Small and medium-sized news
Bangemann's benchmarking group
In a special 'communication', the European Commission has in April confirmed its strong support for the use of benchmarking as a tool to improve Europe's global competitiveness and has announced the establishment of a High-Level Consultative Group on Benchmarking. The working group, which will fall under the responsibility of Industry Commissioner Bangemann, will consist of "industrialists including small and medium sized enterprises together with representatives of Chambers of Commerce, trade unions and administrations".
The members of the working group have not yet been publicly announced. The group's mission is "setting out the guidelines and priorities for benchmarking and selecting which pilot projects should be supported". Commissioner Bangemann explained the need for a special task force on benchmarking stating that "improving the competitiveness of European industry depends critically on identifying and promoting examples of best practice from around the globe". Benchmarking boils down to a comparative analysis of all factors that influence competitiveness. The method is used by TNCs, and recently also by countries like Australia and the Netherlands. The ERT has pushed consistently -- and clearly with success -- for the EU to introduce benchmarking in decision-making.
What is worrying about this trend is that important political decisions will be made based only on technical criteria with the single concern of ensuring global competitiveness. The Communication in which the Commission announces the High-Level Consultative Group presents the fields where benchmarking pilot projects will first be carried out: "the impact of globalization and new technologies; financing of innovation; logistics and transport; and human resources development".
New Competitiveness Advisory Group
On May 21st 1997, Commission President Jacques Santer announced the 13 members of the second Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG). The new CAG will continue to present reports to the Commission and the European Councils, identifying "major competitiveness issues that the European Union must get to grip with -- along with practical policy proposals on how to move the political process forward", as Santer put it. It has a mandate of two years and will be chaired by Jean-Claude Paye, former Secretary General of the OECD.
In a Commission press release, Santer emphasized that "once again, there is a broad balance of outstanding politicians, businessmen, trade unionists and academics in the group". A closer look at the members of the new CAG, however, reveals that it is by no means a neutral group of experts. Three of the thirteen members are from corporations that are represented in the ERT (British Telecom, Pirelli and Repsol). The other two representatives of corporations or corporate lobby groups are from the German employers' organization and from the Portuguese company BFE-Investimentos). The former (Dutch) minister of transport and former chairperson of the aggressive infrastructure lobby group Nederland Distributieland Neelie Smit-Kroes is also a member. The new CAG again includes 3 trade unionists, from Italy, the UK and Sweden.
The group started working at the end of June and aims to bring out its first report before the EU's Employment Summit in Luxembourg in November.
For more background on the Competitiveness Advisory Group, see Europe, Inc. p. 27.
BP CEO appointed as minister
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has appointed Sir David Simon, CEO of British Petroleum (BP), as Minister for European Trade and Competitiveness. Sir David Simon was a leading member of the European Roundtable of Industrialists and former member of the EU's Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG). One of his first moves as a minister was an -- unsuccesfull -- attempt to make Labour MEPs vote against a directive to regulate company take-overs. New Labour, Sir David explained, favours self-regulation over legal regulation.
EU-Japan Business Roundtable
Standardization and deregulation are high on the agenda of the EU-Japan Business Industrialists Roundtable, which will meet in Brussels in October.
The membership list of this Round Table shows a large overlap with the ERT membership -- top men at Olivetti, ABB, Nokia, Lyonnaise des Eaux-Dumez, Renault, British Petroleum, Philips, Pirelli and Daimler Benz take part in both groups. Meetings are co-chaired by ERT-crony Etienne Davignon, Chairman of Societe Generale de Belgique and former EC Vice President, and Dr. Tadahiro Sekimoto, Chairman of the NEC Corporation and Vice Chairman of KEIDANREN, the Japanese employers' organization.
The Roundtable is held annually, alternately in Tokyo and in Brussels. The first was held February 1995 in Tokyo, the second one in November 1995 in Brussels, and the third one in Tokyo in October 1996. Competitiveness and deregulation, the information society and cooperation with third countries have been discussed.
The EU-Japan Business Industrialists Roundtable's political impact is difficult to assess. It seems less well-developed than the TABD, and seems to serve basically as a vehicle for high-level consensus building.
ECIS in memoriam
Transport lobby/research institute ECIS has ceased to exist as we know it. In the June issue of its newsletter, ECIS announced the closure of its Rotterdam offices, but that the organization may eventually be reincarnated in another form.
ECIS -- the European Centre for Infrastructure Studies -- was set up in 1994 by the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) to continue its work pushing for the Trans-European Networks of transport infrastructure. TENs, the largest infrastructure investment plan in history, was first put on the political agenda by the ERT, was written into the Maastricht Treaty, and has played a major role in the EU's economic strategy since the time of Delors' 1993 White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment. ECIS worked closely with the European Commission, especially Transport Directorate DG7, on finding ways of speeding up the construction of TENs.
ECIS' style was distinctive from that of other transport lobby groups such as the International Road Federation (IRF) or the European Construction Industry Federation FIEC (see page 9-10 in this newsletter). Using a modern and 'objective' language, ECIS argued that infrastructure investments -- and not just roads -- were a matter of general public interest (see also the case study "Oiling the Wheels" in Europe, Inc. p. 23-27).
The decision to close down ECIS was taken at its fourth Annual Assembly after "careful assessment" of "its chances to maintain the critical mass in financial and human resources". The cutting of funding from the European Commission seems to be the main cause of the organization's sudden death. ECIS was a very expensive centre, and despite a very busy start in 1994, the centre's activities seem to have gradually been dwindling. A new business plan proposing a shift to "membership-focused activities" and "topics beyond TENs" came too late.
Although ECIS managed to introduce a number of its ideas into EU policy, its constituency is likely not satisfied with the centre's overall achievements. Although numerous TENs projects are currently under construction, the pace is far slower than was anticipated when the plans were first launched. The main reasons for delay is the current lack of public finance (partly connected to EMU-related budget discipline), and the fact that infrastructure planning remains largely nationally-oriented.
ECIS is currently investigating possibilities to continue its work, either in the Netherlands or Brussels, under the same name.
UNICE critiqued by environmental groups
In the weeks prior to the June EU Summit in Amsterdam, a coalition of environmental groups united in the Greening the Treaty campaign wrote a letter to UNICE Secretary-General Tyszkiewicz in response to the lobby group's 30 April Opinion on conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference.
The green groups, which include BirdLife International, Climate Network Europe, the European Environmental Bureau, the European Federation for Transport and Environment, Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace International and the WorldWide Fund for Nature, challenged UNICE's positions on competitiveness ("Competitiveness is not an end in and of itself"), and "UNICE's position that free trade must always and forever triumph over environmental protection."
The environmental letter ends with a few areas of perceived common ground -- including "the inclusion of sustainable development in the Treaty's objectives; making the EU's institutions more transparent, representative, credible and capable; providing citizens with a greater opportunity to contribute to the development of legislation; and strengthening monitoring of transposition of EU rules into EU legislation."
UNICE Secretary General Tyszkiewicz replied promptly and briefly to the environmentalists' letter, thanking them for "an indication that a constructive dialogue is possible ... We share the same environmental concerns and I'm sure we pursue the same objective, which is sustainable development." The letter included an invitation for further dialogue. According to Ralph Hallo of Stichting Natuur en Milieu in the Netherlands who prepared the environmental groups' response to UNICE, "We are interested in following up UNICE's invitation to open an informal dialogue. What we are not interested in is becoming a pawn in a game of 'corporate capture'. We are now exploring how best to organize such a dialogue."