Thursday, May 05, 2005

Lamy’s Got a Friend

“José Bové Has Pleaded his Cause in Brussels” read the headline in the August 14, 2001 issue of Le Figaro. Below it, a photograph of an apparently historic handshake – one sees as well a cameraman recording the moment – between two smiling European notables.

click on image for a better view

On the one side, José Bové – the faux peasant and darling of the “anti-globalization” movement, the scourge of McDonalds and the self-appointed grim “reaper” [faucheur] of experimentally-planted transgenic crops – on the other side, Pascal Lamy: the French Socialist politician, former aide to European Commission President Jacques Delors and to indicted felon Jean Peyrelevade, and then European Commissioner for Commerce. In this latter capacity, as we have seen here on Trans-Int, Lamy once threatened to impose trade sanctions on the United States in the following words: “We have a revolver and the finger is on the trigger.”

The caption to the photo reads: “José Bové met yesterday afternoon with Pascal Lamy, the European Commissioner in charge of commercial affairs, in order to obtain the lifting of surtaxes imposed by the United States.” It will be recalled that it was these same WTO-approved surtaxes – notably, on José’s beloved Roquefort – that inspired Bové to lay waste to a McDonalds in Millau in 1999, thus securing his fame in “anti-globalization” circles.

Just two months after their meeting in Brussels, José and Pascal would meet again in Doha, Qatar, during the WTO talks. Pascal was representing the EU. José came to protest..., needless to say. According to reports in the French press at the time, the French foreign ministry – then headed by Lamy’s party comrade Hubert Védrine – “practically imposed” [Le Figaro, 10 November 2001] the presence of Bové upon the Emirate. José would pay a visit to the Greenpeace flagship “The Rainbow Warrior”, which was docked in Doha harbor for the event. So too would Pascal. He even had some pictures taken on board. Here he is, for instance, with Greenpeace political director Remi Parmentier:

In the meanwhile, Pascal Lamy is the EU’s consensus candidate for the Director Generalship of the WTO. Indeed, with the elimination last Friday of Jayen Cuttaree of Mauritius, he is, along with the Uruguayan Carlos Perez del Castillo, one of only two candidates who remain in the running. The French press has designated Lamy the front-runner and it may well be right. Although the EU is for trade-purposes every bit as much a single unit as say the 50 United States, it enjoys the singular good fortune of having 25 votes in the WTO. As Castillo enjoys the support of the 17-member “Cairns Group”, the Lamy-Castillo duel will largely play itself out among the so-called ACP – Africa, Caribbean and Pacific – countries, many of whom are heavily dependent on EU development aid. The next round of deliberations is set to begin on Monday, with a winner supposed to be designated by the end of the month.

Pascal Lamy is often presented as the incarnation of Europe’s supposed “ultra-liberal” drift by French “anti-globalization” forces. But the histrionics of the latter need not be taken seriously. As a journalist from Le Nouvel Observateur put it to Lamy in the presence of Bové and referring to the French town where Bové holds his annual “anti-globalization” bash: “Even if you scream at one another, Larzac is useful for you, isn’t it?” Lamy – who had just noted that “when on the international level, I say that the environment is very important for the Europeans, obviously the existence of active ecological movements lends support to my claims” – did not disagree. "I am not a free-trader," Lamy says emphatically in the same interview [pdf file, link in French] - and he is not lying. Lamy explains:
I have a lot of understanding, even sympathy, for a number of the criticisms advanced by the anti- or "other" globalization movements. But what is important
in this debate concerns what one ought to do. And there, in most cases, we disagree. It is a matter of our political conceptions, as citizens, but also of our respective institutional positions. I am a European commissioner. I am accountable to the state members and to the European parliament. José, as for him, is in the position of a critical trade-unionist. It’s very different.

One of the substantive points on which Pascal Lamy has made it clear that he agrees with José Bové and the "anti-globalization" movement – it is indeed hard to find any on which he does not – concerns their common commitment to subordinating trade to environmental policy objectives: or, in other words, permitting discriminatory trade practices in the name of the latter. As Ray Evans shows in a highly interesting article in the Australian magazine Quadrant [text, unfortunately, not available online], this would require a radical expansion in the scope of the “exceptions clause” (Article XX) of the GATT and thereby fundamentally alter the organization’s manner of functioning.

“Undoubtedly, ‘another world is possible’,” Lamy says,
but it is not for tomorrow. In the meanwhile, it is important that we negotiate a clarification of commercial and environmental rules at the interior of the WTO. And it is Europe, by the way, that has brought this about, against the developing countries and the United States. Because, basically, around the table at the WTO there are a lot people who find that the current situation is not so bad.

So, in short, the difference between Pascal Lamy and José Bové is one of style, not substance: one of means, not of ends. And indeed, as Lamy’s remarks suggest – “José is a critical trade-unionist. It’s very different.” – these different means and styles are merely different, not incompatible. José Bové rejects the WTO. Pascal Lamy is committed to undermining it from within. If he becomes the next Director General of the organization, he will have ample opportunity to do so.

(Note: For more on Pascal Lamy, see my earlier posts "Lamy's Got a Gun" and "Lamy's Got a Gun II".)