Posts Tagged ‘Norway’

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 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.