Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

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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Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 2

October 13, 2013

In the first part of this post I discussed the way successive administrations since Mrs Thatcher – those of john Major, Tony Blair, and now, possibly, the coalition, had planned to introduce ID cards. Privacy campaigners such as Simon Davies have opposed them, because of the immense potential they represent for human rights abuses, the mass surveillance of the population, and discrimination against immigrants and minorities. I posted it as a response to Mike’s piece on Vox Political, which I reblogged, on Theresa May’s latest campaign against illegal immigration, and the fears landlords and immigrants’ rights groups have about the terrible effect this will have on them. The landlords in particular were concerned that this would lead to the introduction of 404 European document-style ID cards. In this part of the post I will discuss the dangers ID cards present, and their failure to do what is often claimed for them, such as to prevent crime and illegal immigration.

It looks like illegal immigration will be the platform by which ID cards will be introduced in this country. Mike and a number of other bloggers have commented on the way recent statements and policies by coalition ministers to combat illegal immigration suggest that they plan to introduce ID cards as part of their campaign. Illegal immigration has been the main issue driving their introduction in Europe, America and some developing nations. Davies book on the growth of the surveillance society in Britain notes that as the European Union dissolves borders in Europe, so the police were given greater power to check people’s ID. As for fears that ID cards will somehow stop illegal immigrants from claiming benefits, this has been disproved in Australia. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Australia Card found that of 57,000 people, who overstayed their visa in New South Wales, on 22 were illegally claiming Unemployment Benefit.

Anti-racism campaigners are right to worry that ID will increase discrimination. ID cards carrying information on the bearer’s ethnic groups or religious beliefs have been used to discriminate against minority groups in many countries. The Japanese were accused of racism when they passed legislation forcing all foreigners to carry ID cards. The French police were similarly accused of racism in demanding Blacks and Algerians carry and produce ID cards. This was one of the reasons behind the race riots in France in the 1990s. In Greece, the authorities were also accused of using the religious information on the card to discriminate against those, who were not Greek Orthodox. Down Under, Aboriginal and Jewish Australians joined the campaign against the Australia Card from fear that they would also suffer discrimination. A few thousand miles across the Pacific in New Zealand, Kiwi trade unions and civil liberties groups also feared ID cards would lead to discrimination against minorities and the poor.

Contrary to the frequent claims made by various Right-wing governments like Thatcher’s, Major’s and Blair’s, ID cards don’t actually stop welfare fraud. Says Davies ‘the key area of interest lies in creating a single numbering system which would be used as a basis for employment eligibility, and which would reduce the size of the black market economy’. In Oz, the Department of Social Security stated that much less than 1 per cent of overpaid benefits came from identity fraud. The true figure for such crime is probably 0.6 per cent. Most fraudulent or overpaid benefit claims – 61 per cent – came from the non-reporting of variations in the claimant’s income.

ID cards also don’t stop crime. This is again contrary to the statements made by governments wishing to introducing them. The problem is not the identification of criminals, but in collecting sufficient evidence and successfully prosecuting them. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Britain concluded in 1993 report that burglaries, street crime and crimes committed by people impersonating officials could be reduced through ID cards. They did not, however, present any evidence for this. The Association did fear that the introduction of ID cards would make relations between the police and the general public worse. Davies considered that only a DNA or biometric database could possibly link perpetrators with their crimes.

The introduction of ID cards do, however, increase police powers. Police routinely ask for ID cards in all the countries that have them, and detain those, who don’t possess them. In Britain the wartime ID cards were removed in 1953 after a High Court judge ruled that their routine demand by the police was contrary to the spirit of the National Registration Act, and adversely affected the good relations between police and the public.

In fact, instead of helping to combat crime, ID cards actually help it. ID cards provide a ‘one-stop’ proof of identity, and this can and is used by criminal gangs in their crimes. The technology used to manufacture the cards is now available and used by such organisations. As ordinary organisations, such as companies and the state civil service increasingly rely on ID cards as the unquestioned proof of an individual’s identity, so they abandon the other systems used to check it that they have been using for decades. As a result, crimes using fake identities are actually easier with ID cards.

ID cards are a real danger to the privacy of personal information. About one per cent of the staff of companies involved in collecting the personal information used to construct the relational databases used in such cards are corrupt and prepared to trade confidential information. Each year, one per cent of all bank staff in Europe are dismissed for corruption. This is a minuscule percentage, it is true, but nevertheless it still presents a danger to the privacy and safety of the public. In Britain, computer crime amongst the civil services own ID staff massively increased in the 1980s and 1990s. The National Accounting Office estimated in March 1995 that hacking, theft and infection by viruses were all increasing on the IT network in Whitehall. In one year, for example, hacking rose by 140 per cent and viruses by a massive 300 per cent. Of the 655 cases of hacking in the Whitehall network identified by the NAO, most involved staff exceeding their authority to obtain the personal information of members of the public, which was they then passed on to outside individuals.

ID card schemes also tend to be much more expensive than governments’ estimate and allow for. Once again, Australia provides a good example of this. When introducing the Australia Card scheme, the Ozzie government failed to take into account training costs, and the expenses coming from administrative supervision, staff turnover, holiday and sick leave, as well as compliance, the issue of the cards overseas and fraud. They also underestimated the costs of issuing and maintaining the cards and how expensive they would be to private industry. In the first part of this post I mentioned how leading Australian bankers and financiers, such as Sir Noel Foley, were openly hostile to the scheme. This is not surprising, as the Australian Bankers’ Association estimated that the ID card their would cost Ozzie banks A$100 million over ten years. The total cost of the cards to the private sector was estimated at A$1 billion per year. At the time Davies was writing, the cost of the card system in the UK had not taken into account of administration and compliance costs. These could be as high as £2 – £3 billion. When Tony Blair launched his scheme to develop biometric ID cards, there was further embarrassment to the government when it was revealed by the papers that the scheme had also gone massively over its budget due to problems in developing the technology.

Another factor against the cards is the distress and inconvenience caused to the individual by their accidental loss or destruction. About five per cent of ID cards are either lost, damaged or stolen every year, and it can be several weeks before a replacement is received.

Governments have frequently insisted that ID cards will be voluntary. This was the stance taken by Tony Blair’s government on them. It is misleading. There is a tendency for them to become compulsory. Even in nations where they are voluntary, there is considerable inconvenience if they are not carried, so that they are actually compulsory in practice if not in law.

ID cards also have a tendency to become internal passports as they acquire other uses through function creep. These will include all government and a significant number of important, private functions.

Finally, opponents of ID cards object to them because they feel that they damage national identity and personal integrity. The movements against ID cards in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand called attention to the fears of ordinary people that the introduction of such cards would reduce them to mere numbers. They were a symbol of oppressive authority, and represented popular anxieties that their countries were ruled, not by elected officials, but by bureaucracies driven by technology.

Actually, reading through all the considerable negative aspects of ID cards and the list of the dangers and damage they represent to society and the safety and privacy of its members, I can see why the Coalition government would see no problem in introducing them. After all, such schemes are inefficient, corrupt and massively expensive. They expand the power of the state and the police at the expense of the individual, and are used to persecute and victimise minorities and the poor. Pretty much like all the Coalition’s policies, then. And ID cards are exactly like IDS welfare schemes and workfare in that, undercover of eliminating welfare fraud, which they actually don’t do anything about, they’re really about controlling the movement of labour.

So, corrupt, authoritarian and discriminatory: just right for Theresa May and the rest of the Coalition then!