Transnational Institute: 16 October 2014
Hilde van der Pas
One week before the official Asia-Europe government meeting (ASEM) gathers in Milan, over 400 people from 42 countries in Europe and Asia gathered at the 10th Asia-Europe Peoples forum (AEPF) to present their demands and recommendations.
More than 400 people, representing social movements, organisations and citizens from 42 countries, met from October 10– 12 2014 to discuss five thematic areas that concern citizens across Europe and Asia. As an outcome of the forum,that takes place every two years in Asia or Europe, recommendations will be presented to the governments at the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) on climate change, trade and investment policies, social protection, food sovereignty, migration, peace and security.
The forum started with a keynote speech from Shui Meng Ng, whose husband Sombath Somphone was abducted two years ago, shortly after he participated in the AEPF9 in Laos, as co-chair of the National Organizing Committee. Sombath was last seen when he was stopped by a police car and taken away, on September 15th 2012.
“Sombath was optimistic that many of the challenges and crises in Laos, as well as in Asia and Europe, could be tackled through open and frank dialogue and concrete actions between ordinary citizens in partnership with civil society groups and the government. “said Shui Meng Ng.
Paul Emile Dupret, member of the GUE group in the European Parliament, who went to Laos after Sombath’s disappearance on a mission with the EP, talked about the difficult environment they faced when talking to the Lao government and stated that the European left party rejects “….fake socialism – promoting landgrabbing and corruption”.
Malaysian MEP Charles Santiago put on a Sombath t-shirt to express his solidarity on behalf of all ASEAN parliamentarians. “Don’t tell us we have no business making you accountable,” he said.
For two days, the participants of the AEPF engaged in lively debates and discussions about land and ocean grabbing, climate change and zero waste. Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) and the trade and investment agreement between the US and the EU (TTIP), which will heavily impact countries in Asia if it will become the model for all future trade agreements, were also widely discussed.
Charles Santiago touched upon the highly controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause in these agreements, which gives companies investing in a country the right to sue governments in supranational laws, bypassing national laws and able to influence policies in the general interest:
“They are writing the new constitution: parliaments have no role, governments have no role.” He said.
Others discussed peace and security and the impacts of international conflicts on people worldwide.
Groups talking about climate change and zero waste policies stressed that the inability of governments worldwide to stick to any commitments made at the official climate negotiations show the need for mobilisation by social movements and the need for new strategies, linking local movements in Asia and Europe.
The main recommendations for the leaders of the Asian and European countries at the ASEM summit included the following:
Peace & Security
- The AEPF10 strongly condemns the military coup d’état and the establishment of a military regime / dictatorship in Thailand: The European Union and all democratic governments of the ASEM process must cherish their commitment to be a forum of civilian governments. They must not allow a military regime / dictatorship to take part in ASEM10, their meeting.
- There should be a mechanism at the international level to address conflicts.
- All conflicts should be settled by peaceful means and civil society should be involved in peacekeeping.
- -Development of a Common Plan with member states to cut military spending by at least 10% in the next 5 years and shift military spending to public services.
- Nepal should be able to declare itself a nuclear free zone.
- The UN should ensure that IS fighters are not allowed to enter Kobani.
- We need a food production model that puts small farmers instead of large agribusiness at the center.
- Governments should oppose land, ocean and resource grabbing and support the Human Right to Food
- Withdraw from and actively oppose the Global Partnership for Oceans, the Coral Triangle Initiative, and the ASEAN Fishery Improvement Protocol
- stop imposing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) rules on genetic resources and recognise, respect and fulfil farmer rights to seeds.
- Governments should fulfil their responsibility to mitigate climate change, pay their ecological debt to poor countries and realize fair sharing of development space
- Shift the system of production and consumption oriented on continuous expansion and appropriation of nature to a more sustainable and environment friendly one.
- Commit to progressing to a nuclear-power free world
Trade and Investment
- Undertake a public process of audit and review of their bilateral trade and investment agreements as well as national and regional trade and investment policies to address the concerns raised by social movements and civil society.
- Reaffirm the sovereignty of states and their people by ceasing all negotiations on ISDS and investment protection.
- Live up to their extra territorial human rights obligations as home states of TNCs and to lend support to the Inter-Governmental Working Group called for in the UN Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/26/L.22 of June 26 2014 which proposes the elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.
- There should be strict rules against social dumping and decent wages for all
- Stop criminalization of migrants
- We want Public-Public Partnerships (PPPs) where non-profit entities can play a role
- No privatization of the commons (natural and social)
- Develop adequate fiscal policies that generate sufficient domestic funds for universal social protection.
> Read full list of recommendations at http://www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/aepf10_final_declaration.pdf
After sharing the recommendations at the AEPF, Italy’s Deputy Director for the Countries of Asia at the ministry of foreign affairs Andrea Perugini said he was “..impressed by your commitment and determination” and ASEM official Michael Matthiessen said this outcome clearly showed the importance of the forum.
Mariana Mortuaga, MEP from Portugal, talked in one of the closing speeches about the effects that the EU response on the economic crisis has had on young people across Europe: “This is a hopeless generation. They have learned that the only way to survive is by competing. This has destroyed any form of collective action.”
But the hopeless generation has been able to form alternatives in Southern Europe, she continued, stressing the importance of new parties like Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece: “We can fight nationalism by insisting on our international connections. We can fight neoliberalism by working on the local level, and we can fight sense of impotence by creating alternatives and have people experience how it is to be part of a democratic movement. I hope that at the next AEPF in two years we will be stronger and have governments with us in Europe.”
Andy Rutherford from the International Organising committee presented a petition to the ASEM and Italian government officials, signed by almost all participants at the summit, to put pressure on the Lao government to seriously investigate Sombath’s disappearance.
“The leaders in Asia and Europe must sincerely take note of the people’s hopes and aspirations and support the “People’s Vision” to address the world’s development, peace and security challenges. That would keep Sombath’s vision alive, and that would make Sombath’s personal sacrifice worthwhile,” said Shui Meng Ng.
Rex Varona, from the International Organising committee, ended with saying: “We will continue to organise and build our movements across the oceans.”