February 2014        

Books

A “must read” book with a disappointing conclusion


David Cronin, Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War. London: Pluto Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-7453-3332-8; £16.

David Cronin has worked in Brussels for two decades and is very familiar with EU politics. His latest, impressively researched book explodes once and for all the myth still promulgated by some on the left, that the institutions of the EU can provide a counterweight to the power of transnational capital.
      Cronin describes how corporate lobbyists in Brussels are out to hack, burn and turn to rubble the welfare state established after the war. Like the military bombing for “humanitarian reasons,” causing “collateral damage,” the corporate lobbyists say there has to be “consolidation” and “competitiveness.” They number up to thirty thousand and work to constrain national governments and turn them into vassals of corporate greed. Their ideology is neo-liberalism.
      While there are NGO lobbyists, such as Greenpeace, they cannot be compared with the well-resourced lobbyists of the richest corporations in the world, such as BP, FIAT, Shell, Siemens or Thyssen Krupp and the other forty-five members of the European Round Table of Industrialists.
      Lobbying organisations proliferate. Last May a “business alliance” for supporting the planned EU-US trade deal was established. Many of the firms belonging to this coalition—BP, Coca-Cola, Deutsche Bank, British-American Tobacco, Nestlé—have been involved in similar initiatives since the 1990s. So corporate lobbying can only be expected to intensify.
      All the EU institutions are susceptible to lobbyists. And that includes the European Parliament, where members have been “outed” for amending legislation in private to benefit corporations. It was the European Round Table in the 1980s that worked for a “single market in goods and services”—the Single European Act. Now it is in effect pressing for a bonfire of EU legislation and policies that obstruct profit, with the establishment of “flexible labour markets” being identified as a priority. In the 1980s the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe wrote the basic text for a single currency, subsequently introduced through the Maastricht Treaty.
      Cronin describes in detail how one objective of the euro is to act as a vehicle for austerity, in order to roll back the welfare state. This is evident in the treatment of peripheral member-states. The “convergence criteria” that had to be met in order to join the euro zone gave a foretaste of the present austerity regime, and those of us old enough will remember when McCreevy introduced the “dirty dozen” cuts in order to satisfy the “criteria.”
      So it’s no surprise that neo-liberal policies were enthusiastically adopted by McCreevy when he was EU commissioner for the single market. In 2006, before the financial crisis, a compatriot of McCreevy’s, Niall Bohan, co-ordinated an “expert group” on the regulation of hedge funds. This consisted of sixteen members, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank, who advocated a “hands-off” approach. In particular the Cayman Islands, which hosts three-quarters of the world’s hedge funds, was given a 100-year exemption from taxes.
      So the willingness to allow corporate lobbyists to set the rules is not confined to trade policy: financial regulation too has been heavily influenced by the world’s most powerful banks.
      Peter Mandelson has a chapter all to himself. As commissioner for trade, under pressure from the European Services Forum he worked like a present-day Clive of India to open up the Indian market for transnationals. The ESF is an alliance of finance titans, including Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, the telecom giants BT and Vodafone, the waste, water and transport transnational Veolia, and Business Europe and thirty other employers’ federations.
      Some important ESF recommendations found their way into the EU trade policy document, Global Europe. This is nothing less than a manifesto for interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Laws that hampered the maximising of profits would have to be rewritten. Mandelson worked with the president of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, to “develop a programme that reflected this priority rather than social and environmental policy areas.” It was just another nail in the coffin of “social Europe,” so wished for by many on the left who seem reluctant to question the founding tenets of the EU.
      Cronin’s “must-read” book confirms the conclusion reached by many of us who have been involved in campaigns against the EU’s neo-liberal policies over the years, namely that the heart of the problem lies in the anti-democratic, pro-corporate identity of the European Union itself, which inevitably leads to the conclusion that it is not reformable.
      It is disappointing that Cronin does not reach this conclusion himself but instead proposes five (laudable) points that will help us “take Europe back.” But true democracy requires us to take power back from Brussels and the corporations and build participatory forms of national sovereignty instead—a sovereignty for the people.
[FK]

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