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Corporate Europe Observer - Issue 7
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ERT Moves to Next Phase in Europe's 'Double Revolution'

The European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT), representing the largest transnational corporations in Europe, continues to book disturbing successes in its strive for a sweeping neoliberal restructuring of European societies. Using its privileged access to the European Commission as well as national governments, the ERT is working hard on the next steps in what Roundtable-member Baron Daniel Janssen recently described as a 'double revolution'. According to Janssen, CEO of chemical giant Solvay, this revolution consists of "reducing the power of the state and of the public sector in general through privatisation and deregulation" and "transferring many of the nation-states' powers to a more modern and internationally minded structure at European level." [1]

ERT: helping out with the 'Jobs Summit'

he latest example of the ERT working in tandem with EU decision makers is the EU's 'Jobs Summit' in Lisbon (23-24 March 2000), which resulted in an EU action plan for speeding up privatisation and pushing through `urgent structural reforms` of labour markets, social security systems, etc, in order to create an 'innovative' entrepreneurial culture that can compete against the United States. "The European Round Table of Industrialists and our Competitiveness Working Group were very much involved in the preparation of the Summit," Janssen, who chaired this working group, explained. [2] In Lisbon, Portuguese trade unions brought together more than 50,000 demonstrators in front of the summit building. Their protests against job cuts and growing social insecurity, predictable side-effects of the EU-promoted policies, were in vain. The EU governments promised 20 million new jobs before the year 2010, but despite most governments being led by centre-left parties, the policies proposed to reach this goal come straight from the neoliberal textbook. According to Daniel Janssen, "the political leaders of Europe have made a clear analysis of the issues, several good recommendations, and a program of action. They must now implement them, speedily and effectively." [3]

In Lisbon, EU Commission President Prodi explains, "The Union set itself a new strategic goal for the next decade- to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world." [4] The Lisbon Summit showed more clearly than ever that the EU has fully embraced the ERT's vision of international competitiveness being the primary purpose of policy-making. The EU summit defined benchmarking as one of the main tools to increase competitiveness. Benchmarking, a concept which has been promoted by the ERT since the mid-nineties [5], means quantifying and comparing the impacts of virtually all public policies on business competitiveness, thereby reducing policy-making to a technical matter. "The idea of a benchmarking system is to simplify the coordination of policies," Portuguese Prime Minister Guterres said. [6] "If we have clear strategies, quantified and verifiable objectives, I think the markets will respond in a much more coherent way," he explained. [7] A concrete example is the "EU innovation league" published by the European Commission in August, which ranks EU member states according to their business-friendliness. [8] Similar 'leagues' are being prepared to compare state subsidies and other controversial areas.

The Lisbon summit agreed on accelerated privatisation of electricity, gas, rail, post and other sectors of society, clearly an ERT dream scenario. [9] Despite some hesitation, such as from the French government, the pensions systems are also identified as candidates for privatisation. This is entirely in line with the demands presented in an ERT report published a few months before the EU summit. The ERT report describes the current public pension systems as a "time bomb threatening Europe's competitiveness." [10]

The secret behind the ERT's success in making government adopt its policy proposals is the combined economic power of its member corporations and the established political access of the ERT industrialists. Its working relations with the European Commission are particularly fruitful. Baron Daniel Janssen describes the EC as, "extremely open to the business community? When businessmen like me face an issue that needs political input, we have access to excellent Commissioners such as Monti for competition, Lamy for world trade, and Liikanen for electronic commerce and industry."[11]


1. Baron Daniel Janssen in his speech to the Trilateral Commission's annual meeting in April 2000 in Tokyo, "The Pace of Economic Change in Europe". The Trilateral Commission is an influential neoliberal policy network of industrialists, politicians and academics from North America, Europe and Japan. Janssen's' speech can be found at the Trilateral Commission website: http://www.trilateral.org | Back to Text |

2. Janssen explained the Trilateralists how 'competitiveness' has become the favourite buzzword of government leaders in Europe, "You only have to look at the agenda of the European Summit in Lisbon in March." Baron Daniel Janssen in his speech to the Trilateral Commission, April 2000 in Tokyo, "The Pace of Economic Change in Europe." | Back to Text |

3. Ibid. | Back to Text |

4. Speech by Romano Prodi, "The New Europe and Japan," to the Japanese employers' organisation Keidanren, Tokyo, 19 July 2000. | Back to Text |

5. Following a joint workshop with the EC on benchmarking in March 1996, the ERT published the ERT "Benchmarking for Policy-makers - the Way to Competitiveness, Growth and Job Creation," European Round Table of Industrialists. | Back to Text |

6. "Summit puts IT issues top of agenda," European Voice, 16-22 March 2000. | Back to Text |

7. Ibid. | Back to Text |

8. "Sweden tops innovation league in EU," European Voice, 3 August 2000. | Back to Text |

9. "Summit charts path to 'new economy'," European Voice, March 30 - April 5 2000. | Back to Text |

10. "European Pensions. An Appeal for Reform. Pension Schemes that Europe Can Really Afford." ERT, Brussels, January 2000. The report also calls for the retirement age to be raised and for pension funds being allowed to invest around the worlds without restrictions. "Pensions: Warning of 'time bomb'", Financial Times, November 23 1999. | Back to Text |

11. Baron Daniel Janssen in his speech to the Trilateral Commission's meeting in April 2000 in Tokyo, "The Pace of Economic Change in Europe." | Back to Text |

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