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(en) Ireland, WSM, What's wrong with the EU - The neoliberal agenda at the heart of the EU

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 8 May 2004 11:33:52 +0200 (CEST)

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For anarchists one of the first issues we always look at is how are
decisions made. When you come to the EU this is a mysterous
process that very few understand. But we can say for sure that the
people of Europe have no real say in any of the decisions reached
in out name. Here we look at the mechanisms by which many of
key economic decisions that drive the EU are reached.

The economic agenda of the EU is carefully buried behind layers
of boredom and jargon. Despite this in recent years as the pace of
so called 'reform' has quickened some, like transport workers
facing privitisation have been forced to unpick this jargon.

What soon emerges is an agenda driven solely by corporate
interests. Profit is to be the bottom line on everything from
transport to health to the environment. Fine sounding
generalizations are followed by tightly worded specifics that make
the one test that must be passed the economic one.

The odd thing about this is that if the citizens of Europe were to
engage in setting the European agenda it would almost certainly
reverse the current priorities. Instead of profit before all we would
probably see an agenda dominated by quality of life issues like
education, healthcare and the environment. So where does the
EU's actual agenda come from?

For an anarchist the obvious answer is 'the ruling class' but rather
than leave it at that it is useful to untangle the web by which these
decisions are formulated, made and then monitored. For what
emerges from behind the curtain are the most powerful
corporations in Europe, bodies with no pretence of any mandate
beyond their combined turnover of 950 million and the fact they
employ some four million workers.[1]

In Ireland in recent years the mechanisms that drive the planning
process have become a matter of public knowledge as tribunal
after tribunal hears evidence of brown envelopes stuffed with cash
being handed over in return for favorable rulings from politicians.
This is a sort of comedy version of what happens on the
European level where an army of 10,000 industrial lobbyists
haunt the corridors of Brussels.

By far the most powerful and exclusive of these is the collection
of the 40 or so biggest European corporations who jointly lobby
the EU through the quaintly named 'European Round Table of
Industrialists'. These are nearly all household names with Ireland
being represented by Michael Smurfit.

The ERT is normally careful to frame its demands in a way that
suggests they will be good for everyone (and not just the profits of
the corporations). But in the run up to the Dublin Summit, the
mask slipped a little. The ERT wrote to all members of the
European Council to express their concern about the continuing
erosion of Europe's competitiveness'.

The appendix to this letter includes the line "Accustomed to
social safety nets and an assured standard of living, the general
public in much of Europe fails to see either the benefit of or need
for competitive attitudes. Large state and semi-state sectors
mostly shielded from competition are similarly heedless of the
warning signs"[2]

This is a bit of a slip of the tongue from the ERT as normally they
dress up their demands in far more careful language. But here it
emerges into the open, an end to 'social safety nets' and 'an
assured standard of living'. The language is still a little jargonized
but it is easy enough to translate it into an end to free social
services like health and education and an end to the very limited
protection from absolute poverty found in the dole and pensions.

How do they propose to achieve this? Well in reality it is already
underway. In Dublin in the last year a furious battle was fought
against the removal of one such social service, free refuse
collection. All sort of environmental excuses may have been
trotted out to explain why Michael Smurfit should pay the same
bin tax as the guy who empties his bins but the truth is this is part
of the neoliberal agenda to remove social services.

In terms of education recent years have seen the growth of the
private college industry and now serious talk are underway aimed
at making the larger colleges go private in a decade or so. In
healthcare an increasingly inadequate public health system
means large and large numbers of workers feeling they need the
assurance e of private health schemes with the VHI or BUPA.
The existence of this two tier health system mean that under EU
law the entire health system can be opened up to 'competition'.
Public health is being quietly wound down so it is no more than
the last refuge of the chronically poor. In telecoms we have seen
the privitisation of Telecom. In transport we see the targeting of
Dublin Bus and Aer Lingus for privitisation .

But as far as the ERT is concerned 'we an't seen nothing yet'.
The ERT regularly produces lobby documents for the EU bodies.
Almost all point out that the ERT represent corporations that
employ millions and have a turnover of billions in case the
politicians and bureaucrats forget for a moment who they really
work for. We can confirm that the EU bureaucrats do know
which side their bread is buttered on. ERT letters and lobby
documents have for some years formed the basis of the
agreements at the subsequent EU summits.

For instance the ERT 'Message from the European Round Table
of Industrialists to the Barcelona European Council' sent before
the 2002 Barcelona summit complained of "continuing resistance
to liberalisation of electricity and gas markets" and "too little
progress on pension reform". Sure enough the official 'Barcelona
European Council, 15-16 March 2002: Presidency conclusions'
include; on page 10 (pt. 25) "..the European Council calls for the
reform of pension systems to be accelerated .."[3]. On page 15 (pt
37) it "urges the Council and the European Parliament to adopt as
early as possible in 2002 the pending proposals for the final stage
of the market opening of electricity and gas". And under
"Effective liberalisation - Electricity and gas" on page 37 it reads
"set an ambitious calendar at the Spring Summit for [corporate]
access to free supplier choice."

Lets stop for a moment to explain some of the jargon above.
Liberalisation as you are probably already aware is corporate
speak for privatization of public utilities. But perhaps 'pension
reform' sounds nicer? Perhaps not, among the reforms demanded
by the ERT are ending "policies that push up the costs of
pensions, such as automatic links between benefits and wages
and encouragement of early retirement."[4] So the ERT wants to
end the situation where some pensions increase when wages
increases and where some people can choose to retire early. In
other words lets make people work as long as possible and then
pay them as little as possible when they retire.

The ERT may hide its demands behind jargon but is fairly honest
about the access it enjoys to European politicians on its web page
to make these demands. Under working methods it includes "At
European level, the ERT has contacts with the Commission, the
Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. ...Every six
months the ERT meets with the government that holds the EU
presidency to discuss priorities. ... At national level, each Member
has personal contacts with his own national government and
parliament, business colleagues and industrial federations, other
opinion-formers and the press."

The Irish governments official EU summit features the prominent
statement that "The Lisbon Strategy, to make Europe the most
competitive and dynamic economy in the world, is a major
priority for the Irish Presidency of the EU". Of course very few of
us know what the Lisbon agenda is and may even think that a
'competitive and dynamic economy' is good for us. The Lisbon
Agenda specifically targets "gas, electricity, postal services and
transport" for privitisation. Which we have learned means worse
working conditions for those who provide such services and
higher costs for those of us who consume them.

Beyond this where did the Lisbon Agenda come from? It came
out of the EU's 'Jobs Summit' in Lisbon (March 2000). Baron
Janseen of the ERT wrote that "The European Round Table of
Industrialists and our Competitiveness Working Group were very
much involved in the preparation of the Summit," Indeed this
summit also identified pensions systems as candidates for
privatization, as we have seen another piece of the ERT agenda.

The ERT has also kept the pressure on for rapid implementation
of this Lisbon Strategy. Before the 2001 Stockholm summit they
sent a letter to the European leaders expressing "concern that the
progress in achieving objectives fixed in Lisbon was too slow,
European competitiveness is being held back by the reluctance of
several individual member states to implement at national level
actions agreed in Lisbon". Pretty much sounds like an end of year
report from a headmaster doesn't it!

And of course the European Commission also released an
evaluation of the implementation of the Lisbon decisions, with a
set of demands calling for specific commitments to be taken at
Stockholm. The demands are almost identical to those submitted
by the ERT. In fact if you study the ERT documents and the EU
policies that are formulated shortly after they are issued you can
see the depth of the influence this unelected and secretive club of
the top 40 or so European corporate bosses has. The Stockholm
summit also asked the European Commission to "prepare a
review on the issue of moving towards increased involvement of
the private sector in education and pension systems, again two
core ERT demands".

If you search the Irish media in the run up to the Mayday protests
you will probably not find a single mention of the ERT outside of
the business pages. While the press spokespeople for the Dublin
Grassroots Network have to answer endless questions about a
non-existent riot plan no journalist seemed to be interested in
what we had to say about the ERT. Whether this is a product of
the EU success in making their documents so boring and
jargonised that people turn off at the first mention of EU policy,
or whether its due to the fact that those who own and control the
media are wealthy fellow travelers of the corporation bosses is
something we can only speculate on.

Perhaps we are picking on the ERT too much? It's estimated that
Brussels hosts some 500 industry lobby groups employing some
10,000 professional lobbyists. 1999 for instance saw a
multi-million Euro lobbying campaign by the biotech companies
which saw the introduction of the industry friendly 'Patents on
life' directive. Changes to Article 133 was one of the key issues of
the Nice treaty (but one ignored by the media). According to
ATTAC - Ireland, "a BBC "Newsnight" investigation revealed
that industry chiefs of the services lobby-group, the European
Services Forum, held exclusive meetings with the EU's Article
133 Committee, which sets the European Commission's trade
policies. The Article 133 Committee's deliberations are
supposedly confidential. All other social partners, trade unions,
Civil society NGO's, small business organisations are excluded
from these meetings."[5]

The point here is that EU decisions are driven not by the needs of
the people of Europe but by the wishes of the European based
corporations. These corporations produce drafts that are later
turned into EU policy and then the follow the implementation of
these drafts and issue 'end of term' reports. Because this process
is more distance and obscure then the identical process that
occurs at the national level the vast majority of the population are
unaware that this is even happening.

The Europe Union being built from above can never satisfy the
needs of the European working class. Any system constructed in
this manner will always end up serving the bosses. We need a
Europe built from below.

Andrew Flood (May 2004)

1 http://www.ert.be/pc/pcb/encb00.htm, in their letter to Bertie
Ahern, Spring 2004 they citied a turnover of 1,400 billion.


3 Barcelona European Council, 15-16 March 2002: Presidency
conclusions, online at

4 Will European Governments in Barcelona

keep their Lisbon promises? Message from the European Round
Table of Industrialists to the Barcelona European Council, March
2002, online at

5 Conor O'Brien, ATTAC Ireland, Submission to the Forum on
Europe, 1st December 2001, online at

This text is from the pamphlet 'Whats wrong with the EU'.

You can read the rest of the pamphlet online or you can download
and print out the PDF version http://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf/pamphlet/EUpam.html
copied from http://struggle.ws/wsm/pamphlets/eu/neoliberal.html
Part of the pages of the
Workers Solidarity Movement

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