Posts Tagged ‘ERT’

More on the European Round Table of Industrialists: The Free-Trade Corporate Interest at the Heart of the EU

January 30, 2014

I’ve blogged before about the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) in connection with the TTIP trade agreement, which would complete the privatisation of Britain’s NHS and leave national governments at the mercy of the multinationals. Lobster has reviewed two books critical of the strong corporate interests in the European Union, which were the subject of my previous blog posts about the ERT. Lobster 50 for Winter 2005/6 also carried an article on them, A Rough Guide to the European Round Table of Industrialists by Noel Currid. Lobster is on-line, so the article should be available. However, I thought I’d summarise some of Currid’s findings about the ERT here.

The ERT was set up in 1983 by Pehr Gyllenhammer, the chairman of Volvo, along with Umberto Agnelli of Fiat, Philips, Wisse Dekker, and Etienne Davignon, the EEC Industry Commissioner. Their goal was to relaunch Europe in order to combat the ‘stagflation’ from which the EEC had suffered for more than a decade. They were also frustrated by the lack of progress towards European integration. Gyllenhammer stated that ‘Europe really is doing nothing. It’s time for the business leaders to enter this vacuum and seize the initiative.’ Dekker concurred, stating ‘If we wait for our governments to do anything, we will be waiting for a long time. You can’t et all tied up with politics. Industry has to take the initiative. There is no other way.’ Gyllenhammer, Dekker, Davignon and Agnelli then began to recruit other business leaders to their group.

By 2005 the ERT had fifty members, comprising leading industrialists from 18 European states as well as Norway, Switzerland and Turkey from outside the EU. It was chaired by Gerhard Cromme of ThyssenKrupp. Its vice chairmen were Jorman Ollila of Nokia and Alain Joly of Air Liquide. Other members came from DaimlerChrysler, Ericsson, Fiat, Nestle and Siemens. British members have included Paul Adams of British American Tobacco, Martin Brougton from British Airways, Tom McKillop of Astazeneca, John Rose from Rolls-Royce, Peter Sutherland of BP, Ben Verwaayen, BT, and Paul Walsh of Diageo. However, membership is individual, not corporate, and invitation only. It holds two plenary sessions twice yearly, which decide their priorities and programme of activities, as well as their publications and budget. Its decisions are made by consensus, rather than settled unilaterally by its leadership. These plenary sessions also set up the working groups, which perform much of the ERT’s work. These consisted of Accounting Standards: Competition Policy, Competitiveness, Employment/Industrial Relations and Social Policy, Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy; Environment; Foreign Economic Relations; and Taxation. The Secretary General of the ERT also heads its small secretariat. This is based in Brussels, and acts as a contact point for the Round Table, co-ordinates its various projects, providing administrative support, and publishes the Round Table’s reports.

The Round Table has as its goal the implementation of European integration in order to further the interests of EU transnational corporations so that they have ‘a significant manufacturing and technological presence worldwide’. It has stated that ‘industry is entitled to … an EU which functions like an integrated econo0mic system with single centre of overall decision making’. It has particular opposed and sought to abolish the national veto held by individual EU countries, stating ‘the problem is that in the individual countries the politicians have to gather votes’. Their model is the US, of which they believe that it also ‘could do nothing if every decision had to be ratified by 52 states’. The ERT’s primary focus is economic. It is not interested in the political consequences of integration, and it also does not deal with the specific legislation, only general overall policy. it also boats of its extensive contacts with the EU leading officials and bureaucrats, both at the national and international level. Currid quotes its website as stating

‘At European level, the ERT has contacts with the European Council, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Every six months the ERT strives to meet the government that has the EU presidency to discuss priorities. At national level, each member communicates ERT’s views to its own national government and parliament, business colleagues and industrial federations, other opinion-formers and the press’. By 1993 other lobby groups in the EU considered that the ERT was so successful in these aims that it had become part of the EU’s apparatus of government itself, rather than simply another lobbying group.

Jacques Delors considered that the Round Table was one of the main forces driving the establishment of the Single Market. The European Commission had advanced a series of proposals for removing the national trade barriers within the EEC in late 1984, but these had little support either from business or member governments. In January the following year, Wisse Dekker published Europe 1990: An Agenda for Action. This was part of a larger ERT publication, Changing Scales, which the Round Table sent to the heads of state of the various EEC countries. Delors’ speech three days after the publication of Europe 1990 on the subject of integration to the European parliament, according to Currid, shows a strong similarity to the proposals advanced by Dekker in the above text. The basis of the Single European Act, which forms the basis for the EU Single Market, was a white paper by Lord Cockfield, the Industry Commissioner. This postponed the Single Market’s establishment to 1992, rather than 1990. Nevertheless, its enactment marked the successful completion of Round Table’s main aim.

The ERT was also behind the EU policy to construct a massive, integrated transport infrastructure across the EU, intended to allow the greater flow of goods in the new, unified EU Single Market. The Round Table was instrumental in the inclusion of the Trans-European Networks, or TENs, in the Maastricht Treaty. These networks included the Channel Tunnel, the enlargement of various airports, and the construction of 12,000 km of new motorways. It is also due to the ERT that many of these new networks were subject to road pricing and became toll roads. In their Missing Networks, published in 1991, the ERT recommended the establishment of ‘user charges to distribute the funds for improving effective transport’. So the next time your stuck in a traffic jam in a toll road somewhere in the EU, these are the technocrats to blame.

The EU also appears to have been one of the major forces responsible for the introduction of the single currency. They had argued that this was necessary to complete the process of European integration as early as 1985. The Round Table was particularly active during the international negotiations in 1990-1 in preparation for the Maastricht Treaty. Currid notes that the ERT’s timetable for the establishment of European monetary union in their Reshaping Europe report, published in 1991, is also very similar to that in the Maastricht Treaty. The ERT also wrote a formal letter to all the European heads of government in 1995 requesting that

‘When you meet at the Madrid Summit, will you please decide once and for all that monetary union will start on the day agreed at Maastricht and with the criteria agreed at Maastricht.’ They stated that the heads of government they addressed duly agreed to this.

Delors in particular worked closely with the ERT to establish European integration. In 1993 he took part in the press launch of the ERT report, Beating the Crisis. A week later the European Commission published Delors’ own report on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment, which was similar to the ERT’s earlier report. At the launch Delors thank the Round Table for their help in his report’s preparation. Among its various recommendations, Beating the Crisis suggested that an EU-wide body should be set up to promote competiveness, similar to the Competitive Council of US President Clinton. Thus in 1995 the EU established the Competitiveness Advisory Group. As I mentioned in my earlier blog piece, this group has been responsible for recommending the lowering of wages, lengthening of working hours and decline in conditions for workers across the EU to allow it to compete internationally with the Developing World. Jacques Santer was also strongly supportive of the ERT, stating that by and large their priorities and that of the European Commission were the same. The ERT also approved of the results of the Amsterdam Summit of 1997, and in particular its strengthening of the power of the President of the Commission.

The ERT has continued to demand further EU integration and for the European Commission to be given even more powers. The Round Table declared to members of the convention on the future of the EU that it consider the establishment of a stronger commission to be vital as the Commission was ‘the genuinely Europe-focused institution and the one most capable of articulating the common European interest above national and regional interests’. They are also ardent opponents of any attempt to weaken the Commission’s powers through transferring them to the EU’s member states, or adopting a system of shared responsibility. Their desires here appear to have been fulfilled through the inclusion of Article 1:26 and Article 1:7 for the proposed EU constitution. These state that the Commission has the sole right to propose new laws, and establish EU legislation as superior to that of the member states.

The ERT was deeply involved in the preparations for the March 2000 Lisbon meeting of the European Council to make the EU ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’. This was supposed to have been achieved four years ago in 2010. Also in 2000, Daniel Janssen, another member of the ERT, stated that the implementation of the proposals of the Lisbon meeting would cause a double revolution in Europe ‘reducing the power of the state and of the public sector and deregulation’. It would also transfer ‘many of the nation-states’ powers to a more modern and internationally minded structure at European level’. This ‘more modern and internationally minded structure at the European level’ would be the European Commission.

The first few years of the 21st century in fact saw the ERT’s project for European integration encountering increasing difficulties. By 2002 Morris Tabaksblat, the chairman of ReedElsevier, state that the commitment to European integration shown at Lisbon was no longer there. The ERT also stated before the March 2005 EU summit, that they were dissatisfied with the way the Lisbon plan for European Integration was being downplayed to give the EU Constitution a great chance of being approved in referendums. The Round Table was also alarmed by the French and Dutch votes against the EU constitution in the summer of 2005, but believed they should not impede the process of greater European integration. They stated

‘The results demand an immediate, constructive and determined response from the heads of government of Europe. it is time for positive leadership to engage public support, restore economic dynamism to the single European market and allow Europe to act with confidence and conviction on the world stage’.

Currid states as his conclusion that ‘Hopefully, this brief tour of the ERT’s activities over the years shows that it is an extremely important player in moves pushing us towards a de facto United States of Europe. The ERT has been able to achieve many of its aims in alliance with the European Commission, an undemocratic, bureaucratic and unaccountable body par excellence. The ERT is no friend of the rights of Europe’s peoples to democracy and self-determination. For the ERT, the bigger the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ – with the Commission plugging much of the gap – the better’. One cannot argue with this analysis.

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The EU’s Corporate Official in Blair’s Britain

January 16, 2014

In the same issue as the review of the Corporate Europe Observatory’s Europe Inc., Lobster also carried a piece identifying Sir David Simon of BP, as one of the five UK members of the European Roundtable of Industrialists. ERT is one of the major industrialists’ organisation formulating EU economic policies on behalf of multinationals. Sir Simon was also, according to Lobster, a member of the EU’s Competitiveness Advisory Group, set up by the then European President, Jacques Santer, in 1995 following suggestions from the ERT two years earlier in 1993. According to Lobster, Sir David Simon was then (1998) the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe under Tony Blair. The piece on him finishes with ‘So when the Blair government begins telling us that wages are too high in Britain, you will know from whom it is coming’.

Assuming this to be correct, this indicates that the multinationals in Brussels has been trying to control British economic and social policies in line with their plans for Europe for nearly two decades. Osborne’s plan to increases the power of multinational big business through the TTIP really does seem to be the latest stage in this campaign, conducted with the full backing of the multinationals’ representatives and officials in Britain.

Source

‘Watch What Simon Says’, Lobster 34, Winter 1998, p. 23.

The TTIP and Corporate Power in Europe: Europe Inc.

January 16, 2014

One of the posts I put up to do way on Lobster’s review of a book analysing the structure of the EU and the way it is influenced and controlled by large corporations with little democratic accountability. I did so in order to provide a bit more information to Mike’s excellent post over at Vox Political on the TTIP and the way this will leave democratically elected national governments at the mercy of multinational corporations, and result in further dismantling of the British welfare state and the final privatisation of the NHS. In addition to the short book review I blogged about earlier, I found a much longer review of a book by the same organisation in Lobster 34, Winter 1998, which provides a little more information on the corporate and corporatist interests at the very heart of the EU. These are the organisations pressing for the destruction of the welfare state and the privatisation of nationalised industries across the European Union.

Europe Inc: Dangerous Liaison Between EU Institutions and Industry was the first publication of the Corporate Europe Observatory, a foundation based in Amsterdam set up to ‘monitor and report on the activities of European corporations and their lobby groups. They were also beginning to publish a quarterly newsletter, Corporate Europe Observer, with its first issue being published in October 1998. The newsletter cost about £10 a year in hardcopy, but was emailed free. The CEO could be contacted at ceo@xs4all.nl or at PO Box 92066, 1090 AB Amsterdam. They also had a website at http://www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/.

The main EU organisation representing the interests of transnational corporations (TNCs) and promoting economic policies that favour them is the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT). It is the ERT and the multinationals it was set up to serve that are behind the EU’s plans for ‘completing the internal market’ through the liberalisation and deregulation of a number of industries, such as energy, telecommunications, and transport, as well as the EU’s aim of promoting global free trade. They are also behind the use of ‘benchmarking’ as a tool used by EU decision-makers for comparing European industries with their competitors in the rest of the world. This is done by comparing wages, taxes, infrastructure and potentially all other areas. The ERT in general simply outlines general policy.

The formulation of detailed legislation favouring the multinationals is done by UNICE (the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe) through its highly efficient lobbyists. This affects every aspect of European legislation.

The ERT has also produced a number of offshoots to tackle additional problems where necessary. In 1994, after the ERT had successfully placed the Trans-European Network infrastructure programme on the EU’s political agenda, it created the European Centre for Infrastructure Studies (ECIS). This has had an almost symbiotic relationship from its very beginning with the European Commission, with both aiming for the completion of the TENs programme.

The ERT has also become highly influential through the establishment of various EU working groups, which have often been set up by the EU on the ERT’s own recommendation. These include the Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG), which also has official EU status, and which effectively doubles the ERT’s influence, and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD). The ERT was also the parent organisation of the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe (AMUE). This was the organisation behind European Monetary Union and the single currency.

The book also notes that there are thousands of other lobbying firms and organisations in the EU, of which the ERT, UNICE, ECIS and AMUE are merely four of the most powerful. One of the other lobbying organisations is EuropaBio, which campaigns for the abolition of restrictions on biotechnology. Another is the World Business Council of Sustainable Development (WBCSD), whose membership overlaps considerably with the ERT. It, however, describes itself as one of the world’s most influential green business networks.

The ERT and UNICE are responsible for influencing the EU’s Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) process. This has the goals of strengthening the powers of the European Council and Commission, and their ‘ability to act’, ensuring that the EU adheres to the schedules for the adoption of the single currency and the expansion into central and eastern Europe and for establishing global free trade. They are also responsible for combatting any revision of the EU treaties that might undermine their goals of promoting EU global competitiveness through the introduction of environmental or social legislation.

Small and Medium-sized businesses are also represented in the EU through a number of organisations, one of which is the European Union of Craftsmen and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME). Although this is represented in a number of EU advisory bodies, it is excluded from the most influential of these, such as the Social Dialogue and the Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG).

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is also represented in the Social Dialogue advisory body, along with UNICE and CEEP, which represents the public sector. The Social Charter states that ETUC has to be consulted, but globalisation and the creation of the internal market have undermined the trade unions national position. The employers’ bodies ensure that commitments to the Social Chapter are kept to an absolute minimum. There is thus very little that the trade unions both in the EU and at the level of the member states can do to force the employers to accept legislation aimed at improving pay and conditions for the workers.

The green lobby similarly has problems being properly represented in the EU, as it lacks the necessary financial clout and organisation. They also have difficulties getting access to the major officials formulating and developing EU policies and legislation, particularly in the European Commission. They have had greater success gaining access to the European Parliament. Industry is, however, far better represented here through giving MEPs job, assistants and presents. The green movement, at least when the book was produced in 1998, was strongest at the local and national level.

There is a group set up to promote dialogue between social and environmental groups, industry and public organisations, European Partners for the Environment (EPE). This has organised meetings on a variety of topics at the request of the European Commission, but has made no attempt to alter the EU’s development model, so that it will not immensely damage the environment or the EU’s peoples.

It was corporate lobbying that was behind the establishment of the Phare and Tacis aid programmes, set up to assist western multinationals wishing to expand into the countries of central and eastern Europe. Europe Inc ends with the conclusion

‘It is not enough to look at the democratic gaps in the EU decision-making structure to explain why corporate lobby groups have gained such a strong foothold in the apparatus. The strong grip of TNCs on European economies, which is a direct consequence of the creation of the Internal Market and increasing globalisation, must be challenged. Economic dependency upon TNCs leaves governments with little option but to adapt to the agenda proposed by corporate lobby groups. To effectively reduce the political influence of TNCs, European economies must be weaned from their dependence upon these corporations’.

Lobster has ceased publication in hardcopy, but is still very much alive on-line, including an archive of its back issues.

So there it is. The mass privatisation of public industries and utilities across Europe, the single currency, and the reduction in wages and working and living conditions for workers in the name of global competitiveness, are all the result of lobbying by multinationals and their organisations, like ERT. The TTIP is merely another step in this larger economic programme, specifically that of the TABD, but one that would have massively detrimental effects for national economies and working conditions right across Europe. It also struck me reading Lobster’s review of the book how much ERT’s aims resembled that of the authors of Britannia Unchained, who also demanded a reduction in British workers’ pay and conditions in order to make us compete with India and China.