From Socialist Voice, December 2008

“Global Europe”: An open door for big-business lobbyists

In 2006 the former EU Commissioner for External Trade, Peter Mandelson, launched “Global Europe,” a new framework for trade policy that clearly gives priority to the interests of big business.
     The European Commission, from the earliest stages of its design, has facilitated the unparalleled participation of industry in this strategy, particularly “Business Europe,” which represents the interests of large corporations. Business Europe continues to be given privileged access to the Directorate-General for Trade as “Global Europe” is implemented, including the continuing negotiations on EU bilateral free-trade agreements.1 And this month in Brussels, Business Europe will hold a conference entitled “Going Global: The Way Forward” in the Charlemagne Building, head office of the Directorate-General for Trade. This is a telling example of the European business organisation’s close connections with the Commission.

What is the “Global Europe” strategy?

“What do we mean by external aspects of competitiveness? We mean ensuring that competitive European companies, supported by the right internal policies must be enabled to gain access to, and operate securely in world markets. That is our agenda.”―Peter Mandelson, 18 September 2006.
     Global Europe is a new framework for EU trade policy that covers several initiatives. Peter Mandelson has presented it as a trade policy contribution to the EU’s Lisbon agenda for growth and jobs. The external agenda of Global Europe is a very aggressive push to dismantle “barriers,” such as the social and environmental regulations that large EU corporations now have to comply with when entering new markets and gaining access to natural resources abroad. It plays on the fear that countries such as India, Brazil and China will prove more competitive than EU industry by imposing a trade policy that is entirely devoted to helping business become “more competitive” and more profitable.
     It does not consider the impact on the development of other countries―whose governments will find that their choices are restricted when it comes to determining their own development model, protecting their environment, and even providing assistance to their people. It wants third countries to increase access to their markets, deregulating such areas as services, investment, public procurement, and competition policy, and enforcing tougher intellectual property rights, which will benefit European transnational companies, reopening the ambitious business agenda that proved too difficult to get through the WTO.
     At the centre of the Global Europe strategy is a new generation of regional and bilateral free-trade agreements, abandoning the moratorium on such agreements introduced by the former Commissioner for External Trade, Pascal Lamy, in 1999.
     Other elements of Global Europe include “market access partnerships,” designed to tackle barriers to EU exports, a policy for gaining unlimited access to raw materials all over the world, as well as moves to redefine the European Union’s trade relations with China and the United States.
     The other side of the coin is the EU internal agenda, not generally considered to be the territory of trade policy. Here again the fear of so-called emerging economies and the threat they are said to pose to jobs and growth are used to push through measures within the European Union that could have wide-ranging effects.

More deregulation and liberalisation

Mandelson’s agenda includes a review of the single market, further liberalisation to remove any restrictions preventing the expansion of corporations, and measures to match other countries’ requests for the opening of EU markets. This could potentially expose every sector to more competition.
     Global Europe reinforces what in Commission-speak is referred to as “better regulation,” which is the need to subject every new EU regulation―including environmental and social rules―to an impact assessment that looks at its effect on the international competitiveness of European business. This makes it more difficult to adopt environmental or social regulations, as large corporations will argue that they will hamper their international competitiveness.
     Global Europe also proposes that the European Union first look at what other “main competitors,” mostly the United States, are doing before introducing new regulations so as to create “regulatory convergence.” “The greater the consistency in rules and practices with our main partners, the better for EU business.”1 The Impact Assessment Report of Global Europe admits that those policies will hurt the more vulnerable in the European Union: “the process of market opening . . . brings about transformations which are disruptive for some.”2

Joint drafting by big business and the Commission

It is not often that corporate lobby groups admit being so pleased with a piece of legislation. But in the case of Global Europe the input of big business―and not trade unions―was requested and was incorporated from the very early stages.
     The origins of Global Europe date from the release in September 2005 by the Directorate-General for Trade of the “Issue Paper on Trade and Competitiveness,”3 an analytical paper setting the scene, where the Commission set out in some fifty pages its ideas for a revised EU trade policy. While the Commission only consulted NGOs and trade unions at a “civil society dialogue” meeting on 8 March 2006, where business was also present,4 the Directorate-General for Trade held a special consultation meeting for business federations, and several confidential meetings.5
     The Directorate-General for Trade incorporated the reactions and demands of big business in the next draft of the paper, which by now was titled Global Europe.6 This draft, dated 26 June 2006, was sent by the Directorate-General for Trade to Business Europe (formerly the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe) in January 2007. Business Europe was positive about the draft: “Overall business is pleased with the substantial improvements in DG Trade’s reflection on this issue.”
     Parallel to this formal consultation process―which was already biased in favour of big business―several of the big-business lobby groups had meetings with Peter Mandelson and other senior officials at the Directorate-General for Trade to discuss Global Europe. Among these groups, Business Europe had by far the greatest access to officials. Other meetings covered other issues: for instance, hardly a month has passed in which Business Europe did not organise a meeting with Commission officials and World Trade Organisation negotiators on the WTO talks.7
     At many of the meetings on Global Europe, UNICE or Business Europe acted as a hub for other corporate lobby groups. Regular participants included the European Services Forum, a group comprising large service corporations set up by a former Commissioner for External Trade, Leon Brittan, who is now a lobbyist for the London financial services industry; the European Chemical Industry Council, German industry, and the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. In one of those meetings the Director-General for Trade, David O’Sullivan, stressed that there was an “open door policy for UNICE in DG Trade.”8
     Although Business Europe claims to be the voice of all business in Europe, big and small, it uses its substantial political weight to lobby for positions that favour big corporate players. The current president is Ernest-Antoine Seillière, heir to the Wendel empire (now an investment company) and former president of the Mouvement des Entreprises de France. Business Europe received €749,675 in funding from the Commission in 2007.9

Business Europe conference in EU offices

The doors of the Directorate-General for Trade are indeed open to Business Europe. The group held a conference on 28 October in the agency’s offices to evaluate the first two years of Global Europe. Asked about its involvement, the Directorate-General for Trade denies any financial responsibility and says the event is Business Europe’s. “The role of the European Commission is limited to suggesting to Business Europe names of Commission officials that could possibly intervene during the conference.”10
     According to the programme for “Going Global: The Way Forward,” speakers at the one-day event included the Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, Gunter Verheugen, the Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel, the Commissioner for Education, Jan Figel, the Director-General for External Trade, David O’Sullivan, the Deputy Director-General for External Trade, Karl-Friedrich Falkenberg, the Director-General for the Environment, Jos Delbeke, the Deputy Director-General for Enterprise and Industry, Françoise Le Bail, and the Deputy Director-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, Marco Buti. The former Commissioner for External Trade, Peter Mandelson, was replaced by the new commissioner, Catherine Ashton. A previous version of the programme included also the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas.
     With such a panel, it is more than an understatement to say that the role of the Commission is limited to suggesting names of Commission officials. And, despite denying any financing of the conference, the Commission subsidised it through the use of the Charlemagne Building. Renting such a space would cost thousands of euros, without even counting the political value of such an endorsement. In short, this event clearly reflects the links between Business Europe and the Commission on Global Europe, links that go beyond influence into joint policy-making.

Corporate fingerprints on “Global Europe”

“This is not a plan for competitiveness but a plan for exporting inequality and poverty.”―Céline Charveriat, head of Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign, 4 October 2006.
     The very privileged access enjoyed by Business Europe and other corporate interests throughout the drafting of Global Europe has resulted in a framework for EU trade policy that puts aside all other concerns in favour of EU big business. The 2005 issue paper on trade and competitiveness―the analytical basis of Global Europe―aired the possibility of lifting the moratorium on new bilateral and regional free-trade negotiations. That was the “Lamy doctrine,” in operation since 1999 and designed to convey strong political support for the WTO negotiations.
     The drive towards a bilateral trade agreement strategy was motivated by the lack of results achieved at the WTO. The Director-General for Trade, David O’Sullivan, shared the directorate’s views in a meeting with many representatives of Business Europe as possible, “given the organisational set-up and the number of Members pushing for their quite heterogeneous interests.” He graphically concluded that “the EU-US round days were over,” referring to the stronger positioning of developing countries that no longer swallow the deals offered by the powerful North.      Adding pressure was the fact that the United States and other EU competitors had launched a bilateral free-trade agreement frenzy. Large EU corporations were worried that their major competitors would benefit, and this could have an impact on their market share. Big business had become frustrated with the lack of results at the WTO.
     European businesses were enthusiastic about the proposed move towards bilateral free-trade agreements but felt that the issue paper was not strong enough about the sharp economic focus that those should have. “New negotiations should be clearly labelled as trade agreements and not be linked to parallel political cooperation accords,” demanded Business Europe. “That will ensure that the EU approaches commercial negotiations with as strong a hand as possible.”11
     Most of the big-business lobby groups conveyed their wish list for a new generation of free-trade agreements in meetings with officials of the Directorate-General for Trade and through position statements and letters. One common demand was to identify the countries that would bring them more benefits, particularly the so-called emerging economies, such as Brazil, India, south-east Asia, and China.
     The European Services Forum called on the European Union “to allocate adequately its resources in its bilateral trade strategy with a particular focus on the countries/regions with the highest growth potential and commercial opportunities for European business ahead of more general political cooperation agreements.”12

To be continued.
■ Read more at Corporate Europe Observatory (www.corporateeurope.org).

Notes

     1. European Commission, “Global Europe: Competing in the world,” October 2006, at ec.europa.eu/trade/issues/sectoral/competitiveness/global_europe_en.htm.
     2. Commission staff working document, accompanying document to the communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, etc., in “Global Europe: Competing in the world: A contribution to the EU’s growth and jobs strategy: Impact assessment report,” Brussels, 4 October 2006, SEC (2006), 1228.
     3. Trade and Competitiveness Issue Paper, Directorate-General of Trade, Brussels, 1 September 2005, EB (D), 2004.
     4. The “civil society dialogue” (CSD) is an initiative established by the former Commissioner for External Trade, Pascal Lamy, for dealing with the massive public opposition at the time of the WTO summit meeting in Seattle in 1999. It brings together the Directorate-General of Trade and civil society (defined by the Commission as comprising NGOs, trade unions, and business), but its scope is very limited.
     5. The “Impact Assessment Report of Global Europe” prepared by the Commission lists consultations with stakeholders. It mentions the meeting within the civil society dialogue, the meeting on 18 January 2006 for business groups, the consultations with member-states in the 133 Committee, and “consultations with UNICE between January and April 2006.” Commission staff working document, “Global Europe: Competing in the world: A contribution to the EU’s growth and jobs strategy: Impact assessment report,” Brussels, 4 October 2006, SEC (2006), 1228.
     6. “Global Europe: Competing in the world,” draft 27/06/06, Directorate-General of Trade, Brussels, EB D (2006).
     7. See www.businesseurope.eu/content/ default.asp?PageId=433.
     8. Report of meeting of 2 February 2006 between David O’Sullivan, Director-General of Trade, and Foreign Relations Committee of UNICE (attended by thirty-five directors of international relations from national members of UNICE, together with some heads of sectoral organisations).
     9. ec.europa.eu/grants/search/index_en.htm.
     10. Letter by Peter Klein, Directorate-General of Trade, 26 August 2008.
     11. “UNICE strategy on an EU approach to free trade agreements,” 7 December 2006.
     12. “ESF position paper on EU free trade agreements,” Brussels, 28 February 2007.

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