political parties. Their aspiration is to test out the 'new politics' of direct citizen involvement in decision making that caught the popular imagination during the occupation of the plazas in 2011/12, to ‘take back the city and its public institutions and put democracy back at the service of the people.’

While many of the goals of building economic alternatives to capitalism are ultimately beyond the scope of these localized initiatives. They are real, replicable, networked and growing.

4. Fight against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement

There is growing opposition in Europe to the policies of economic globalization and this is exemplified by the highly networked Europe-wide resistance to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement (TTIP). Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in marches against TTIP; hundreds of municipal and regional governments and parliaments have declared themselves ‘TTIP free zones’. Continent-wide resistance in Latin America to the Free Trade Area of the Americas and its predecessor the North American Free Trade Agreement was a major factor in the strengthening of social movements and the installation of, albeit flawed, left wing governments, and moves towards participation and the renewal of social rights.

5. Defend Freedom of Movement

The flow of refugees fleeing war, human rights abuses, poverty and the impacts of environmental destruction and resource extraction has led to the raising of ever higher walls around ‘Fortress Europe’ and a crisis in its open internal borders policy, tearing apart what was arguably one of Europe's biggest achievements. While the mainstream discourse is quick to paint migrants as a danger to repel or as humanitarian victims, it is less keen to see them as political subjects with rights, aspirations and their own demands. It is a discourse that fails to acknowledge the role that foreign policy, military intervention and economic globalization have in pushing people into exile, or the lucrative business to be made from immigration policy: for mafias, for companies that manage border security and for those employers who exploit the casualization of an abundant migrant workforce.

Defending freedom of movement for all means re-thinking the idea of European citizenship to be inclusive of all the people that live in Europe, and sharing a vision of a Europe where human rights, democracy and the dignity of peoples take precedence over corporate or geopolitical interests.

6. Change the Model

While economists for progressive parties such as Podemos in Spain and Esquerda in Portugal wrestle with the uncomfortable dilemma of whether they are aiming to stay in the straightjacket of the Euro or leave and create yet another annoying Grexit/Brexit-style compound noun, it is vital to plan the kind of economic policies that would be needed to create the Europe that we want. What would be the necessary economic reforms to protect the dignity of people, change the production model to one based on renewable energy and social welfare, where living conditions are the ultimate measure of the value rather than GDP, in which issues such as work to be dealt from the perspective of what jobs are socially necessary, where the movement of capital is controlled but not the movement of people, where credit fulfills a social function? How can an economy be built that puts life in the centre, and how do we build the popular power to enable this to happen despite the fiscal pacts and memorandums of understanding of the Eurogroup?

Switching on to energy democracy

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2010 assembly. Som Energia Cooperativa under a Creative Commons Licence

As the Paris climate talks prioritized grand words over grand plans, there is an urgent need for people power to make the necessary changes to the energy system. But how can ordinary people challenge the monopoly of the energy companies whose unjustifiable prices leave many with their basic needs unmet, and unsustainable emissions disrupt the ecological systems that we rely on for our survival? How can we create a system that is renewable, affordable, democratic and reinvests in the public good?

Maybe we change the system one city at a time?

Inspired by energy democracy initiatives worldwide, a new campaign, Switched On London, aspires to push London's public authorities to set up a new energy company that will provide Londoners with progressively priced renewable energy. The proposed company would be a production and supply company – investing in new renewable energy within and outside the city which would feed into the national grid. On the supply side the company would supply customers in direct competition with the 'Big Six' companies which control the UK energy market. It would have a radical democratic system with its board of directors made up of the local authority, customers and workers, as well as community energy forums feeding in their ideas.

Democratic ownership creates space for goals beyond profit maximization

This may all sound rather pie-in-the-sky but recent initiatives in Bristol, Nottingham, Germany and elsewhere suggest that Switched On London's proposal may be more achievable than one might think, and that democratic ownership creates space for goals beyond profit maximization.

Nottingham City Council recently launched Robin Hood Energy, a city owned company offering low prices in an attempt to combat fuel poverty, explicitly challenging the Big Six, shareholder profits and director bonuses. Bristol has gone one better: the city is 100 per cent shareholder in the new company, Bristol Energy, which is aiming to source – where possible – from local renewable energy projects and will be subsidizing council services with the profits of the venture. All at a time when local authorities are seeing their budgets slashed by central government.

RELATED: Time to take the leap, interview with Naomi Klein and others about the significance of The Leap Manifesto.

The current Mayor of London Boris Johnson has also put a proposal on the table for a municipal energy company for London but his aspirations are well below that of either Nottingham or Bristol. The proposal is for a partnership with German transnational RWE nPower and it is limited to big public energy buyers such as Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police. None of these projects though go as far as the aspirations of Switched On London, who see energy democracy and popular participation rather than simple state ownership as central to ensuring that the projects are truly able to deliver a more socially and environmentally just energy system. For this we need to look further afield.

Germany has a strong and popular movement for energy transition – the Energiewende – which aims to eliminate fossil fuels and nuclear power from the energy mix and replace them with renewables. A recent wave of attempts to re-municipalize the energy system has had highs and lows. Since 2007 more than 60 municipal energy utilities have been formed while over 170 communities have attempted to buy pieces of the energy grid back from private providers. The most notable success was in Hamburg, Germany's second most populous city, where in 2013 a referendum supported the buyback of the grid from Swedish energy giant Vattenfall for between $560 and $620 million. Talks continue on the purchase of the city's gas and district heating systems when contracts expire in 2018-2019. The referendum was spearheaded by the campaign platform Unser Hamburg Unser Netz (Our Hamburg Our Grid) which aimed for ‘a socially just, democratically controlled and climate-friendly energy supply from renewable sources’. And in Munich, the municipally-owned electricity company has already begun to deliver on the city’s commitment to 100 per cent clean energy supply by 2025.

Berliner Energietisch

In Berlin, however, things have not gone entirely to plan. The proposal of Berliner Energietish (Berlin Energy Roundtable) to buy out the city's grid from Vattenfall was one of the most comprehensive energy democracy proposals yet seen and has formed a very high degree of popular participation. The project envisaged a 100 per cent green energy system with Berlin voters directly electing six of the 15 members of the power company’s Board of Directors, and citizen initiatives and other mechanisms allowing Berliners to directly participate in and influence company policies. They also worked on a progressive pricing structure which would rewarded low users – poorer households and those using energy efficiently, with lower unit prices while large users would pay more per unit – the opposite to most energy systems and certainly to that in the UK.

Over 200,000 people signed the petition which forced the city authorities to hold a referendum on the buyout. The referendum was due to be held alongside the presidential elections but in an attempt to defeat the proposal the senate moved it to a day when no other elections were taking place. Eighty three per cent of voters supported the buyout but, frustratingly, the referendum fell short of the required 25 per cent quorum by an agonizing 0.9 per cent.

It is clear that only the energy companies have anything to gain from the status quo

In Spain a new energy cooperative, Som Energia, has grown from a group of 150 members in Girona, Catalonia in 2010, to a nationwide movement with around 24,000 members. Like the Switched On London proposal the company invests in green energy and supplies electricity to its members. Unlike the London proposal, the company is not owned by the city but by its members who join through a $113 investment. Som Energia is organized through local groups and campaigning platforms and its general assembly is live-streamed to encourage wide participation. The cooperative combines the desire to transform the energy system from fossil fuels to renewable energy with a desire for an economy based on solidarity and social good as well as putting power into the hands of the citizens and encouraging participation in a transformative organizing processes.

RELATED: Climate justice means energy democracy by Adriana Swain

Back in London, the Switched On London team are keen to open out and not be led by funded organizations but to be truly representative of the diversity in London. With their roots in fuel poverty campaigning they have already got disabled activists and pensioners groups on board. They are also keen to involve the many community energy projects, such as Brixton Energy, that have started to get off the ground but which are struggling due to the government's slashing of feed in tariffs. A municipal energy company could potentially provide a lifeline to these schemes by buying up the energy they produce at mutually beneficial rates.

Jeremy Corbyn's recent surprise win in the labour leadership race demonstrates the energy bubbling under for a new kind of politics based on a critique of corporate capitalism and advocacy of positive features such as popular participation, social ideals and ecological sustainability. Can London mobilize the people power needed to make this happen? With hundreds of thousands of people being cut off because they can't afford to top up their overpriced pre-payment meters, a million people living in fuel poverty, 4,000 excess winter deaths in London alone in 2014-2015, food banks oversubscribed, rising rents and slashed local authority budgets – as well as growing fears about climate change – it is clear that only the energy companies have anything to gain from the status quo.

‘This Changes Everything’: What the Paris attacks mean for the climate protests

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'To change everything it takes everyone' 350.org under a Creative Commons Licence

Key organizers are pushing for the climate marches and protests to go ahead in Paris despite threats of a government clampdown (see last night’s press statements by 350.org and Climate Coalition 21). Claire Fauset, one of many climate justice activists planning to attend the talks, explains why it’s more important than ever to take action in Paris.

This changes everything. The title of Naomi Klein's book on the urgency of the fight to stop capitalism destroying our planet was the phrase that immediately came to mind as the horror of the Paris terror attacks settled on my brain last Friday night. I was with friends recording poems and snippets for a radio project during the climate summit, and all our thoughts were already in Paris.

My mind raced like a movie montage of paranoiac dystopianism. Remembering that day in 2001 when, while planning for a campaign against the World Trade Organization, the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground. Remembering the fear, not of terrorism, not of Islam, not of getting on a plane, but of war, xenophobia, repression, and spiralling cycles of violence. Fearing now what this attack means for a Europe already swinging to the right and restricting freedom of movement in the desperate hope of stemming the tide of people fleeing the wars and poverty for which Europe itself is partly responsible. And fearing the growth of the unthinking, poisonous prejudice that values white lives over the lives of people of colour in Beirut, Baghdad, Syria and everywhere.

And of course my fears were for our mobilizations around the climate summit. Will it even happen? Are we mobilizing people to be an easy target for terrorists in a heavily militarized state? Will climate change even be on the agenda? This changes everything.

Climate change is a greater threat than terrorism, we said, in those innocent days only a week ago. And it is. And the two are interconnected. The war in Syria is thought to be partly sparked by a drought, linked to climate change. And resource dependency – specifically oil – is what is buying the guns for the Islamic State. Climate change is a greater threat, but terrorism certainly has the ability to overshadow other issues by its immediacy and horror. Our intention was to go onto the streets of Paris when the summit fails, as it inevitably will, to reach an agreement that has a hope of keeping us within a 1.5 degree temperature rise, to take to the streets and take the last word. But how can we realistically hope to take the last word with our barricades when the first word has been so devastatingly stolen by the terrorists?

Right now social movements are trying to get their heads around what these attacks mean for resistance to the corporate agenda that hijacked the climate talks long before IS hijacked the Bataclan concert hall. We know that the summit will go ahead, but there are strong indications that marches and protests may be banned as a state of emergency is extended to cover the talks.

Paris is a traumatized city. We should not stay silent about the climate crisis, but our resistance must show empathy and solidarity, both with those affected by the attacks and those targeted by the fear, racism and paranoia that now follows. More than ever this is a time for solidarity and a rejection of false 'solutions'. The COP process over the past 20 years has led to a worsening of the climate crisis and a rise rather than reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the war on terror has led to more terror – in Beirut and Baghdad as well as Paris – and to a refugee crisis that leaves dead bodies washing up on Europe's shores. The same logic underlies both of these failures. A logic of maintaining the status quo, of protecting our economic interests at all costs, of ignoring the historical and current ways in which the West is deeply implicated in the root causes of the problem. In this moment of fear and uncertainty, of multiple crises sweeping the globe, a movement for justice, equality, anti-oppression, for a liveable planet and for a change to the system based on greed and exploitation is ever more needed.

Now is not the time to stay silent.

Basque Country action camp to unite European anti-fracking movement

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In October 2013, 13,000 people supported Fracking Ez’s demonstration in Gasteiz

Fracking Ez together with some of the international group organising the Frackanpada, climb on the drilling tubes left at the site of the old conventional well next to the field where SHESA propose to start fracking.

In contrast to the tourist-ready images of Spain as a parched, sun-bleached plateau, the Basque Cantabrian basin in the northern part of the country was cool, rainy and green as I drove through the vineyards of Rioja Alavesa to give a talk in a village threatened by fracking. If the Spanish government is to be believed, these Rioja vineyards and the verdant hills and valleys sit on a shale formation that could yield 185,000 million cubic metres of natural gas.

Above that sits the 170-km2 Subijana aquifer, which is a vital water resource for the entire region. Local politicians Dani Maeztu and Igor Lopez de Munain estimate that the aquifer would need to be punctured over 1,000 times to extract the volumes of gas the industry predicts. As the aquifer is 300 metres deep, they claim that there is no credible way that this level of interference could leave it uncontaminated.

In the United States, at least 2 million oil and gas wells had been hydraulically fractured by 2013, making up 43 per cent of the country’s oil production and 67 per cent of its natural gas production.

The shale gas boom there has had horrific side effects: irreparable groundwater contamination, air pollution, neuro-toxin poisoning, noise pollution, sinkholes and even earthquakes. Added to that is the release of quantities of ‘fugitive emissions’ of methane that studies have shown make the process more polluting than coal in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Today, the oil and gas industry seeks to export fracking across the world. Their efforts, however, have been met by strong grassroots opposition in almost every country, particularly in Europe, Africa and Latin America. And the Basque Country is no exception.

A surprising turn of fate

Mikel Otero, a firefighter and core member of the Basque anti-fracking group Fracking Ez, told me how a chance meeting with a high-ranking government minister sealed his resolve to fight this destructive new technology.

Mikel found out about the plans to frack in the Basque Country in 2011, when the former Basque Prime Minister, Patxi Lopez, who had just been on a visit to Texas, appeared in the media saying that an agreement had been reached with two US companies to start drilling in 2012.

‘In the winter of 2011 we started seeing these notices in the newspaper and said, Hmm, that looks odd. Then we started spray-painting “Stop Fracking” around the city and having assemblies.’

Fracking Ez take their protest into the 170km2 Subiljana Aquifer to demonstrate the risk to the region's greatest water resource.

The more they found out about the impact fracking was having in the US, the more concerned they became.

At the time of these initial meetings, Mikel made an unplanned and speculative visit to the Ministry of Industry in Madrid to see if he could find out more.

In a surprising turn of fate, he ended up at the office of the Director of the Department of Hydrocarbons. Intrigued by a Basque citizen turning up at her office asking questions about the fracking permissions, and perhaps keen to make her department look transparent and accountable, the minister agreed to meet Mikel for 10 to 15 minutes.

He was there for two hours.

‘I was surprised because here was a person of high rank in the administration communicating with me directly and listening to my concerns. At one point she told me we should be very careful about what were we doing because there had been many occasions where the economic development of the country had been held back because of people’s opposition to high-technology development. And that was the moment when I thought, OK, I think I am going to be in the front of this struggle.’

Radical discussion, radical action

Fracking Ez (meaning ‘No Fracking’ in Euskara, the language of the Basque Country), along with the assemblies against fracking in Cantabria and Burgos, quickly mounted a strong resistance against the plans to frack.

In the Basque Country, where the tradition of leftwing politics and social campaigns is strong, 13,000 people rallied in 2013 in the small city of Gasteiz, in the centre of the region where fracking is proposed.

The Frackanpada international protest camp will take place between 13-19 July.

The same year, the Cantabrian assembly succeeded in mobilizing grassroots support and passed a ban against fracking in this strongly conservative region. The ban, along with bans passed by other Spanish regions, was later overturned by the constitutional court in Madrid, but it nonetheless shows the strong feelings local people hold on this issue, as well as their ability to mobilize support for their cause.

The anti-fracking movement in the Basque Country is inspired by a long history of struggle against the government’s inappropriate land development. The anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s prevented 5 nuclear power stations being built along the Basque coast and has kept nuclear power out of the country.

The movement to oppose the high-speed train line that would cut through the Basque countryside, offering no benefit to local people, started in the early 1990s and is still a major focus of resistance.

Mikel explains that he feels excited that the anti-fracking struggle is one of the first times he has been involved in a struggle that brings together a wide range of people and that it is prompting a radical discussion about the energy system.

‘There are people of many ages, people from the villages working alongside people from the city; also politically it is wide and not limited to just one political viewpoint. It is exciting when you go to the villages and talk with all kinds of people about fracking, and what it means, about the mess we are in with our energy system and our consumption levels. Everybody agrees that we are in a crazy time and a crazy place and many things must be changed. Even if we could get everybody on board, it is still not clear how we are going to change these systems, so fracking is a good point to start to have these discussions.’

The anti-fracking struggle brings together a wide range of people and is prompting a radical discussion about the energy system

Fracking Ez’s latest project is organizing a ‘Frackanpada’, an international anti-fracking camp, from 13-19 July, to bring together the anti-fracking movement from across Europe for a week of debates, plotting, skill-sharing, concerts and anti-fracking actions.

With the permission of the local village, the camp will take place on the site of an old conventional well next to where the companies are proposing to re-drill and frack, immediately above the aquifer.

The locals want to show the strength of opposition and resistance that companies can expect if they go ahead with their plans to frack here.

Working together with anti-fracking groups from across Europe, including Reclaim the Power in Britain, the camp aims to connect the issue of fracking to other struggles which target land appropriations, against the economic system that does not value life, and to create visions of a better world.

Mikel sees so many possibilities. ‘It’s going to be a crazy mess of ideas and experiences and skills... I still don’t know exactly what is going to happen there, but I know great things are going to come out of it.’

A return to dictatorship or a Haitian Spring?

Michel Martelly

Haiti's President Martelly is increasingly unpopular. www.GlynLowe.com under a Creative Commons Licence

Haiti’s political system is in turmoil. Years of failure by the Michel Martelly regime to hold elections have left nearly all the seats in the government empty and Martelly essentially ruling by decree. Tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in weekly demonstrations since November, facing teargas and rubber bullets from police and UN troops. They are demanding the resignation of the president and the removal of UN forces, which they view as an imperialist occupation.

The parliament stopped sitting on 13 January after the terms of all but 10 members of the Senate and all of the lower house expired. The last parliamentary elections were in 2010 and Senate elections were due in May 2012. Municipal elections are also three years behind schedule. The situation is the result of a bitter stalemate between the government and the opposition over a law to administer elections, an intractable situation which plays into the hands of Martelly. Elections were due to be held on 26 October 2014 and the failure to hold a poll ignited the mass protests.

The demonstrations’ most tangible success has been the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe on 14 December. Since then, and with the dissolution of the government in January, there has been a major escalation, with a general strike and a transport strike in February leaving the entire country paralysed for days at a time. The public sector has been on strike since 13 January to demand back-payment of their salary arrears, and students have gone on strike demanding that their teachers be paid.

The date parliament was dissolved was ironically the fifth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, killing an estimated 220,000 people and leaving more than 1.5 million homeless. As of September 2014, over 85,000 people were still living in tent camps and around 300,000 in slums on the outskirts of the capital, Port au Prince. There is widespread anger at the development model that has been pursued by the Martelly government and international community following the quake, with development aid money going to build luxury hotels for rich tourists despite hundreds of thousands still living in tents and shacks. Of the $1.5 billion of USAID grants and contracts for the development of Haiti, only one per cent went directly to Haitian organizations.

The devastation of the quake was further compounded by a major cholera epidemic, caused by infected sewage from the UN military base into the country’s main river. As of 4 August 2013, 669,396 cases and 8,217 deaths had been recorded. The UN has failed to take full responsibility for the epidemic and has refused to pay any compensation to victims, despite numerous lawsuits.

Martelly is no stranger to electoral controversy. He came to power after elections which excluded the country’s most popular party, Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas. The majority of Haitians boycotted the vote and Martelly polled third. The first candidate was rejected after Martelly alleged electoral fraud. His inclusion in the run-off vote was orchestrated by the international community. An Organization of American States ‘expert’ mission stepped in, recounted a portion of the ballots and selected Martelly for second place using a methodology that was strongly disputed by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, which conducted its own independent election report. The run-off elections were, again, not without incident: three campaign workers for his opponent, Mirlande Manigat, were murdered during the campaign.

Martelly follows in the shoes of dictator Francois Duvalier, who came to power in 1957 and remained president until 1971, after declaring himself ‘President for Life’. He was succeeded by his son, Jean Claude Duvalier. Martelly has links to the Duvalierist far-right of the 1980s and 1990s, and with the leaders of the military coup that ousted the leftwing Aristide. He was a member of Duvalier’s infamous hit squad, the Tonton Macoutes, in his youth, a group responsible for the deaths and torture of Duvalier’s political opponents.

The recent political uprising in Haiti has shown that the revolutionary spirit remains in a country that gained its independence from colonialism in 1804 following a historic and bloody slave revolt. International intervention was responsible for the coup that ousted Aristide and brought Martelly to power. The troops provided by the UN have allowed him to keep hold of the presidency while public anger rages in the streets. It remains to be seen how July’s elections will change the political landscape of Haiti, but there is little faith that Martelly will let go of the reins of power in an election that is free or fair.

Fishy carbon credits

To solve climate chaos we need to pollute the oceans on a grand scale, according to a new crop of geo-engineering companies. With names like Planktos, Ocean Nourishment Corporation and Atmocean, these companies are hoping to make a great deal of money from ‘carbon credits’, awarded for encouraging the growth of phytoplankton in the oceans which they claim will ‘sequester’ or store carbon dioxide.

The plankton are eaten by tiny jellyfish-like creatures which excrete carbon pellets on to the ocean floor. To make the plankton grow, these companies are proposing various methods of fertilizing the oceans, including dumping iron particles, piping nutrient-rich deep ocean water to the surface, or even scattering urea – quite literally pissing into the sea.

Despite the fact that ocean scientists, including the International Panel on Climate Change, have warned that this technology is potentially dangerous to ocean ecosystems, unlikely to sequester much carbon dioxide, and has the potential to increase levels of other dangerous greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and methane, the companies are proceeding with their schemes, exploiting the fact that there is no legal framework to hold them to account.

So when ocean fertilization company Climos held a high-level meeting in London in November 2007, intended to influence delegates from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to approve a pro-dumping policy, a group of climate campaigners turned up to try to stop them.

Climos had invited the delegates to meet with their scientists and discuss their ideas for a voluntary code of conduct over a buffet lunch. The campaigners, who had greeted delegates with a banner reading ‘Toxic dumping: no climate solution’, politely handed out leaflets outlining their concerns about the impacts on ocean ecosystems and the livelihoods of subsistence fisherfolk.

The IMO delegates were clearly unpersuaded by Climos’s slick presentation. On 9 November they announced their decision: ocean fertilization is scientifically unjustified and in contravention of international agreements on dumping toxic waste.

The companies won’t give up that easily, however. On 3 December, Climos announced that it had registered with certification company Det Norske Veritas to validate carbon credits for a forthcoming dump. Planktos, whose CEO Russ George has referred to the company’s research missions as ‘more of a business experiment than a scientific experiment’, has a ship on the way to the Galapagos Islands where it plans to carry out its first dump. Environmentalist group Sea Shepherd, which happened across the Planktos ship in the Bahamas, discovered that the company is hoping to use iron from ground-up scrap. This would contain oil and other impurities, further polluting the ocean ecosystem.

The Ocean Nourishment Corporation has approached the Philippine Government for permission to dump synthetic urea (made from natural gas, which goes to show how seriously they are taking the issue of sustainability) in the Sulu Sea. They are expected then to claim fishing rights on the basis of increasing fish stocks because of the phytoplankton blooms. This has outraged Philippine fishing communities. Ruperto Aleroza of Kilusang Mangingisda, the Philippine Fisherfolk’s Movement, said: ‘This technology is unacceptable. It is a dangerous technology that could imperil the marine environment, which is the main source of survival and livelihood for poor fisherfolk in the Philippines.’

Ocean fertilization is only one of a number of schemes which attempt to mitigate climate change by engineering the Earth’s natural systems, and highlights the lack of regulation and oversight over technologies which have the potential to cause serious harm.