Like millions of others, I’m addicted to Facebook and, to a lesser degree, Twitter. I check these websites so frequently that I often forget they are owned by vast corporations.
Some of these firms’ activities are inherently anti-democratic.
Facebook’s Brussels office is headed by Erika Mann, a former German member of the European Parliament. She has long fought to enable the interests of big business triumph over those of ordinary people.
During her 15 years as an MEP, Mann continuously advocated that the European Union should liberalise its trade with the United States.
At one point, it seemed that her calls were being ignored by political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. All that changed in February this year, when Barack Obama expressed his support for such an agreement during his State of the Union address. Talks aimed at reaching a very broad trade and investment deal were formally launched in July.
Now wearing her Facebook hat, Erika Mann is still extolling the apparent virtues of “free” trade at every available opportunity.
In April, she spoke at a conference in Dublin, where Facebook’s international headquarters are located. Mann argued that it would be “extremely important” for an eventual deal to make the standards faced by internet companies in the EU and US “more coherent”.
While Mann claimed that she did not wish to see standards becoming “identical”, it is highly improbable that she will be pushing for more robust rules. Facebook recently submitted detailed recommendations to MEPs about how to weaken a new data protection law.
Information leaked by the courageous whistleblower Edward Snowden demonstrated that Facebook has been helping the National Security Agency to undertake espionage on a massive scale.
Before those revelations were made, Erika Mann claimed that Facebook was “leading the way” both in protecting privacy and in helping the digital sector to flourish. Her assurances now appear risible.
Facebook isn’t alone in hoping that the trade agreement will lead to “regulatory convergence” on different sides of the Atlantic. The European Commission has drawn up a paper for the talks, which indicates its willingness to copy and paste demands made by the car industry. The paper suggests that whenever either the EU or the US feels the need to have new rules on the amount of pollution vehicles may cause, they will consult each other with a view to finding a common approach.
In practice, this is a recipe for preventing Europe from having tougher emissions standards than the US.
Mann has few, if any, qualms about lobbying her former colleagues. She has spoken at events within the European Parliament’s buildings on a number of dossiers.
Last year, she addressed a conference on data protection organised by one of the assembly’s committees. She also spoke at a reception sponsored by the beer industry, during which she voiced support for “voluntary initiatives” undertaken by those behemoths of booze eager to portray themselves as responsible.
That wasn’t simply a case of Mann meeting some old pals for a knees-up. Facebook had clinched a huge advertising contract with Diageo – owner of Guinness and Smirnoff – a few months earlier.
Her participation in the beer-fuelled reception involved sending a signal to law-makers that they should abandon any plans they may have to ban or restrict the marketing of alcohol. The idea that the drinks industry can be expected to behave responsibly is, of course, daft. The only objective of corporations is to amass as much money as they can.
Breaking the rules
Following a scandal in 2011 in which a few MEPs were recorded stating they would be happy to receive bribes from journalists posing as lobbyists, the European Parliament drew up a code of conduct. In theory, the code applies to both sitting and former MEPs.
And yet a Parliament spokeswoman told me: “from what I gather of your description of Mrs Mann’s activities, it doesn’t seem that she has breached the code of conduct”.
The code states that former MEPs should not benefit from the Parliament’s “facilities” if they wish to engage in lobbying “directly linked” to EU law-making. According to the spokeswoman, this clause did not relate merely to accessing the Parliament’s buildings but to such perks as use of its car-parks and libraries.
If Mann is undertaking lobbying on the Parliament’s premises, there is strong prima facie evidence that she is not playing by the rules. But it seems that the Parliament’s administration is happy to overlook how former MEPs are usurping democracy by cajoling their old colleagues into tweaking laws to placate certain vested interests.
A leaked internal paper from the European Commission indicated that it plans to make extensive use of Twitter and Facebook to sell the so-called benefits of a trans-Atlantic trade deal.
Fortunately, the Commission’s officials aren’t the only people who know to tweet, share and “like”.
Given that Facebook’s Brussels office wants a trade deal to be concluded, it behoves those of us opposing the deal to flood the pages of Facebook with the unvarnished truth. We should spare no effort in calling out the lobbyists seeking to destroy the last vestiges of our democracy.
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 call 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 one 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?
Ireland’s International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) hosts offices for banks and hedge funds whose feckless behaviour has caused not one but several crises.
The effects of one crisis remain palpable. Mass emigration is haunting Ireland again like it did at the time of the Great Hunger, as the famine of the 1840s is known. Our ability to keep in touch via Skype and Facebook doesn’t make the fact that young people can’t find decent jobs at home any less scandalous.
But there is another crisis with which we are less familiar. JP Morgan and HSBC are both present in the IFSC. These two banks have been involved in a frenzy of speculation on basic foodstuffs. The consequent increase in grocery prices has exacerbated the problem of global hunger. It is partly because of this speculation that the extreme poverty we, Irish, associate with the time of the great hunger is a daily reality for 1 billion people worldwide.
John Bruton, the IFSC’s president, epitomises the phenomenon of the revolving door between big business and politics.
Bruton is a former taoiseach (Ireland’s prime minister), who went on to become the European Union’s ambassador in Washington. Since stepping down from the latter post in 2009, Bruton has not been short of job offers. He has signed contracts to work for the Brussels-based consultancy Cabinet DN and for several other firms.
Cabinet DN has a number of large companies on its roster. They include the New York Stock Exchange and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Broadcasting Group.
When Bruton writes opinion pieces for newspapers or takes part in TV and radio broadcasts, he gives the impression that he is now an independent thinker. Yet the arguments he makes generally chime with the interests of those captains of industry for whom he has become a puppet.
Bruton, for example, is a staunch supporter of the proposed trade and investment agreement which is under negotiation between the European Union and the United States.
According to Bruton’s website, such a deal is necessary to “remove barriers and inefficiencies that prevent Americans and Europeans from realising their full economic potential.”
Bruton has not bothered to explain that the “barriers and inefficiencies” he wants to remove can be essential to protect human health and the environment.
The trade negotiators from both sides of the Atlantic scheduled to meet for a new round of talks on the planned agreement next week are pursuing an agenda drawn up for them by major corporations. A core objective of that agenda is to achieve “regulatory convergence”.
Regulatory convergence is a fancy term for destroying the things that distinguish Europe from America.
For example, we have stronger food safety standards on this side of the Atlantic than they have in the United States.
This year the EU authorities have issued temporary bans on several pesticides that have been linked to the rapid decline in bee numbers.
Some of the world’s largest chemical and biotechnology firms, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow, have recently complained that the EU is more willing to take precautionary measures against pesticides than the US. These companies want the EU’s scope for taking such measures to be restricted as a result of a new agreement on trans-Atlantic trade.
Recipe for conquest
The argument these companies constantly use is that policy-making should be guided by scientific proof. At first glance, that may sound sensible. In reality, it is a recipe for corporate conquest.
Nearly all substances that Monsanto manufactures would be allowed on the market, if this argument was stretched to its logical conclusion. Monsanto, let us remember, manufactured the key ingredients to Agent Orange, a toxic cocktail that caused devastation in Vietnam. Fifty years later, the Missouri firm still insiststhat the links between this weapon and certain diseases has not been “conclusively demonstrated”.
There has been some speculation lately that the revelations of US snooping on Angela Merkel’s phone conversations would have adverse consequences for the trade talks. Unfortunately, I do not think this is likely.
The Federation of German Industries (BDI) is pushing for an agreement to be reached. Merkel may be genuinely irked that her mobile is being monitored. But I doubt she is irked enough to disobey the diktats of her country’s most influential business group.
One thing that could derail the trade talks is mass resistance. It is by no means fanciful to predict that a huge international campaign could upset the carefully prepared plans of the world’s most powerful corporations. Such opposition has thwarted other pernicious economic accords, notably the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) in the 1990s and, more recently, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
We, Irish, often take pride in our bonds to the US. We seem to take pride even when it leads to nauseating spectacles of subordination – such as when the taoiseach visits the White House with a bowl of shamrock each Saint Patrick’s Day.
John Bruton has built a career around that subordination. He has benefited handsomely. The rest of us have not.
David Cameron probably rues the day he declared that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”.
Uttered in 2010 when he was still leader of the opposition, Cameron’s words have proven to be prescient. Last year the Conservative Party hired Lynton Crosby as an election strategist. The appointment was hugely problematic as Crosby’s “public relations” firms was handed a lucrative contract to help the tobacco giant Philip Morris not long afterwards.
Cameron’s government has subsequently scrapped plans to require that cigarettes be sold in plain packets. Regardless of whether Crosby personally urged that the proposal be buried, there is a heady stench of cronyism about the whole affair.
The whiff from the “transparency” records kept by the Conservative members of the European Parliament is only a slightly bit less potent. For sure, the Tories’ decision to publish periodical lists of which lobbyists they meet is in itself a positive move. The behaviour that the lists reveal is, on the other hand, quite sordid.
The appointments diary for Welsh MEP Kay Swinburne offers a case in point. Back in 2000, she won a £1 million pay-out after suing her former employers Deutsche Bank over sexual harassment. The preceding court case drew attention to how machismo and capitalism are joined at the hip.
Her experience of sexism in the City of London notwithstanding, Swinburne has been an unflagging defender of its hedge funds and derivatives traders. She has stridently opposed attempts to introduce a small tax on financial transactions, citing fears (no doubt exaggerated) that it would harm the City.
The latest available records indicate that during the first half of this year, Swinburne had a total of 57 meetings with “lobbyists”. Some 53 of those discussions were either directly with banks — including Barclays, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and HSBC — or with firms and organizations involved in or funded by the financial services industry. One of her few declared contacts with the everyday people of Wales involved a meeting with a charity providing guide dogs for blind people.
Open door policy?
When I asked Swinburne why she spent so much time listening to just one side in the debate on financial regulation, she claimed that the six month period in question had been “unusual” as she had been partly absent for medical reasons.
“I do not accept your accusation that I only listen to financial services companies as it is apparent from prior contact reports over an extended period of time that I have an open-door policy for all these interested in contributing to the legislative process,” she added.
While I wish Swinburne every good health, I don’t buy her explanation that there was something atypical about the narrow interests of her contacts. In the last six months of 2010, for example, she held over 90 meetings with lobbyists. All of them were from the private sector.
Geoffrey Van Orden, an MEP for the East of England, has put an intriguing disclaimer at the end of his latest available list of appointments. “These meetings are often not ‘lobbying’ and are frequently at my initiative to explore and understand aspects of policy and encourage British interests,” it says.
With a lengthy career as a soldier behind him, Van Orden is especially close to the arms industry. Among the several discussions with weapons producers which he has admitted having between January and June was a dinner with Bill Giles, the Brussels point-man for BAE Systems.
I asked Van Orden if he had ever invited the Campaign Against the Arms Trade or a group similarly critical of the war industry to a meal. “I have supported a global arms trade treaty but do not support CAAT’s wider agenda and I am not aware that they have ever asked for a meeting,” he replied. “Those concerned about irresponsible arms sales and arming terrorists and authoritarian regimes should focus their attention on countries like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran instead of harassing the democracies.”
Van Orden noted that BAE is “a major British manufacturer and one of our biggest exporters” but omitted a few other salient facts. BAE’s top client, Saudi Arabia, is such a beacon for democracy that it has finally decided to grant women the vote. Alas, this giant leap towards gender equality won’t actually be taken until 2015.
And, according to its 2012 annual report, BAE employs more people in the US than in Van Orden’s beloved Britain.
War against workers
In his aforementioned “next big scandal” speech, Cameron decried the “far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”.
The cosiness has continued since he became prime minister. Last week, the Confederation of British Industry – which brags of being the country’s top lobbying organisation - called on EU governments to “identify where the burden of regulation can be reduced” for corporations.
Addressing the House of Commons yesterday, Cameron noted that he helped facilitate a discussion between a “business taskforce” and leaders of several EU countries – including Germany, Poland and Italy – in Brussels a few days earlier. Cameron rejoiced at how “deregulation is now part of the EU agenda in a way that it simply hasn’t been before”.
The “taskforce” Cameron has been championing features key figures from the alcohol company Diageo and the retailer Marks and Spencer. The manifesto it has produced is tantamount to a declaration of war against workers.
A proposal to guarantee female employees 20 weeks of maternity leave on full pay would have to be binned in the name of “competitiveness”. Bosses would be given more flexibility to pressurise employees into working longer hours. And a raft of anti-pollution rules would be weakened or abandoned.
Cameron and his acolytes present these demands as essential for economic rejuvenation. In reality, they represent a throwback to an era when factory owners had not yet made some concessions to organised labour. We can read about that era in the novels of Charles Dickens. It doesn’t have to be recreated in the twenty-first century.
Extremists have notched up a significant victory today.
The new trade deal between the European Union and Canada appears to go further than any previous commercial agreement that the EU has clinched.
Its most worrying provision is what the European Commission calls “a modern and effective investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism”. This will allow major corporations to formally challenge any social or environmental law that hurts their bottom line.
Monsanto and others who play dangerous games with nature will be undoubtedly delighted with the deal. Canada is one of the top 10 countries in the world for planting genetically modified (GM) crops. The biotechnology industry, on the other hand, has long been frustrated by the difficulties it encounters in placing Frankenstein foods on the European market.
Invited to sue
If the new agreement comes into effect, then Monsanto will be invited to sue the European Union over the “barriers” that have been erected to force-feeding us with things we don’t anywhere near our – or our children’s – mouths.
We cannot even be certain that items containing GM ingredients will come with clear information. An explanatory note published by the Commission indicates that both the EU and Canada wish to reduce the cost of complying with each other’s labelling requirements.
It is telling that the agreement was announced by two right-wing politicians: the Canadian premier Stephen Harper and the European Commission’s unelected chief José Manuel Barroso. The dodgy duo have both registered their contempt for democracy.
Some key elements of the new deal amount to a repackaging of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment(MAI) – a hideous proposal by a number of Western governments that was defeated thanks to relentless campaigning by ordinary people in the 1990s.
While the full text of the EU-Canada deal hasn’t yet been made available – and, of course, it was negotiated in secret – there are reasons to fear that its clauses on intellectual property bear strong similarities to those in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
ACTA was also defeated by a mass mobilisation of conscientious individuals. But the elite has a habit of resurrecting things that engender public opposition. Wasn’t the EU’s own constitution rejected by Dutch and French voters in 2005, only to be repackaged and renamed the Lisbon treaty?
We should not forget, either, that the EU and the US are eyeing a similar trade and investment agreement. The deal with Canada is likely to give a boost to those negotiations.
Fortunately, the battle is not over.
The new agreement will have to get the nod from the European Parliament before it can enter into effect. Should there be a left-leaning majority in this assembly following next year’s elections, then it’s conceivable that deals of this nature will become gridlocked. That’s why it is vital for voters to grill candidates on their views about international trade.
Nobody should delude themselves, however, into thinking that the 2014 elections will be the end of the matter. The super-rich will keep on looking for ways to crush dissent. That’s why they must be fought all day and every day.
This week last year the machinations of Big Tobacco sparked a scandal in Brussels. John Dalli was removed from his post as the European Commission’s health chief over allegations – which he denies – that he solicited bribes from a Swedish manufacturer of chewable tobacco. With reports of espionage and burglary, the whole affair spiced up the often turgid world of EU politics for a while.
According to spin-doctors, Dalli was sacked because the Commission wanted to show the peddlers of addiction that they couldn’t write the law. Yet the EU’s governments and institutions proved just how malleable they were later in 2012, when they binned a proposal to ban outright the branding of cigarettes and require that they all be sold in plain packets.
By a combination of bullying its adversaries and schmoozing its allies, the industry has been able to weaken the plan considerably. When the dossier – known as the “tobacco products directive” – was put before the European Parliament recently, many of our elected representatives displayed greater concernabout the profits of the private sector than the health of their constituents.
As well as hiring a battalion of in-house lobbyists, the tobacco industry is using a network of front groups to attain its goals. Typically, these groups have inoffensive names, leading the uninitiated to surmise that they are full of cerebral types, more interested in how things work in theory than in practice.
The late Stanley Crossick, for example, is regarded as an intellectual giant among the suits who flock to events held by his outfit, the European Policy Centre. It is uncouth to mention that the exalted “think tank” was set up with the help of British American Tobacco, which remains one if its funders to this day.
The European Justice Forum (EJF) has a particularly misleading name. Whereas it could easily be mistaken as a human rights organisation, the membership list of this select group includes cigarette-makers Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco. David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers, are represented, too, indicating that they are intent on destroying environmental and social regulations on both sides of the Atlantic.
The EJF claims that it is focused on “collective redress”, the principle whereby a number of people can take legal action against a company accused of damaging their health. Tobacco firms have faced civil action lawsuits in the US; the forum is concerned that similar challenges could be mounted in other parts of the world.
The forum has been engaged in stealth lobbying against the tobacco products directive. A policy paper that it drew up earlier this month protested against a move by some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to introduce the concept of “producer responsibility” into the tobacco products directive.
Under that tenet, the tobacco industry could be sued by those suffering from cancer or heart disease. According to the forum, this would “set a dangerous precedent that could lead to efforts to target other industries.”
I contacted Arundel McDougall, the EJF’s director, asking him why the paper did not spell out the forum’s links to tobacco. He replied by saying that the EJF’s members are listed on its website. McDougall also claimed that the paper wasn’t circulated among MEPs but was simply prepared to “address a generic matter of concern to all our members”.
I’m not convinced by his reply. Britain’s Conservative MEPs publish periodical, albeit skimpy, records of their meetings with lobbyists . These show that the EJF has sought appointments in the Parliament on a number of issues this year. It’s hard to believe that tobacco wasn’t discussed at any of these encounters.
The EJF has a close relationship to Edelman, which describes itself as the world’s largest public relations firm. Both have offices in the same building in Brussels.
Martin Porter, head of Edelman in this city, told me that while the EJF is among his firm’s clients, Edelman did not provide any assistance “in preparing or disseminating” the forum’s paper on tobacco. “Doing so on this issue is excluded from our scope of work for the European Justice Forum,” Porter added.
The EJF’s activities fit into a pattern described in a 2008 report by the World Health Organisation. “Recognising that the public and politicians are increasingly unsympathetic to the demands of the tobacco industry, it has sought to align itself with more socially acceptable entities,” the report stated. “Such groups often appear in the news media and at legislative hearings, where they seek to reframe tobacco control policies as economic issues rather than public health initiatives.”
BusinessEurope, an alliance of corporations, has been resorting to the same trickery. In a May hearing at the European Parliament, Carsten Danöhl, a senior adviser to BusinessEurope, argued that the tobacco products law would have repercussions for world trade.
Danöhl portrayed himself as a champion of industry generally, yet his script didn’t specify that his organisation includes cigarette-makers and that they have been making an identical case – almost verbatim – to his.
Policy-makers have a legal obligation – enshrined in a convention of the World Health Organisation – to get tough with Big Tobacco. The equally bellicose and sneaky tactics of the industry are designed to destroy that convention.
Big Tobacco is so hostile to regulation it would probably sell hand grenades to three-year-olds if it could. Because this horrid industry isn’t short of friends among the super-rich, it seems vital to me that the left singles out tobacco for special opprobrium.
We should call out every outfit that receives funding from cigarette-makers as front groups for Big Tobacco. For that is exactly what they are.
After listening to this woman spout some paranoid nonsense about the police being “afraid” to enter parts of Brussels “where Muslims rule”, I asked if she had anything against me. As an Irish national, I am a foreigner in Belgium, I explained. That wasn’t a problem, she replied, because “you are probably the same religion as us”.
The disaster off the coast of Lampedusa reminded me of that bizarre and unsettling conversation.
In the mid-nineteenth century, my ancestors fled hunger and destitution in “coffin ships”, frequently dying onboard. Mass emigration is haunting Ireland once again today. Yet unlike the Africans who perished before they could reach the Italian shore, we can usually travel in safety.
Adjusting to a new life abroad is never easy. But, at least, demagogues will take kindly to us because we share the same race – or, as they prefer to call it, religion.
Sometimes, though, I am not sure if the gap between extremist parties like Vlaams Belang or Golden Dawn and more “mainstream” politicians is all that great.
Nick Griffin, a British National Party thug now sitting in the European Parliament, once provoked a furore by arguing that boats carrying migrants should be fired upon. If Griffin had been a little more nuanced, then his proposal would have differed little to official EU policy.
The immediate response of Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, to the Lampedusa disaster was to tout a new border surveillance system called Eurosur. According to Malmström, the system will help the authorities rescue boats that get into difficulty after it becomes operational in December.
Contrary to what Malmström has indicated, Eurosur is not a humanitarian initiative. Rather, its primary focus is addressing what the European Commission calls “illegal immigration” – a repulsive term as travelling from one country to another in search of a better life is not a crime.
Eurosur is partly the fruit of a €15 million scientific research project launched in 2010. Though mainly funded by the EU, the project had a heavy participation from top weapons-makers like Britain’s BAE, the Franco-German firm EADS and Spain’s Indra.
This is one of several EU-financed schemes relating to maritime surveillance. Another one, OPARUS, examined how drones can help to detect Africans or Asians trying to enter Europe. BAE, EADS and the French companies Thales and Dassault are all taking part in it. So, too, is Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a maker of drones used to bomb civilians in Gaza.
I’ve challenged Malmström a couple of times about why she wants to train warplanes on some of the world’s poorest people. She has tried to fob me off by claiming the fact that drones can have violent applications is a mere coincidence.
There can be little doubt that the EU is taking an increasingly militarised approach to questions of migration and asylum.
Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, will have a significant role in overseeing Eurosur. The agency is headed by Ilkka Laitenen, a Finnish brigadier-general.
Laitenen sits on the advisory board of Security and Defence Agenda, a “think tank” reliant on funding from the arms industry. He and his staff are also in regular contact with the European Defence Agency, a body established to drum up business for this continent’s weapons-makers.
Frontex, too, has been shopping around for drones deemed suitable for tracking migrants. It is known to have invited Israeli and American drone manufacturers to display their deadly wares to its staff. The US Department of Commerce has advised the country’s arms producers to keep a close eye on Frontex as it may provide “export opportunities”.
Cecilia Malmström has rightly been critical of the Greek authorities for approving a tiny number of asylum applications and systematically refusing asylum to refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Malmström supervises the work of Frontex, an agency that has helped Greece to abuse the right to asylum. In January 2011, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that Greece’s detention centres for asylum-seekers were in such a dilapidated state that keeping people in them was tantamount to torture. Frontex has provided buses for transporting asylum-seekers to those centres.
It stands accused, therefore, of being a subcontractor for torture.
I couldn’t fail to notice that one of the main boasts of Britain’s Conservative Party at its latest annual conference was that it had brought immigration down. The boast should be seen against the backdrop of the wider ideological war being waged against the poor – both in Europe and further afield. Like any war, its main beneficiaries are those making the tools with which it is fought.
I had a vicious teacher in primary school. This flame-headed brute used to enjoy slapping his pupils with two dark brown canes that he had christened Katie and Maggie. When he wasn’t inflicting pain on our tender palms, Mr C lectured us about why violence was wrong.
José Manuel Barroso reminds me of Mr C – even if the two men bear no physical resemblance to each other. The European Commission chief is overseeing a sadistic experiment that has punished millions who had no role in causing the financial crisis. And now he pretends to have found a social conscience.
Barroso and his colleagues are starting this month with a cynical exercise in sugar-coating austerity. A new policy paper from the Commission advocates that there should be more monitoring of employment policies within the euro-zone countries. This is being presented as a bold effort to give the single currency a “social dimension“.
Don’t expect the sadism to be abandoned. All euro-zone governments are under orders to hand in their national budgets for scrutiny to Brussels by 15 October. The spending rules that are leading to the evisceration of many welfare states are still being enforced with rigour.
Giving a “social dimension” to the euro ignores how it is a fundamentally antisocial project. I offer no apologies for seeking to repeatedly draw attention to how the 1988 blueprint for the currency was drawn up by a cabal of corporate high-flyers with zero democratic mandate. The Association for the Monetary Union of Europe, as that cabal was known, included representatives of Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Total and British American Tobacco. Its agenda was to realise the fantasies of fat-cats, not, as the spin-doctors told us, bring the peoples of Europe more closely together.
A quarter century later, a similar cabal is dictating the EU’s economic policies. In June, the Union’s governments committed themselves to providing every young person with a job or apprenticeship within four months of leaving college or becoming unemployed. Key elements of this “youth guarantee” proposal were copied and pasted from recommendations made by the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT), which bands together chairmen and chief executives of Shell, BP, Volvo, Nestlé and Heineken.
Far from being altruistic to our young, the ERT wants to provide them with a future of stress, uncertainty and yellow-pack jobs. A litany of demands from the group states that “employment protection measures must be re-designed and modernised” in most EU countries.
Its idea of “modernisation” involves retreating to an era before organised labour had won significant advances. If the ERT gets its way, big companies will have to give much shorter notice before making workers redundant and severance payments for those losing their jobs will be drastically cut. Payments for overtime and unused holidays may be abolished in the name of “flexibility”.
Jacques Delors is often hailed as a kind of visionary here in Brussels. If his objective was to widen inequality and immiserate millions, then I guess he was a visionary. For that is exactly what the Frenchman has achieved by backing the single currency project so effusively when he was the European Commission’s president.
Today, Delors runs a “think tank” called Notre Europe that is partly-funded by the energy giant GDF Suez. His devotees continue to give the impression that the euro is worth saving, once its facade is scrubbed a little.
A new Notre Europe paper argues that the spending rule underpinning the euro should remain based on the principle that those disobeying them are punished. Any “social dimension” that is introduced, on the other hand, should rely on incentives, rather than sanctions.
That sums it up, really. Governments can still be bullied and coerced into slashing expenditure on health and education. But any measures to cushion the blow will be considered optional.
It would be heartening if trade unions were fighting this antisocial agenda. While numerous union activists are on the frontlines of resistance, some big players in the labour movement are too busy snuggling up to the bosses.
The European Trade Union Confederation has recently teamed up with the corporate coalition BusinessEurope to issue a joint proposal on tackling youth unemployment. With its emphasis on “reforms” and “competitiveness” – both of which are synonyms for weakening labour rights – it reads like a diluted version of the ERT’s aforementioned litany.
The euro has been a curse for ordinary people. Burying it is necessary if we are to envisage a fairer Europe.
My latest rant against the arms industry appears to have upset a Very Important Person.
Think tank guru Giles Merritt has been described as one of the 50 most influential people in Brussels by his former employer The Financial Times. Admirably humble, Merritt is eager to downplay his clout.
In his response to my rant, Merritt takes me to task for drawing attention to links between his organization Security and Defence Agenda (SDA) and Lockheed Martin, the world’s most profitable weapons producer. According to Merritt, Lockheed has “taken no part in SDA’s activities nor funding since the middle of 2012.”
His assertion is contradicted by the SDA’s own publications. One of them states that in September last year, Luc van de Winckel, a “senior manager” with Lockheed, attended a conference that SDA hosted on the future of “missile defence”.
SDA’s entry to the register of “interest representatives” managed by the European Commission also names Lockheed as one of the organisation’s members. This entry is dated 5 July this year and purports to relate to all of 2012. (Aside: SDA did not sign up to this database until last year. In May 2012, I asked Merritt why the SDA hadn’t yet joined the register; he replied that this was merely an “oversight”).
Thriving on war
If Lockheed has recently decided to leave the SDA, this does not alter my central point that the think tank serves the arms industry. Raytheon, another top arms manufacturer, is listed as one of SDA’s current members on its website. Raytheon, too, supplies cruise missiles to the US military and would, more than likely, benefit directly from the type of Western attack on Syria that Merritt’s colleague, Shada Islam, has urged.
I was intrigued to see that Merritt acknowledged that the entire purpose of the SDA was to “help move defence up the European agenda”. This admission undermines the organisation’s boast of providing a “neutral forum” for debating military matters.
Tough questions about how the SDA’s “partners” thrive on war and human rights abuses are not allowed at its events, as I discovered myself. When I attended an SDA conference last year and asked the speaker from Lockheed, Chad Fulgham, if he was proud of his company’s role in arming Israeli forces that illegally occupy Palestinian land, Merritt dismissed my query as irrelevant.
According to Merritt, I declared a fatwah against SDA several years ago. In my view, the term jihad might be more apposite.
Jihad is a much misunderstood term that is usually translated as “holy war”. The translation is wildly inaccurate; the word originates from the verb jahada, which means to “exert effort”. In the views of many Islamic scholars, a jihad involves tackling injustice and poverty, both of which can be fought without the use of violence.
Although I’m a Christian, rather than a Muslim, I feel a sense of duty to exert effort against the entire arms industry (not just the SDA). My determination to wage this jihad was reinforced in 2009, when I saw the after-effects of Israel’s merciless three-week bombing campaign against Gaza.
At one point during my visit, I was given a tour by a local man, who repeatedly pointed to the ruins of buildings. “There, F-16,” he said, explaining that an American warplane had fired a missile against that particular structure.
Giles Merritt might have convinced himself that he is doing nothing more sinister than putting “defence” on the agenda. I, on the other hand, remain horrified by what I have seen in Palestine. The companies that inflict suffering on civilians ought to be prosecuted. Instead, their executives pat each other on the back in royal palaces hired by SDA.
The only proper response to these obscene spectacles is outrage.
Giles Merritt, director of Security and Defence Agenda, has asked for a right of reply to my recent post Serving America’s war machine. Here is his article:
An old saying among journalists when Fleet Street in London was the centre of the UK’s fairly tight-knit community of national newspapers, was that dog doesn’t eat dog. As a former Financial Times journalist, it sprang to mind when I read the article by your correspondent David Cronin. His piece sparked some thoughts about the nature of think tanks in Brussels and elsewhere, their roles and their vulnerability to criticism.
Think tanks here in Brussels aren’t as aggressive and partisan as in, say, Washington DC. That’s in large part because most have no political affiliation. It’s also because many of them are broadly supportive of European integration, even if they can be sceptical about some of the policies pursued by the EU. In general, we think tankers try to be even-handed in our efforts to stimulate debate amongst the policymakers and to attract the interest of public opinion.
Every now and again, there’s a hue and cry over whether the Brussels think tanks are lobbyists. The latest was a couple of years ago when the European Commission introduced a well-intentioned but clumsy initiative to get the think tanks to sign-up to the new lobbyists’ register. The blunder stemmed from the fact that the European Parliament’s passes for regular visitors fail to distinguish between the two. Most think tanks refused to sign, and the commissioner responsible, Siim Kallas, wisely changed tack and created a special category for them with a renamed “Transparency Register”.
But the damage was done. Although most think tanks have long been scrupulously transparent about where their funding comes from, the mud stuck that they are so corrupted by capitalist gold that they urge their paymasters’ preferred policies on EU decision-makers.
All this came to mind when I read David Cronin’s article asserting that my colleague Shada Islam “is, to all intents and purposes, a lobbyist for the arms industry”. Shada is, like me, a former journalist who now is arguably Brussels’ most respected expert and commentator on Asian affairs. She launched the highly successful Asia programme that is an important part of the activities of Friends of Europe, the think tank I head, and is also an adviser to the Security and Defence Agenda, its sister think tank known widely as the SDA.
Labelling a fellow journalist as a lobbyist is tantamount to libel, because one’s reputation for independence and honesty is precious. Mr Cronin’s article, with its headline “Serving America’s war machine”, made the serious allegation that in a TV interview on EuroNews, Shada Islam had advocated an attack against the Assad forces in Syria because that would benefit one of the SDA’s funders, Lockheed Martin.
It wasn’t so much the libel that set me thinking – Lockheed Martin has taken no part in the SDA’s activities nor funding since the middle of 2012 – but the realisation that in a small community like Brussels there is a special credibility that attaches to one journalist’s attack on another. Readers are likely to think that there can be few secrets in the intimate world of EU specialists.
It’s perhaps worth saying a few words about the SDA. I set it up in 2002 to ensure that the growing focus in Europe on defence and security should not be obscured by the many other topics discussed in Brussels. The aim was to provide NATO and the EU with a No Man’s Land where they could meet, and also to help move defence up the European agenda. Mr Cronin writes about the ‘merchants of death’, but I think many people believe that Europe’s enfeebled military outreach is a drawback.
Funding the SDA isn’t easy, and the sensitivities over its financial support are such that complete openness has always been the only answer. The SDA lists all the companies it receives money from, as well as national governments and organisations like NATO or the EU. Our independence is fiercely guarded.
The contribution of the SDA and other think tanks in Brussels has, I hope, been very positive. In an environment where the EU institutions inevitably dominate discussion, the questioning voices of the think tanks should be welcome. So too should be the platforms they offer to people with different, and often opposing, views. It’s the latter point that makes me wince if I hear the lobbyist charge, because we all go out of our way to create interesting debates in which people with expert knowledge feel free to disagree. If that’s lobbying, it must be very confusing for anyone who’s being lobbied.
I wouldn’t want to join the dog-eating fraternity myself, but a couple of points for David Cronin to think about, and perhaps reconsider the personal fatwah he issued against the SDA several years ago and refuses to recant despite the hard facts he’s been supplied with. Security policy isn’t about war, it’s about peace. We also work with organisations like the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Transparency International, the UN and the British Council, and we welcome speakers like Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights activist and Nobel peace prize laureate.
The SDA itself doesn’t take a position on the issues it highlights; it offers itself as a platform for all opinions. Interestingly enough, though, the issue of intervention in Syria that prompted Cronin’s outburst was addressed earlier this summer by the SDA’s two co-presidents, former EU High Representative Javier Solana, and former NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer. Far from urging on the merchants of death, they wrote an article in The New York Times condemning the idea of military involvement. It’s promoting a whole range of ideas that we think tanks are rightly proud of.
Giles Merritt is the Director of the Security & Defence Agenda (SDA) and Secretary-General of Friends of Europe.