Lisbon to Stockholm
The EU's Spring Summit in Stockholm, March 23-24, gave fresh momentum to the neoliberal restructuring of European societies which was launched at last year's 'Jobs Summit' in Lisbon. Like the European Commission, the ERT works hard to ensure that reluctant EU governments do not step back from implementing sweeping deregulation and privatisation commitments made in Lisbon.
ast year's Lisbon Summit was a milestone on the long road towards neoliberal restructuring in the EU. Lisbon's 'Jobs Summit' adopted an action plan to transform the EU into 'the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world' by 2010. Among the far-reaching measures agreed on in Lisbon were the liberalisation of energy, transport, telecommunication and postal services markets as well as neoliberal reforms of labour markets and pension systems. EU leaders agreed to accelerate deregulation in order to create a more business-friendly environment.
As we reported in Issue 7, the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) is proud of its close involvement in the preparations for the Lisbon Summit. This involvement reaps benefits for the lobby group, and as a recent Financial Times article confirmed, the Lisbon decisions were based largely on ERT recommendations. "You would not imagine that this place saw the conception of a strategy that is to be assessed by the European Council meeting in Stockholm", the FT journalist commented on the modest ERT Brussels headquarters.  The ERT was pleased with the outcome of the Lisbon Summit, but also announced that it would carry out regular evaluation of how the decisions were implemented. 
A few days before the EU's Stockholm Summit in March, the ERT released its first evaluation reports, in keeping with the group's long tradition of sending letters to EU leaders prior to the summits. This time, the message came from the ERT's Task Force on Knowledge Economy and the Competitiveness Working Group. The chairmen of these groups, BT's Peter Bonfield and Baron Daniel Janssen of Solvay, expressed "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".  In addition to this, ERT chairman Morris Tabaksblat lamented that "It has been a year of stock taking but what has happened in the last 12 months is not encouraging".  After listing the areas where liberalisation has been too slow, the ERT letter gives ten recommendations to boost corporate competitiveness. These recommendations are largely repetitions of the usual ERT wish-list,  for example, that EU leaders "complete the internal market" by fully liberalizing energy and transport markets, postal services, financial markets and air traffic control.  Another key ERT demand is that EU governments rapidly reform (and in effect privatise) their public pension system.
ERT Dreams of a New European Citizen
The ERT demands are not solely limited to economic reforms. They include the introduction of the concept of "new Europeans": citizens with the necessary skills and attitudes to match the "new European economy". The ERT's dream European "needs to be able to bring a spirit of enterprise to life as a employee and a citizen".  One issue which particularly displeases the ERT is the lack of 'progress' in reshaping education systems to fit corporate needs. The ERT has long campaigned for neoliberal education reform and government support for the concept of lifelong learning - the retraining of workers whose skills are no longer considered useful. 'We have lost seven years', says an impatient Tabaksblat. The ERT letter did not go unnoticed. "The response we received from a number of EU Member States' leaders was very encouraging", says the ERT's Joanna Rau: "They welcomed the ERT support and thanked us for our contribution to this important process."  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.  Stockholm's "positive developments" The ERT's judgement of the Stockholm Summit was generally positive. According to Joanna Rau, the summit 'has not fulfilled all its promises but several positive developments have taken place.'  EU leaders took a few more steps down the road of liberalisation, for instance regarding financial services and risk capital markets.  The summit also reinforced earlier decisions to create a deregulated single market for gas and electricity and to further liberalise (and privatise) postal services, passengers and freight rail markets.  One particularly disturbing new development is that the European Commission has been asked to prepare a review on the issue of moving towards increased involvement of the private sector in education and pension systems, two core ERT demands. The Commission's review will be discussed at the next Spring Summit, which will take place in Spain in 2002. The Commission was also asked by the Summit to finalise the first European Innovation Scoreboard by June 2001, a report that benchmarks factors influencing the business climate - and signifies yet another ERT concept embraced by the EU.
Deregulate While You Can
The European Commission shares the ERT's impatience with the speed of implementing the far-reaching deregulation agenda which has become official EU policy. "The image the EU projects to the outside world is fuzzy. We engage in declaratory politics and do not follow it up with action", complained Single Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein after the Summit.  The haste might be partly due to ideological obsession, but certainly there must also be fears that delays increase the risk of a backlash. As time goes by, more and more groups in society will discover the negative social and environment impacts of the planned liberalisation and privatisation policies. Recently, Greenpeace Netherlands took the Dutch government to court over its decision to increase imports of electricity. Greenpeace points out that the deregulation of Dutch energy markets, as part of the EU-wide liberalisation scheme, is a threat to the environment. The likely result is the import of cheap nuclear French energy and highly polluting coal-generated power from Germany, despite the fact that "sufficient, and cleaner, domestic generating capacity" is available in the Netherlands. 
Considering the potential backlash against the liberalisation and/or privatisation of pension systems, postal services and the numerous other sensitive issues included in the Lisbon agenda, it is no surprise that the ERT, the European Commission and other neoliberal forces, feel there is no time to waste.
1: 'ERT Moves to Next Phase in Europe's 'Double Revolution'', Corporate Europe Observer, Issue 7, October 2000. | Back to Text |
2: 'ERT criticize governments over pace of EU reform', Paul Betts, Financial Times, 19 March 2001. | Back to Text |
3: See 'European Business Summit: Consolidating Corporate Power', Corporate Europe Observer, Issue 7, October 2000. | Back to Text |
4: Like the Lisbon Summit, the Spring Summit in Stockholm is dedicated to economic and social issues. | Back to Text |
5: Email correspondence with ERT Project Coordinator Joanna Rau, May 30, 2001. | Back to Text |
6: 'Industry urges faster EU reform', Paul Betts and Brian Groom, Financial Times, March 20, 2001. | Back to Text |
7: The ERT's aims to 'avoid a transatlantic divide', demanding that 'the EU must catch up with and overtake the United States in its application and exploitation of the new technologies'. "Actions for Competitiveness through the Knowledge Economy in Europe". Message from the European Roundtable of Industrialists to the Stockholm European Council, March 2001. http://www.ert.be/pe/ene_frame.htm | Back to Text |
8: On all of these areas there has been "much debate, little action", according to Tabaksblat. "Industry urges faster EU reform", Paul Betts and Brian Groom, Financial Times, March 20, 2001. | Back to Text |
9: 'Actions for Competitiveness through the Knowledge Economy in Europe'. Message from the European Roundtable of Industrialists to the Stockholm European Council, March 2001. http://www.ert.be/pe/ene_frame.htm | Back to Text |
10: Email correspondence with ERT Project Coordinator Joanna Rau, May 30, 2001. | Back to Text |
11: 'European Commission bringing own six-point agenda to Stockholm summit', Allen Nachenam, Eubusiness.com, March 22, 2001. | Back to Text |
12: Email correspondence with ERT Project Coordinator Joanna Rau, May 30, 2001. | Back to Text |
13: The decision to liberalise capital markets follows the recommendations of the so-called Lamfalussy report, which was recently prepared by a committee of wise men chaired by Belgian banker Alexander Lamfalussy, in turn fully endorsed by the ERT and the European Commission. Commission President Prodi welcomed the decision saying that: "This will help growth and create jobs right across Europe. Consumers will be given more choice in terms of insurance and pensions." European Commission bringing own six-point agenda to Stockholm summit, Allen Nachenam, Eubusiness.com, March 22 2001. | Back to Text |
14: On the electricity and gas market liberalisation, the summit however failed to agree on a final timeline, as France objected the 2005 proposed date. | Back to Text |
15: 'The Good, the Bad and the Fuzzy', European Voice, volume 7, number 13, March 29 2001. | Back to Text |
'Dutch court case over 'dirty' power imports', ENDS Daily, May 31st
2001. | Back to Text |