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Lucerne, Switzerland Becomes GATS-Free

by Viktor Ruegg Friday, Apr. 21, 2006 at 9:43 AM

Over 80 communities in Switzerland have insisted on stopping GATS-liberalization for social, ecological and democratic reasons.. In Europe, over 1000 communities have declared themselves GATS-free zones.


By Viktor Ruegg, Lucerne

[This article published in: Zeit-Fragen Nr.4, 4/3/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

On March 16, 2006, the Lucerne city parliament – against the will of the city council – adopted an initiative from Victor Ruegg. By parliament resolution, the city of Lucerne declared itself a GATS-free zone. Viktor Ruegg commented on the parliament debate as follows.

The city council’s opinion on my initiative was dispiriting. It was essentially limited to a reproduction of the seco-homepages on GATS and closed its eyes to the problems arising with the liberalization of world trade and services. The city council simply faded out the consequences of 10 years of free trade a la WTO:

· Unemployment has risen massively everywhere in the world since 1994. The problem of hunger is as great and unsolved as ever.

· The share of income from labor in the4 total gross domestic product has fallen everywhere. The gap between poor and rich has widened worldwide.

· The quality of employment has largely declined. Dirty, dangerous, insecure, poorly paid and degrading work has become more frequent.

· Global corporations, their managers and shareholders, are the winners of the WTO free trade.

· The possibilities of politics for controlling or preventing un-ecological or unsocial production conditions are disappearing on account of actual or threatened migration of businesses. The corporations can do what they want with politics. The most recent regional example – shortly after closing Lego-plants in Willisau and Steinhauser – is the withdrawal of Winterthur from Kriens. Economic director Pfister, a zealous advocate and promoter of trade liberalizations of all kinds, lamented that politics has to powerlessly stand back and watch when big concerns make their decisions.

These catastrophic consequences of WTO free trade that cause increasing worldwide social unrest and ecological collapse should now be transferred through GATS to the service area earmarked for permanent liberalization. The city council’s soothing explanation that base public services would be untouched is simply false. The city council fell for an embellished explanation of Martin Godel from seco. Contrary to Godel, the drinking water supply is actually a possible theme of the GATS negotiations. Switzerland has explicitly proposed postal-, education-, transportation-, engineering- and legal services- beside others – as negotiable. With a positive conclusion of thes3e negotiations, communities and cities must expect foreign private schools, postal services, transportation businesses, engineer- or legal offices on the market. This globalize3d competition will have the well-known consequences: price- and wage dumping with simultaneous loss of political influence.

The city council misjudges that these GATS regulations will be binding on all administrative levels since cantons and communities will be directly impacted. GATS puts in question the subsidiarity principle by limiting communities’ possibilities for independence in the service area. Equal treatment of local and foreign suppliers (principle of “home treatment”) makes impossible local policy or promotion of local supplies. The foreign control by undemocratic global institutions and corporations over political conditions in the communities is now opposed. Against the city council, the voting citizens of the city have put a stop to blind opening strategies, for example in the electricity-market law or in the European Union admission initiative. The city council pleads for a city open to the world. The question is only what “world openness” means. “Cosmopolitanism” appears in a bad light when representatives of an undemocratic EU or mammoth corporations are only fixated on their own profit maximization. The uncritical selling of world economic malformations does not help the world but quickly throws it into a chaos made by WTO and US policy. Unlike the city council, over 80 communities in Switzerland including the three most populous cities Zurich, Geneva and Basel have insisted on stopping GATS-liberalization for social, ecological and democratic reasons. In the Zurich community parliament, an anti-GATS resolution passed in November 2005 by a vote of 62-48. Representatives of the Socialist Party and the Greens joined in. In Europe, more than 1000 communities have declared themselves GATS-free zones.

The city of Lucerne sets a sign. The city parliament seeks to protect public service from the rules of international competition undermining the autonomy of the city in assuring basic services. This sign is all the more important since the Swiss National Council’s commission for foreign affairs resolved a month ago not to submit the GATS agreement to a plebiscite. Thus the democracy deficit which is the chief characteristic of international agreements like the WTO, the EU, GATS and a consequence of the expanded power of global corporations casts its shadows on Bern. With a NO to GATS, the Lucerne citizens assure their free decision over basic services and the political power of city councils and members of parliament. I do not want politics to stand by and watch powerlessly when foreign suppliers make their decisions…

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