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October 01, 2014
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Current Concerns  >  2011  >  No 27, 28 November 2011  >  Nature Parks – nothing but propaganda for a neoliberal EU-project [printversion]

Nature Parks – nothing but propaganda for a neoliberal EU-project

by Erika Vögeli, Switzerland

Nature parks are not a Swiss product, but an article imported from the EU. They softly join in all the strategies of neoliberal globalization proponents intending to dissolve the nation states. Privatization is their keyword, under which resources and land are taken away from the public control of states and/or municipalities.

The second keyword should be called deprivation of the people’s citizenship, because privatization on the one hand and supranational structures on the other establish new bodies in private and commercial spheres of influence and decision-making beyond the political rights guaranteed by the state, which are thus to be curtailed on ever smaller spheres of influence.

The EU is a prime example for this: Less and less laws are passed by the elected parliaments of the nation states; 27 commissioners are put in their place who, however, have not been elected by the people – but who are under the influence of 15,000 well-paid lobbyists of the commercial and financial companies, which maintain offices in Brussels for this purpose.

The nature park strategy is among other things included in a program of the EU for the “development of the rural area”, because the countries of the EU are covered with such projects to a great extent. And they are advertised with PR-like slogans such as environmental protection, economic development, promotion of labels for an improved marketing of local products, promotion of tourism, job creation etc – just like the nature parks in Switzerland.

When directions come from “top down” instead of “bottom up”

Fact is that on the European Commission’s website nature parks figure as examples of so-called Local Action Groups (LAGs). These form – please read carefully – “the principal axes for the implementation of the Leader concept.”1

This not at all a local approach, but an approach developed by the EU headquarters; local action groups make use of it “to implement and finance their local development strategies. These strategies are designed to promote public-private sector partnerships, using a multi-sectoral, bottom-up approach that encourages local cooperation and networking.”2

The action groups in turn are part of national networks, which include everybody involved in this development. They are all united in the European Network for Rural Development ENRD, whose task is the efficient implementation of EU development programs for rural areas.

Whetting the appetite on the use of rural resources

The EU’s interest is not unfounded, as rural areas cover “90% of the territory, rural development is a vitally important policy area. Farming and forestry remain crucial for land use and the management of natural resources in the EU’s rural areas …”3 The fact that the so-called local action groups are closely linked via different structures (Leader, national networks, European network) to the policy of the European Commission gives the lie to the whole presentation. What on a local level comes along as a local action group, which pretends to be a strategy from bottom to top, proves to be the last link in a Brussels-born strategy. It pretends to promote local interests in order to suggest closeness to the citizens, but in reality it is embedded in Brussels’ provisions and regulations, which could prove to be a network of pitfalls and expensive legal proceedings for the local economy.

“Coalescence” – cover term for the elimination of the citizens and centralization

How the dissolution of nation state borders is advanced, the site “European Nature Parks” gives evidence of by explaining what “Transboundary nature parks in Europe” mean: “Nature Parks are not based on the administrative borders but rather on the natural areas themselves, thus creating trans-boundary, trans-European Nature Parks. These Nature Parks ally the people living in those areas and contribute in this way the coalescence of Europe itself”.4 Coalescence – a typical spin – means in fact that what so far has been a matter of legislation in the municipalities, districts, cantons and states should now be taken away from them and be handed over to the decisions of such supra-national – private – action groups and associations, which via the appropriate networks and/or financial dependence are closely tied to EU provisions.

Disintegration of democracy – not the Swiss way

If we consider the emergence of Nature Parks in Switzerland, we realize that the procedure takes place in an almost similar way. The – empty – Brussels drip is missing; it is however replaced by means from the Federal Treasury. And analogous to the Leader strategy public municipalities are incorporated into a private association, which then forms a new level of political decision making.

This level is – and this is crucial for Switzerland – beyond the influence of direct-democratic control, and structures are established, which are finally divested of the people’s control. Certainly, in the case of Nature Parks the voters of the concerned municipalities can vote on the membership with the park treaty – but that would be however their last vote. For the rest, the procedure is similar to the one in the democratically not legitimized metropolitan conferences and associations in the urban areas of the midlands where executive members of the cities and municipalities involved decide on programs for this region – although this is a constitutionally specified competence of the bodies constituting the Federation and the cantons, which are subject to the political rights of referendum and initiative. Another constitutionally not defined and legally uncovered level is created by these committees, which attribute themselves with authority that is usually granted by federal and canton constitutions and is indispensable. This democratically not controlled intermediate level then produces or copies guidelines, decrees, regulations etc, analogous to the procedure in the EU – in alliance with other such committees and sometimes with departments in federal offices, which promote such initiatives; in the case of nature parks the responsible office is the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN.

The concept of private “para-state organizations” taking over national tasks pushes the state back and introduces its subtle privatization. Without any formal EU membership they are working on structures at different levels, which can then be fit in exactly the same neoliberal concepts as in other places. For example if the appetite for “land use and management of natural resources” is directed to the financial opportunities that privatized traffic routes or water resources offer.

Financial temptations from euphoric times

Switzerland does not need such concepts anyhow. Not even in economically tense times, because the development of such structures requires money, sometimes much money, as for example for feasibility studies or the like. These projects were developed at a time, when money was still rolling in the Federal Treasury. Meanwhile the vibrations of the financial and economic crisis show their results: The current federal incomes will substantially decrease. And maybe the capacities for these park projects are already exhausted after the financing of expensive conception and feasibility studies, so that further costs would have to be taken over by the municipalities and cantons.

Back to common sense

Nature and landscape have been maintained and protected by us for decades. If the whole thing was really about the promotion of the rural areas why not remember the investment aid fund for mountain areas, for example? This fund had last bulked up approximately 1.5 billion Swiss Francs. It granted innumerable interest-free loans for the construction of infrastructure which were always reliably paid back by the municipalities. This fund was dissipated in the course of the new regional policy – will now payments of the federation for the nature park projects be made with this money? This time however it would lack repayment. Until the cash box is empty? And then? Will the municipalities then be in charge? Or will we sell out our habitat to private investors?

We should recollect our own values and experiences. We should refrain from believing that everything new is per se an improvement. Switzerland made the best experiences with its investment aid fund. What about a revival of this genuinely Swiss and truly sustainable solution instead of EU projects which are so destructive for our democracy?

And by the way: The canton Uri, for example, would have to offer something more independent and more meaningful than EU-copied park regulations and further additions to the difficult-to-understand label salad. The canton offers popular folk theatres at which the whole valley population participates – from the student to the head of the cantonal government – and which meet with enthusiastic applause of the audience. Moreover, such initiatives also offer the opportunity to make our youth familiar with more meaningful activities, teach them how important they are for their community and the bonum commune, teach them about their history and provide them with general knowledge instead of leaving them to the brainless cultural degradation of the American way of life. •

1 Leader stands for “Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l’Économie Rurale”, meaning “Links between the rural economy and development actions”
http://enrd.ec.europa.eu/rural-development-policy/leader/en/leader_home_en.cfm
http://enrd.ec.europa.eu/rural-development-policy/introduction/en/introduction_home_en.cfm
http://www.european-parks.org/naturparke_transboundary.php
(Translation: Current Concerns)

Switzerland’s water reservoirs are at stake

cc. Suddenly, in Switzerland so-called nature parks are mushrooming – in the meantime about 30 projects are spreading all over the country. The Pied Piper of Hamelin plays the sham sounds of a better nature protection and preservation of the environment. And the great European Union with her own large territory has not enough sphere of action here? Why now Switzerland?

The Swiss population loves its nature and environment so much that it tends to forget real life – for example its farmers. The pilot projects of the parks in perfect glossy magazines smell of the neo-liberal financial system: There is no more Switzerland and no citizens, but only bipeds fighting and serving for their survival. Tourism as the key element – the rest is forming a group around that. And actually for whom? For Russian oligarchs? Arabic sheikhs? A Chinese upper class which allegedly loves nature so much? The National Councilors and State Councilors, who hold their hand over these projects, soon will have to answer the question whether they want to make the Swiss a people of prostitutes for the 20% richest of this world …

Behind the back of the whole population, Switzerland’s whole water reservoirs would be piecewise contracted and then sold. Nature and environmental protection are the pullers for that. And the farmers are forced to their knees financially, so that they do not have any time and breath to rise up against it, as the whole family has to work part-time or full time in a second occupation.

Today, as in most various communes in the Grisons, in Central and Eastern Switzerland, referendums are pending over an accession to a “nature park” project, it is the order of the day to make the population and communal politicians attentive to what they would be involved in. Still it is time to expose the consequences and say no. But not for much longer.