Vicky Cann cached version 08/02/2019 20:27:24 en Captured states: when EU governments act as middlemen for corporate interests <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Standard">It's easy to blame “Brussels bureaucrats” but national governments are often the biggest corporate lobbyists of all, a new report exposes today.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Standard"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// round table.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// round table.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then-French President Francois Hollande in a rare photo of the European Round Table of Industrialists, 2016. Credit: Markus Shreiber/DPA/PA Images, all rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p class="Standard">Do you know why your phone bill is still higher than it should be when you travel within the EU? Or why you and your food will still be exposed to the pesticide glyphosate in the coming years? Or why banks got their way after the financial crisis, while you shouldered the impacts of austerity?</p> <p class="Standard">It’s easy to blame those infamous-yet-anonymous Brussels bureaucrats for the decisions which come out of the EU, but in fact all member state governments - including our government’s ministers and officials, at least until Brexit kicks in - are around the table when EU rules and regulations are discussed and agreed. And – as a new report reveals today – too many governments take conscious and proactive decisions to support corporate interests over the wider public interest.</p> <p class="Standard">In fact member states are the missing part of the jigsaw - alongside the European Commission, elements within the European Parliament, and the EU treaties - which explain the pro-corporate bias of too many EU laws and policies. But the secrecy around how member states act at the EU level, as well as around which corporate lobbies they are talking to, contribute to creating myths and misunderstandings.</p> <p class="Standard">Remember how, in the UK Brexit referendum of 2016, TTIP, the proposed EU-US trade deal, was often cited as a reason to leave the EU, capitalising on very legitimate public concern that TTIP would lead to the further privatisation of the NHS? But what was lost in that debate was the way in which the UK Government had been proactively pushing <span>for</span> TTIP in Brussels, including supporting the inclusion of health services in the scope of the deal. And of course now the UK Government is touting for a post-Brexit trade deal with the US which would rival TTIP, and which would be negotiated without democratic scrutiny!</p> <p class="Standard">The new report from Corporate Observatory Europe exposes for first time how member states – the UK, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Poland and others - act as middlemen for corporate interests in EU decision-making.</p> <p class="Standard">For starters, elite corporate lobbies have access to EU leaders that NGOs and trade unions simply cannot match. Take for example the regular meetings of the European Round Table of Industrialists, which brings together 50 bosses of major European multinational companies such as Telefónica, Siemens, Total, and BMW, with the leaders of France and Germany. Or the cosy cocktails between member states’ trade officials and the European Services forum which represents Vodafone, HSBC, and Deutsche Telekom.</p> <p class="Standard">Combine this kind of privileged access with the lobby firepower of the corporate sector which massively outspends that of civil society, and it is not surprising that the progress or outcomes of a wide-range of dossiers, from ePrivacy to the Financial Transactions Tax, from climate change to chemicals regulation, suit corporate interests at the expense of the public interest.</p> <p class="Standard">Beyond specific dossiers, member states have collectively absorbed some corporate agendas and adopted them as part of the EU-wide agenda, such as on economic governance (strict fiscal rules and austerity), the so-called ‘innovation principle’ (undermining precautionary approaches to regulation), and investors’ protection in trade treaties (allowing corporations to sue states for billions in compensation when governments act to protect their people and the planet).</p> <p class="Standard">At its most extreme, some member states and national corporate lobbies have developed a symbiotic relationship whereby the national corporate interest has, wholly wrongly, become synonymous with the national public interest as presented by the relevant government at the EU level. This is often greased by revolving door exchanges of staff, political donations, and close personal relationships between key players. The Dieselgate scandal showed how the influence of the car industry on German politics led to weaker EU vehicle emissions’ regulations; the state-owned coal industry led the Polish Government to threaten to use its veto on climate targets; while the City of London, can consistently count on the UK Government to back its demands for the lowest possible financial regulation.</p> <p class="Standard">This corporate influence has been apparent for decades, especially since the inauguration of the EU’s single market in the 1980s, but as successive treaties have made the EU responsible for more and more issues and cemented the role and power of key member states institutions such as the European Council and Council of the EU, governments are increasingly acting as a channel for corporate interests.</p> <p class="Textbody">The result is an accountability and democratic deficit. But it doesn’t have to be this way.</p> <p class="Textbody">Some parliaments like those in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Austria, and Germany have powers to review planned government negotiating positions on EU matters in advance; in Sweden the government can even check-in with Parliament “by email, text message or phone calls” on last minute additions to the Council’s agenda or in cases where the Swedish position needs to be adapted.</p> <p class="Textbody">Meanwhile the regional Walloon Parliament in Belgium held dozens of hearings on the EU’s trade deal with Canada, CETA, which ultimately led to the active involvement of the Walloon Government in the CETA ratification debate. Across the EU, 2000 TTIP and CETA ‘free zones’ have been declared by regional and municipal authorities concerned about the impacts of these treaties on their local communities, and determined to stand up against corporate-influenced EU agendas.</p> <p class="Textbodyuser">The UK government has a strong voice to be able to articulate the public interest at the EU level. But the UK has rarely chosen to do that. And with Brexit looming, it seems too late to revisit how the UK feeds into EU decision-making. But elsewhere in the bloc, 2019 will be a really significant year with European Parliamentary elections due in May and a new European Commission to be appointed in the autumn. As a result pan-European debates on the role of the EU will only intensify and the role that governments play in the bloc must be part of the discussion.</p> <p class="PreformattedText"><em>Vicky Cann works for Corporate Europe Observatory, who expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy-making. She is co-author of “<a href="">Captured states: when EU governments are a channel for corporate interests</a>”.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/tamasin-cave-kenneth-haar/deal-or-secret-deal-eu-uk-trade-deal-looks-even-more-secretive-than-tti">&quot;Deal&quot; or &quot;Secret Deal&quot; – the EU-UK trade deal looks even more secretive than TTIP</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Vicky Cann Wed, 06 Feb 2019 10:38:21 +0000 Vicky Cann 121589 at Cameron and the European Commission: doing the business of business <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>David Cameron and the European Commission are both in agreement on the need to get rid of 'red tape' for businesses. Their proposals pose a real threat to workers' rights, the environment and human health. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="// " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> David Cameron, pictured with Angela Merkel. Image: Flickr / <a href="" target="_blank">Number 10</a></em></p> <p><span>Nobody likes the thought of 'red tape', over-regulation, and excessive 'administrative burdens'. But what about rules to protect workers, the environment, and food safety? Actually, these are two sides of the same coin and right now a war is being fought in London and</span><a href="" target="_blank"> Brussels</a><span> ostensibly against the former but actually against the latter.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">Despite the self-promoted image of David Cameron standing up for Britain against the EU’s so-called bloated bureaucracy, there are some remarkable synergies between his record and that of the European Commission, especially in the area of deregulation and cutting 'red tape'.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">In the UK, the deregulation agenda embarked upon by the coalition hasn’t received the attention it deserves. What is often branded “better regulation” has been a remarkable ideological project driven by the belief that very little should stand in the way of business doing business.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">In 2013, Cameron set up the Business Taskforce to<a href="" target="_blank"> “to get bureaucracy out of the way of business”</a> at both the national and EU levels. Headed by six business leaders and a government minister, it came up with 30 proposals to slash EU regulation and seven principles to be used to evaluate new EU proposals. This recipe for 'red tape' reduction includes a competitiveness test. To pass, legislative proposals must show they boost European competitiveness, and a one-in, one-out system (for every new regulation, an old one must go). It also includes an overall target to reduce regulatory 'burdens' on business, and to exempt small and medium businesses from EU law wherever possible. The report was presented at the October 2013 European Summit and it seems it went down rather well.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">One year on, the<a href="" target="_blank"> taskforce reported</a> that 10 of their original proposals had already been approved. These included the downgrading of a proposed regulation on shale gas to a light-touch recommendation; new rules reducing the number of environmental impact assessments; and the withdrawal of the soil directive. George Monbiot <a href="" target="_blank">described</a> the torpedoing of this directive as a coup for the government and the UK National Farmers’ Union (NFU). The taskforce further reported that progress was underway on an additional 10 areas.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">As the New Economics Foundation put it in a<a href="" target="_blank"> recent critique</a>, the “Better Regulation agenda has lost the plot and now creates significant social and environmental risks … the current approach aims only to reduce the ‘volume’ of regulation and systematically undervalues social and environmental risks, costs and benefits.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">But the UK government's drive to cut 'red tape' goes even further. The new<a href="" target="_blank"> Deregulation Act</a> which recently passed into law with little publicity “provides for the removal or reduction of burdens on businesses, civil society, individuals, public sector bodies and the taxpayer.” It forces those exercising specific regulatory functions to have regard for the desirability of “promoting economic growth”. Such regulators could<a href="" target="_blank"> include</a>: the Care Quality Commission, Drinking Water Inspectorate, Environment Agency, Equality and Human Rights Commission, Food Standards Agency, Health and Safety Executive, Ofsted, and many, many others. The law is new so what this means in practice is not yet clear, but it is a worrying development. Speaking during<a href="" target="_blank"> a House of Lords debate on the legislation</a>, Lord Tunnicliffe said: “if our fears comes to pass, [this] could wreak havoc.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Cameron deregulation agenda is not so far removed from what is going on in Brussels. As <a href="" target="_blank">exposed</a> by Corporate Europe Observatory, 'better regulation' started under former Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and is now being doggedly continued by his successor Jean Claude Juncker and his right-hand man, Frans Timmermans, the “better regulation” commissioner.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">Particularly worrying for trade unions is Timmermans' alleged proposal to introduce public consultation on European social partner agreements. The unions suspect that he is putting this procedure in place to “neutralise” the elements of EU law that allow European employers’ federations and trade unions to make agreements within their sectors. These agreements cover health and safety, lifelong learning, working conditions and more. Both trade unions and employers’ federations have criticised the leaked proposals as “highly inappropriate”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">At a meeting in April, Timmermans heightened anxiety among the social partners by declaring &nbsp;that unlike his predecessors, his 'better regulation' proposals would not include new social or environmental laws. He stated: “It is not polite to slag off previous Commission's work, but our Better Regulation is focussed. We are here to lessen the burden on small and medium-sized companies, nothing else.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">This all plays right into the hands of those like David Cameron who want free rein to tear up progressive labour and environmental laws, creating a patchwork of rules across the EU, and a race to the bottom as companies shift to the least regulated environments. Trade unions are calling this an attack on (what remains of) Social Europe.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">Now a<a href="" target="_blank"> leaked version of Timmermans' proposals</a> sheds further light on his plans, expected to be launched in May. The leaked document says: “The European Parliament and the Council should ... mirror the Commission's commitment to Better Regulation, as must Member States when implementing Union law.” In essence, this will mean governments and MEPs will need to submit their proposals for substantial changes to legislation to experts who will assess “the likely impact and regulatory burden before any final decision”. Friends of the Earth Europe’s Paul de Clerk<a href="" target="_blank"> called</a> the proposal “a huge power grab”, while Cécile Toubeau, of NGO Transport &amp; Environment<a href="" target="_blank"> said</a>: “the Commission is demoting the two democratically elected EU bodies ... to the role of Yes Men.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the Commission's REFIT programme carries on. Started by Barroso in 2012 and now being revamped by Timmermans, REFIT (the regulatory fitness and performance programme) promises further efforts to cut 'red tape', and has been a major focus of corporate lobbying. EuroCommerce, BusinessEurope, EuroChambres, the European Roundtable of Industrialists and many others have all been very<a href="" target="_blank"> active</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">If this wasn't enough, this whole approach could be locked in for the future via the<a href="" target="_blank"> EU-US trade deal (TTIP)</a>.<a href="" target="_blank"> Regulatory cooperation</a> will bind EU countries into lowest common denominator regulation and a scaling-back of progressive regulations, while ensuring that business holds sway over future rules. Issues not resolved in the trade negotiations themselves could be revisited later on, through the “Regulatory Cooperation Council”, consisting of a handful of officials from the EU and US with enormous influence to halt legislative proposals deemed bad for business. These officials would have their say ahead of elected parliaments. The idea was initially<a href="" target="_blank"> put forward by BusinessEurope and the US Chamber of Commerce</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">In March 2014,<a href="" target="_blank"> Cameron said</a>: “Let me set out some of the key [demands from the EU]. Powers flowing away from Brussels, not always to it ... Businesses liberated from 'red tape' and benefiting from the strength of the EU’s own market … to open up greater free trade with North America and Asia.”</p><p dir="ltr">This is Cameron's vision for the EU, and unfortunately, it is not far from the Commission’s. As workers, consumers and citizens from the UK and across the EU, we should be worried. The deregulation agenda is being pushed by big business working hand-in-hand with politicians and it needs to be opposed.</p><p dir="ltr">Politicians should not be doing the business of business.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/kate-byron/ttip-eu-citizens-speak-out-but-will-their-voices-be-heard">TTIP: EU citizens speak out, but will their voices be heard?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/marzena-sadowska/ttip-and-first-rule-of-fight-club">TTIP and the first rule of Fight Club</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/denis-macshane/strange-silence-over-brexit">The strange silence over Brexit</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> uk Can Europe make it? uk Vicky Cann Wed, 06 May 2015 14:08:30 +0000 Vicky Cann 92601 at Vicky Cann <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Vicky Cann </div> </div> </div> <p>Vicky Cann is a campaigner and researcher with Brussels-based NGO, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). CEO challenges the influence of big business and business lobby groups in EU policy making. See @corporateeurope for more information. </p> Vicky Cann Wed, 06 May 2015 13:58:00 +0000 Vicky Cann 92603 at