Friends of the Earth… or of the EU?

Posted by John Rosenthal

An AP article today bearing the title “Report: Free Trade Threatens Small Farmers” shills for a new publication by Friends of the Earth (FOE) issued just in time for the upcoming WTO meeting in Hong Kong and itself bearing the still more unequivocal title “The Tyranny of Free Trade”. Talk of the evils of free trade will no doubt be music to the ears of EU negotiators as they seek to rationalize the EU’s ever more conspicuous aversion to further trade liberalization. The AP dispatch identifies Friends of the Earth merely as a “Netherlands-based organization” and notes that “The WTO says that liberalizing trade helps alleviate poverty, but many civil society groups, including Friends of the Earth, believe the 148-member body favors the interests of major corporations and rich countries.”

It could not possibly be that Friends of the Earth favors the interests of rich countries, could it? A “civil society group”, after all, would not do such a thing. But perhaps the AP ought to have informed its readers that this “civil society group” is massively funded by that club of rich countries and “customs league” otherwise known as the European Union: as measured by GDP, the single richest and most powerful participant in WTO talks. In 2003, as this EU document indicates, FOE affiliate Friends of the Earth Europe received a grant of €419,000 from the European Commission. In 2002, the sum was €353,000. For some reason, the European Commission has ceased to update its list of environmental organizations receiving EU support. But FOE Europe acknowledges that fully 32% of its 2004 income of some €1,023,000 came directly from the European Commission. It lists another 4% of its income as deriving from grants from national governments, of which those of Germany, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands are explicitly mentioned. The German Green Party’s publicly-funded Heinrich Böll Foundation is another gratefully acknowledged supporter.

The Friends of the Earth provides a perfect example of the “synergy” between the agendas of the major global environmental groups and that of the EU – a synergy that is hardly surprising when one knows the extent to which the former are funded by the latter.

(Note: For a pertinent analysis of the EU’s mobilization of environmental concerns to restrict free trade, see Ray Evan’s “The Atlantic Rift”.)

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