Issue 2 October 1998 EUROPEAN THINK TANK SERIES Part One: The European Policy Centre
Think tanks funded by large corporations have been common phenomena in North America since the 1970s. Institutes like the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute, though ostensibly of a more neutral nature than conventional corporate lobby groups, have had a major role in shaping public debate and government policies in the interests of the corporations that fund them.
Think tanks focused on European unification are also no new development, but in the last years veterans like the Centre for European Policy Studies and the Trans European Policy Studies Association have been joined by a new generation of think tanks. Not only do these newcomers, such as the Philip Morris Institute for Public Policy Research and the European Policy Centre, receive corporate sponsorship but they are in fact nothing more than corporate front groups. They have found fertile ground in Brussels: the centralization of political power in the still far from democratic European Union and the lack of a truly European public debate provide ideal working conditions.
EPC in Action
"We are action oriented and we believe that business must be more involved in public policies."[note 1]
The Centre, as the EPC calls itself, was established in January 1997 by the trio of Stanley Crossick, godfather of Brussels lobbying;[note 2] Max Kohnstamm, former vice president of the Jean Monnet Action Committee; and John Palmer, former European editor of The Guardian.[note 3] The EPC defines its mission as "contributing to the construction of Europe", and to achieve this it "encourages a debate among all significant interest groups and channels the results to policy-makers". It makes no secret of placing "special emphasis on strengthening the interface of government with business".[note 4]
The EPC's bias towards industry is well reflected not only in the composition of its advisory board, which together with the advisors' team helps the three founders run the Centre, but also in its membership. The Centre claims to include trade unions, but in fact the only representative is Emilio Gabaglio, secretary-general of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), well-known for its constructive approach towards neoliberal European Union policies.
There are no other representatives of 'civil society' involved. However, the board does include six European parliamentarians, five former directors-general and a vice president of the European Commission, journalists from newspapers such as Le Monde and the Financial Times, corporate directors from Philips and Mars, and influential industrialists such as Peter Sutherland (former European commissioner and GATT director and current chairman of British Petroleum and Goldman Sachs International); the former and current ERT secretary generals Keith Richardson [note 5] and Wim Philippa; UNICE secretary general Dirk Hudig, and Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa from the executive board of the European Central Bank. The EPC enjoys significant financial support from its corporate members such as ABB, BAT, BP, British Telecom and Solvay -- all members of the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) -- and other large corporations such as Dow, DuPont, Philip Morris and SmithKline Beecham. In exchange, these corporate donors are provided services such as regular contact with decision makers.[note 6]
Industrialists attend EPC conferences to discuss themes of common interest, which momentarily include the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), EU enlargement and European taxation policies. The EPC publishes reports and briefings on these and other relevant issues, including the EU Cardiff Summit which took place last June and pleased the EPC with its commitment to complete the Internal Market and "progressing a range of business friendly policies".[note 7] Studies are carried out of behalf of and with the financial support of the European Commission (for example, DG III sponsored a study on the effect of product and labour market regulations on employment).
The Centre also organizes one-off meetings for corporate members of the EPC to meet with decision makers. For example, a September 1997 meeting was attended by Commission vice president Sir Leon Brittan and Tim Fischer, deputy prime minister of Australia just one day prior to the formal EU-Australia bilateral talks in order "to help set the future agenda of the public and private sectors and to make recommendations for the formal talks".[note 8] In December 1997, EPC members met with Jim Currie, director general of environment for the European Commission, "for an informal, frank and open exchange of views". The EPC is now working hard "to establish a European business strategy for the next WTO negotiations",[note 9] i.e. how to most efficiently push for further trade and investment liberalization.
1. Quoted in "Crossing the Business and Political Divide", by Rory Watson, the European Voice 9-15 July 1998. |Back to Text|
2. Mr. Crossick, a British corporate lawyer who set up his lobby firm in Brussels in 1977, managed to add to the Maastricht treaty a 68-word paragraph worth US$1 to $2 billion per word in savings to the European pension industry. Without these words, pension funds could have been forced to equalize the pension payments they had made to men and women since 1957. Source: "EU: The Brussels Lobbyists and the Struggle for Ear-Time", by Charlemagne, The Economist, 14 July 1998. |Back to Text|
3. Crossick, Kohnstamm and Palmer had earlier, in 1991, founded the Belmont European Policy Centre, which was the predecessor of the EPC. |Back to Text|
4. Web page: <http://www.europeanpolicycenter.com>. |Back to Text|
5. Keith Richardson is also special advisor to the Centre. Other advisors include Julian Oliver, former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce's EU Committee. |Back to Text|
6. Corporate members are divided into four contribution categories: bronze, silver, gold and platinum corresponding to annual 2,500, 5,000, 10,000 and 100,000 Ecu donations. Only founders are considered platinum, Mark & Spencer and Mars. |Back to Text|
7. EPC, "After Cardiff: Which Way for the European Union?", 30 June 1998. |Back to Text|
8. EPC web page, see note 4. |Back to Text|
9. "Crossing the Business and Political Divide", by Rory Watson, the European Voice, 9-15 July 1998. |Back to Text|