FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Enforcers of Austerity

by DAVID CRONIN

The plebs must suffer.

That’s the chilling message – admittedly expressed in less cogent terms – that powerful businessmen have delivered to senior political figures in Brussels behind closed doors.

I’ve got hold of briefing notes prepared for a lunch discussion between a group of chief executives and José-Manuel Barroso, the European Commission’s president, on 19 February this year. One of the businessmen’s key demands was that the austerity cuts undertaken across the EU should be made “more enforceable”.

Representing such firms as Ericsson, Fiat, Telecom Italia, the software giant SAP and the chemicals manufacturer Solvay, these high-flyers all belong to the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT). The brevity of their notes does not conceal their determination to crush ordinary people.

During that lunch, the industrialists argued that the Brussels institutions should have a bigger say in dictating how each EU government spends its taxpayers’ money. The ERT knew that it would be listened to.

Before the financial crisis erupted in 2008, the likelihood that nominally sovereign nations would send their budgets to an unelected bureaucracy for prior scrutiny seemed remote. This week, however, Barroso sounded jubilant as he noted that such checking of budgets has now taken place for the first time. Echoing his dining companions in the ERT, Barroso warned against “reform fatigue”. After acknowledging that “huge sacrifices” had been made, he contended that more are necessary.

It is noteworthy that Barroso hasn’t offered to give up his pension or his severance pay when he steps down from heading the EU executive in October 2014. Instead, it is the little people who will be making all the sacrifices.

I got a taste of the “reforms” we can expect in the foreseeable future from an ERT paper from December 2012. Marked “confidential”, the paper argues that the EU should pursue objectives at marked variance with those set by trade unions (or “some social partners,” as the ERT calls them).

“Modernising labour market policies and education systems is not about a ‘race to the bottom’, as some social partners claim, but rather a ‘race to the jobs of the future’ before leadership is claimed by other regions of the world,” the paper states.

A serious reading of the ERT’s demands indicates that the “jobs of the future” will be precarious. It advocates, for example, that the Union’s governments should “ease employment protection” by reducing payments to workers undertaking training or making a transition from one job to another. And it wants “wage evolution” to be dictated by factors like “international competitiveness” – this can only be viewed as an assault on indexation schemes such as the run by Belgium, where pay rises are guaranteed when the cost of living increases.

The ERT is adept at using code. In June, its chairman Leif Johansson (day job: running Ericsson), told EU governments that industry was “confronting a competitiveness battle that threatens the immediate and long-term ability of Europe to maintain a vibrant, innovative manufacturing base”.

His prescription for fighting this “battle” is to ensure that corporations are involved in education “at all levels”.

If taken literally, this means that big business should have a say in what songs the effervescent staff may sing at the créche my baby daughter attends. Though Johansson hasn’t gone that far (yet), the ERT has argued that industrialists should have a role in managing and setting the curricula for schools and colleges. It has also argued for greater use of “public-private partnerships” in scientific research. That is code to giving big business a greater say in running universities.

Back in 2000, ERT bigwig Gerhard Cromme argued in favour of the “privatisation of all schools, subjecting them to market forces and thereby encouraging competition. Schools will respond better to paying customers, just like any other business.”

It should go without saying that schools are not “like any other business”. Teaching children to read and write, to share and articulate is quite different to churning out biscuits or assembling computer chips. In civilised countries, children with learning difficulties are not discarded on the basis that they are too slow for the rat race.

The ERT’s fingerprints can be detected on several initiatives which have shaped recent European history. Indeed, the EU’s fixation on “competitiveness” – a euphemism for destroying labour standards and the welfare state – largely originated with recommendations made by the roundtable in the 1990s. The ERT’s intention was to transform this continent’s economic policies so that they resembled the rawer version of capitalism found in the US more closely.

If you think that there is nothing particularly untoward about lunches between businessmen and politicians, then I recommend you take the following course of action: call Barroso’s office and ask to meet him for a pizza. Assuming you are not super-rich, I suspect you might find it difficult to fix a date. And yet the European Roundtable of Industrialists has no such problems. So whose voices are heeded the most?

David Cronin is the author of the new book Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War, published by Pluto Press.

A version of this article was first published by EUobserver.

A version of this article  was first published by EUobserver.

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail