Atelier 15, article 6

© Elisabeth Chamorand :
(23 February 2001)

Review of Europe Inc., by Belen Balanya, Ann Doherty, Olivier Hoedeman, Adam Ma'anit and Erik Wesselius, Europe Inc., Pluto Press, 2000.

Europe Inc. is the work of five members of Corporate Europe Observatory, an environmental and international solidarity campaign group, who over a period of six years investigated the activities of corporate lobby groups in Europe. "In the past decades, elite networks of individuals from national governments, international institutions and the corporate sector have crafted out policies facilitating economic globalisation. This has come to pass largely unnoticed and without much public discourse."(p Xll) The purpose of Europe Inc. is to expose the political activities of the corporate sector which secretly uses its massive resources to reshape European societies in its interests. The reluctance of transnational corporations(TNCs) to divulge any information made the task of the authors difficult, and they admit they have been able to reveal only the tip of the iceberg, but by using reports, web sites, correspondence with TNCs and a variety of interviews with corporate leaders and politicians, they have started uncovering the political grasp of TNCs on European politics. At a time the European Union Parliament, the most democratic of the European institutions, has approved new genetically modified food control(February 2001) after adopting the Life patents Directive in 1998, Europe Inc. enables the reader to understand why the EU Parliament has been unable to resist the pressure of biotechnology corporations and this despite wide public opposition to GMOs.
The first part of the book describes the major corporate lobby groups in the EU which have worked for the completion of the Single Market, the adoption of the Euro and the empowerment of EU institutions, in particular the European Commission, since the late 1980's, and finally for the expansion of the EU towards Central and Eastern Europe. Brussels- very much like the capital of the US-has attracted public relations firms like the PR company Burson-Marsteller and corporate think tanks, some no more than corporate front groups, to help corporations implement competitive neoliberal policies. It is naturally the favorite location of corporate lobby groups in Europe. Among these pressure groups, three are particularly important : the European Roundtable of Industrialists(ERT)1983, modeled on the US Business Roundtable, with a broad agenda consisting in deregulation, flexible labor markets, transport infrastructure investments, the development of biotechnology and international competitiveness; UNICE, 1958, a more traditional lobby machine focusing on detailed legislation ; both have unhampered access to European commissioners and Council members; in 1995 the ERT even institutionalized its access to EU decision-making with the creation of the Competitiveness Advisory Group(CAG) modeled after the Competitiveness Council in the US. The ERT's financial offspring is the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe(AMUE) which has been calling for monetary union and now considers the birth of the Euro as "a chance to redesign European capital markets"(p 53)ERT and UNICE also worked strenuously to influence the revision of the Maastricht Treaty in preparation of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, in particular to instigate institutional reform, open a number of markets to full EU-wide competition and enlarge the EU toward the East with strict structural adjustments as a prior condition to integration into the EU. However at Amsterdam these lobby groups were unable to get more powers for the Commission to negotiate on behalf of the member states. The third major lobby group in Brussels is AmCham, which represents US-based corporations with more than $350 billion worth of investment in Europe. It works closely with the two major European corporate lobbies and like them is in favor of greater European integration and economic globalism, but it also threatens "corporate relocation in its European lobbying on various issues of interest in its members"(p 46) he second part of the book essentially deals with how the European Commission, or trade official from member states and Commission representatives, in a close alliance with corporate lobbies, have been campaigning for international trade and investment. It presents three cases: the Transatlantic Economic Partnership(TEP), a program to remove barriers to transatlantic trade and investment, in particular obstacles to American exports of bio-engineered products, and to set a common WTO agenda, then the negotiations towards a Multilateral Agreement on Investment(MAI)in the OECD which came to a halt in 1998, and finally the corporate involvement in the recent WTO negotiations, in particular those concerning intellectual property and financial services. Written before the abortive WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle in November 1999, Europe Inc. only mentions that the EU and US corporations prepared to give a political impetus to the new ATS(General Agreement on Trade in Services) negotiations and envisioned a new round of negotiations including more than the built-in agenda of the WTO, in fact intended to resume the negotiations on investment. The third part of Europe Inc. deals with global corporate lobbying. It introduces some of the international elite fora??? and think tanks such as the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the World Economic Forum( the Davos people) and some newer global players such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development(WBCSD), a coalition of 125 CEOs of TNCs, promoting self-regulation instead of government intervention as the key to sustainable development. WBCSD has forged a partnership with the UN and successfully influenced the UN climate negotiations, leading to market-based solutions that do not combat climate change. The last chapter before the conclusion reveals the success of the International Chamber of Commerce(ICC), called "the most powerful corporate lobby group on earth"(p 160) at establishing a partnership with the United Nations under present UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan "to secure greater business input into the world's economic decision-making and boost the private sector in the least developed countries."(p 167) The co-optation of the UN by the corporate elitehelps TNCs promote their business agenda and deflects the backlash against globalization. This close collaboration of the UN with the corporate sector reflects the transformation of the UN over the past decades and particularly since the late 80's : in 1993 the UN dismantled its Center on Transnational Corporations(UNCTC) and since then the UN Conference on Trade and Development(UNCTAD) has been working closely with TNCs to encourage investment in developing countries.
Europe Inc. concludes on "the loss of democratic control in the decision-making power shifts from national capitals to Brussels"((178) and the increasing power wielded by the TNCs in their pursuit of free-market policies; thanks to the revolving door process(cf appendix 3: the ERT members and their companies) a small elite of interchangeable CEOs, European politicians and high level officials is in charge of managing globalism with little concern for social equity and environmental protection. The appendices on the European Union and its institutions, a condensed history of the EU, the ERT members and their companies and finally the resource list available on the Corporate Europe Observatory web site in 2000 provide more information to readers who are interested in regional and global restructuring by multinational corporations.