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Europe Inc., Regional & Global Restructuring and

the Rise of Corporate Power

Belén Balanyá, Ann Doherty, Olivier Hoedeman, Adam Ma’anit, and Erik Wisselius

(Corporate Europe Observatory, Amsterdam), Pluto Press, (London), 2000, ISBN 0-7453-1496-1 (hb), ISBN 0-7453-1491-0 (pb)

reviewed by David Cromwell

  An extraordinary thing happened in Seattle with the collapse of the World Trade Organisation talks. Not only was there mal-administration by the hosts and developing country outrage at the closed US and Europe sessions, but the display of public protest from over 50,000 people representing all walks of life shook politicians and business leaders to their core. Historians in the new millennium may well talk of ‘pre-Seattle’ and ‘post-Seattle’.

Before Seattle, corporate and political elites appeared to be having their own way. Economic globalisation was proceeding rapidly and anyone who questioned ‘free trade’ was in the ‘loony left’, an ‘eco-warrior’, or an outdated ‘protectionist’. After Seattle, the global economy hasn’t changed, but the prospect of reforming the WTO is in the air and free-traders have been placed on the defensive. As BBC’s Jon Snow suggested in an interview with one of them, "Surely ‘free trade’ is now a dirty word."

Protest at Seattle was so colourful, sophisticated and successful that the mass media can no longer ignore the mounting backlash to economic globalisation from the civic sector—an unprecedented alliance of churches, trade unionists, anarchists, anti-poverty campaigners, greens and others. As environmentalist and journalist George Monbiot says in the foreword to this timely book, "the most important conflict of the 21st century will be the battle between corporations and democracy."

The great globalisers of the post-WWII era are, of course, the Americans. The US-dominated WTO is their pride and joy. But the architects of the European Union are no slouches either. Europe Inc. provides the first real insight into the systematic ways in which trans-national corporations work though lobby groups to shape EU policy. The corporate-packed European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) is perhaps the most influential of the business groups in Brussels. As the authors demonstrate, it is no coincidence that the EU is heading down a neo-liberal path of "deregulation and privatisation in virtually all areas and subordinating every policy field to the objective of international competitiveness."

The ERT—a club of some 45 captains of industry from the usual suspects such as ICI, Shell, BP, Nestlé and Unilever—have their corporate fingerprints all over the EU script: the Single Market, the ‘megalomaniac’ trans-European networks of roads, and the 1991 Maastricht Treaty which laid the groundwork for European Monetary Union. While the British media devoted countless column inches and hours of broadcast to Maastricht and the single currency, this book reveals the surreal silence surrounding the corporate architects of these threats to citizens’ ‘residual democratic rights’.

 

Europe Inc documents how governments are persuaded "to increase competitiveness by dismantling and privatising public services, deregulating industry, and dismantling social and environmental protections." Business lobbying against significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, argue the authors, has seriously compromised humanity’s chances of coping with the climate threat. Today’s fossil-fuel-driven economy pumps up the atmosphere with global-warming gases which remain there for two hundred years, overheating the planet. We may already be too late to avert the climate-related deaths of many species and untold numbers of people.

Fortunately, this thoroughly-researched and fluidly-written book brings into the public arena the necessary background information to reverse this trend, by encouraging citizens to claw back the power that governments have ceded to corporations. It will be the greatest human endeavour yet: the protection of people and nature from the forces of global capitalism that are attempting to privatise the planet.