Reply to Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's Open Letter 'The Paradox of Anti-Globalisation'
Earlier this month, Belgian Prime Minister and current President of the European Union, Guy Verhofstadt wrote an open letter entitled 'The Paradox of Anti-Globalisation'. CEO has written the following short reply. Verhofstadt's original letter can be found at the Belgian EU Presidency website.
Prime Minster Guy Verhofstadt
Rue de la Loi, 16
October 22, 2001
Dear Prime Minister Verhofstadt,
Thank you for your invitation to the meeting on 'threats and opportunities posed by globalisation'. Herewith we send you a brief reply which we hope to be able to elaborate on at the meeting. While we disagree with much of your analysis of globalisation, we welcome your conclusion that a move towards a "global ethical approach" is needed. The core problem with the model of globalisation aggressively pursued by the European Union of the last decades is by and large centred around corporate interests. Not surprisingly, these policies have boosted the global market shares of EU-based corporations, but a very high price has been paid by the world's poorest, as well as workers and the environment.
This is why any serious effort to address the global social and environmental crisis indeed must start "in our own European backyard." It is absolutely essential that the EU kick its disastrous habit of shaping international trade policies around the interests of large EU-based corporations. The European Commission has had a particularly problematic role in this respect, aligning itself with corporate lobbying structures to pursue, in the words of Commissioner Lamy, an "offensive trade agenda." In addition to the influence granted to powerful lobby groups such as the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT), the EC has initiated and nurtured more institutionalised channels of corporate power, such as the European Services Forum (ESF), the Investment Network and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD).
A precondition for any serious move towards more democratic and ethical policy-making, should include a move to strip corporate-state alliances such as the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) of their privileged powers. Through the TABD, EU and US-based corporations develop policy demands which the European Commission and the US government then make every effort to implement. A key aspect of the TABD's work is the attempt to shape EU-US consensus for the proposed new round of WTO negotiations. It is due to the incessant EU-US practice of designing trade policies and negotiating strategies around corporate priorities that large Northern corporations gain excessive influence over WTO negotiations.
On the bilateral level, the TABD produces deregulation hit-lists that include numerous democratically established environmental, health or safety regulations on both sides of the Atlantic. It is the deep commitment and active involvement of the US government and the European Commission in the TABD process that sets it apart from traditional lobby groups. The TABD is a little known, but disturbing example of the EU's democratic deficit. Civil society groups cannot even have access to basic documents which can help EU citizens determine the various factors influencing democratic decision-making in the EU. The European Ombudsman, Jacob Söderman, is currently investigating a complaint by our organisation into secrecy on the part of the European Commission for repeatedly refusing to grant us access to key documents from the EC to the TABD.
In the beginning of October, 20 European organisations and some MEPs raised these issues in an open letter to Trade Commissioner Lamy in which he was asked to reconsider the EC's participation in the planned annual conference of the TABD. In his reply, Lamy chose to hide behind the existence of other Transatlantic dialogues (labour and consumer), despite the fact that these have not been granted any role of importance in shaping EU-US trade and regulatory policies. Rolling back excessive corporate political power is an absolute pre-condition for moving from corporate-led globalisation to "ethical globalism." As the current president of the European Union, you have a marvellous opportunity to kick-start this long overdue democratisation process. You can concretely start with proposing that the European Commission de-link itself from the TABD and instructing your own staff to refuse the TABD the privileged political access that it has been granted in previous years, for instance in relation to the EU-US summits. We are looking forward to hear which concrete steps you will take in the coming weeks and months.
On behalf of Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)
Note: Information on the TABD and correspondence with Lamy can all be found on our website at: http://www.corporateeurope.org/tabd/