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Corporate Europe Observer

Intergovernmental Conference 2000:
Business and the Amsterdam Leftovers

To accommodate the expansion of the EU with up to thirteen new Member States, [1] the EU Treaty will be revised again this year, at the Intergovernmental Conference ('IGC 2000'). During past Treaty revisions, corporate lobbying campaigns have often successfully enshrined corporate priorities into the EU Treaty. [2] This article gives a preliminary overview of corporate ambitions for the upcoming Treaty revision. One disturbing example is the proposed expansion of the European Commission's powers in WTO negotiations.

Corporate Lobbying for Amsterdam

During the previous Intergovernmental Conference, which resulted in the Amsterdam Treaty (1997), corporate lobby groups mounted an active lobby campaign [3] around three main demands:

  • to strengthen the power and 'ability to act' of the European Union, especially the European Commission;
  • to stick to previously agreed schedules for Economic and Monetary Union and for enlargement of the European Union to Central and Eastern Europe; and
  • to avoid integrating new elements such as environmental and social clauses, which were described as threats to the competitiveness of EU business.

Although industry was very pleased with the Maastricht Treaty, they wanted more. "We feel very strongly that Europe can not move at the pace of the slowest," remarked European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) Secretary-General Richardson in February 1997, "... the United States could do nothing if every decision had to be ratified by 52 states." [4]

The Amsterdam Treaty (1997) was quite satisfactory for business, but it failed to create "a better way of managing Europe." [5] The more controversial aspects of institutional reform (streamlining the European Commission as a kind of EU management team, further limiting Member States' power of veto, and extension of qualified majority voting and reweighing votes in the Council of Ministers) were postponed for the current IGC.

Institutional Reform: Business as Usual

The scope of the IGC 2000 is modest compared to previous Treaty revisions. As a result, corporate lobbying has been less pronounced. So far, only the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) has issued a (preliminary) position paper. The influential EU Committee of American Chambers of Commerce, AmCham (representing 'European companies of American parentage'), is still gearing up its campaign. It has formed an IGC working group which is preparing a position paper. The European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT), representing 47 of the largest European TNCs, has very successfully influenced previous Treaty revisions, [6] but seems less active and to have left the initiative to other business groupings this time around.

Whilst the lobby groups appear relatively inactive, the role played by corporate-dominated think tanks, however, may be greater than during previous Treaty revisions. Both the European Policy Centre [7] and Friends of Europe [8] have formed IGC working groups where corporate leaders and EU representatives meet regularly. We will keep a close watch on these think tanks and report our findings in future issues of the Corporate Europe Observer.

The UNICE position paper gives a good indication of the kind of demands that will be put forward by corporate lobby groups. Unsurprisingly, the IGC negotiators are asked to "take on board some key business concerns." They demand that any reforms should strengthen the EU's "capacity to take and implement decisions in its areas of competence, and to respond effectively to the global challenges it faces." Competitiveness should be strengthened and economic and monetary union and convergence of the EU's economies should be guaranteed. Existing Single Market law should not be 'diluted' by the accession of new Member States. UNICE also pleads for increased capacity for the EU to defend and promote common European interests at international level. [9]

By demanding that new EU Member States must adopt all Single Market legislation, and that existing members should comply fully, UNICE aims to consolidate the neoliberal thrust of EU policies. A new target date for "completion of the Single Market" should keep things on track. However UNICE has some reservations regarding closer intergovernmental cooperation by groups of Member States -- namely 'flexibility'. A "balance between harmonisation and competition of policies in an enlarged EU" is deemed crucial. [10]

Power Play in the WTO

During the negotiations on the Amsterdam Treaty, business strongly pushed for new powers for the European Commission in international negotiations on trade and investment, such as in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Both UNICE and the ERT proposed that the power of the European Commission to bargain on behalf of EU Member States should be extended to all external commercial issues, including trade in services, investment and the protection of intellectual property. This demand was backed by the President of the European Commission, Jacques Santer in a letter he sent to EU heads of state and governments a few days before the Amsterdam Summit in June 1997. But despite lobbying by business and the Commission, French President Jacques Chirac blocked the proposals for revision of the relevant Article 113 of the Maastricht Treaty during the Amsterdam Summit. Afterwards, ERT Secretary-General Keith Richardson bitterly remarked that "Europe is poorer and weaker because of this failure." [11]

The WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle showed the risks of shifting more negotiating power to the European Commission in the field of foreign economic policy. In a last-ditch attempt to launch a new Round of trade negotiations, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy conceded to US demands to set up a biotechnology working group in the WTO, despite having no mandate to do so. Such controversial deals could be blocked by representatives of Member State governments. Under the Amsterdam Treaty, WTO negotiations are a shared responsibility between the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. If the Commission had negotiated on behalf of the Member States, there would have been no delegations from Member States. In such a situation, controversial deals can only be revoked afterwards, and most probably Lamy would have gotten away with them.

The campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) has clearly shown the advantage of shared responsibility (and veto powers for individual Member States). In the OECD negotiations on international investment rules, the role of the EC was limited and EU governments had a great deal of independence. In the anti-MAI campaigns, national governments were targeted, and success in one country (France) was instrumental in sinking the MAI.

Unfortunately, the IGC 2000 treaty revision provides a new chance for the Commission and its business allies to extend the European Commission's powers in external commercial policy. The lobbying campaign has already begun. In one of his first acts as Commission president, Romano Prodi nominated a "High-Level Reflection Group" to "advise the Commission on the issues which the next Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) should address." [12] By appointing Lord Simon, former BP chairman and former vice-chair of the European Roundtable of Industrialists, as one of the three members of this 'neutral expert group' [13], Commission President Prodi ensured incorporation of business concerns into the final report.

Indeed the Reflection Group advised the Commission to "revisit... the question of external representation of the Union, in subjects like trade in services or international monetary matters." [14] The advice was taken further in the Commission's official Opinion on the Treaty Revision. [15] The Commission writes that it "would prefer a substantial amendment of the scope of Article 133 (Article 113 in the Maastricht Treaty) by extending it to services, investment and intellectual property rights. Article 133 EC should be redrafted accordingly."

Remarkably, the Commission proposes that as a general rule, the Parliament would be consulted on the conclusion of international economic treaties, whereas assent of the EP would be needed for "the conclusion of agreements with important economic and commercial implications worldwide." It is left unclear who decides when that is the case. Also it is not clear if the assent right for the Parliament would extend to the negotiating mandate of the European Commission, which until now was decided upon by the Council of Ministers and (theoretically) assented to by national parliaments. Thus, the Commission proposal would mean removing controlling power from national parliaments while handing back only limited controlling power to the European Parliament.

We will continue our reportage of the corporate lobbying around the IGC 2000 in future issues of the Corporate Europe Observer.


1. On 31 March 1998, accession negotiations were initiated with six applicant countries: Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Cyprus. At the Helsinki Summit on 12 December 1999, the Member States endorsed a proposal by the European Commission to open negotiations with Romania, the Slovak Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Malta. Accession of all candidate countries to the EU would mean an area increase of 34% and a population increase of 105 million. Source: European Commission website| Back to Text |

2. See previous publications by Corporate Europe Observatory:

    "Europe Inc.: Dangerous Liaisons Between EU Institutions and Industry", Corporate Europe Observatory, Amsterdam 1997

    "The Amsterdam Summit in Retrospect: Maastricht II and Corporate Lobby Successes", CEObserver, Zero Issue, October 1997

    "Europe Inc.: Regional & Global Restructuring and the Rise of Corporate Power", Balanyá et al., Pluto Press, London, January 2000 | Back to Text |

3. Ibid.  | Back to Text |

4. Personal interview with Keith Richardson, Brussels, 21 February 1997. | Back to Text |

5. Keith Richardson, "Managing Europe: the Challenge to the Institutions", February 1998. | Back to Text |

6. See CEO publications listed in note 2. | Back to Text |

7. For more info on the European Policy Centre:

    "The European Policy Centre", CEObserver Issue 2, October 1998

    "European Policy Centre Strikes Back", CEObserver Issue 3, June 1999

    EPC website| Back to Text |

8. "Friends of Europe is a non-profit organisation whose activities are directed by a Board of Trustees under the Chairmanship of Vicomte Etienne Davignon. It is an organisation without national or political bias and aims to promote discussion, research and new thinking on the issues shaping the future of European integration." Information provided by the secretariat of Friends of Europe. N.B. Former Commissioner Davignon is a prominent member of the European Roundtable of Industrialists and president of the Association for Monetary Union in Europe. | Back to Text |

9. UNICE, "Preliminary UNICE Statement in View of the Intergovernmental Conference", Brussels, 3 December 1999. | Back to Text |

10. Ibid. | Back to Text |

11. Keith Richardson, "Managing Europe: the Challenge to the Institutions", February 1998. | Back to Text |

12. "Informal meeting of designated Commission", Press Release, 27 August 1999. | Back to Text |

13. The other members of the expert group were former Belgian Prime Minister Dehaene and former President of the German Federal Republic Von Weizsäcker. | Back to Text |

14. Jean-Luc Dehaene, David Simon, Richard von Weizsäcker, "The Institutional Implications of Enlargement; Report to the European Commission", Brussels, 18 October 1999. | Back to Text |

15. "Adapting the Institutions to Make a Success of Enlargement; Commission Opinion in accordance with Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union on the calling of a Conference of Representatives of the Governments of the Member States to amend the Treaties", Brussels, 26 January 2000 [COM (2000) 34]. | Back to Text |

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