On May 5 and 6, we organized a conference in Brussels on the theme of the crisis in Europe, « The EU in crisis — analysis, resistance and alternatives to corporate Europe ». The pretext was the 15th anniversary of CEO (Corporate Europe Observatory), but in reality we tried to build a program that would address the essential issues:
— the structural defects of the euro zone, a monetary union without coordination or harmonization of budgetary and fiscal policies, which has caused a growing divergence between the economies of the zone, and in particular a widening of the trade balance deficits of the southern countries with those of the north. These were balanced by bank loans… from the southern European countries to the banks of the northern countries;
- the imposition by the EU (Germany and France in particular) of austerity policies that deepen the crisis instead of containing it, and use technocratic mechanisms (the « six-pack ») for coordinating national budgetary policies that give unelected decision-makers (notably the Commission) very broad powers to intervene in almost all areas of economic life;
- privatizations imposed on countries receiving « aid » from the Troika (composed of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), including essential public services such as municipal drinking water services (the national water company in Portugal is to be sold, as well as the water services of the Greek cities of Athens and Thessaloniki);
- the productivist impasse of the current model of production and consumption in Europe, which makes any prospect of a return to some Keynesian « golden age » illusory — which does not mean that we should not defend its finest achievements, starting with social rights and public services;
- the extent of the power of influence of companies on the EU and particularly the Commission: the model of governance put in place by the « European Semester », the prior examination at European level of national budgets before they are voted by national parliaments, was already foreshadowed by a report of the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) of… 2002.
All conference presentations are available online at(1). Those of our colleague Erik on the power of influence of companies on the response of the European Union to the crisis(2)by economist and university professor Trevor Evans on the imbalances created by the euro zone(3)A report by Portuguese economist Mariana Mortágua on the folly of the austerity policies imposed on her country, which are aggravating the recession, increasing the burden of debt and making it even more difficult to pay it back(4)among others, have left their mark. The audience, about 250 people, came from all over Europe, and the feedback seems to indicate that they enjoyed the proceedings as much as we did. The beginning of a pan-European network against austerity? It’s hard to say, and in any case, such an undertaking goes far beyond the possibilities of a single organization. In the series of essays commissioned before the conference to feed the debate(5), it is worth mentioning the (long) article by former EUObserver journalist in Brussels, Leigh Philipps, who wrote an impressive overview of the resistance to austerity policies in the different member countries of the Union(6). Where we see that if austerity in Europe is centralized, democracy, in the sense of a living contradictory public debate, is not. Not yet?
This is the burning issue of the moment: can we democratize the EU? The differences between the countries of the North and the South are widening at a time when, more than ever, mutual trust is needed to succeed. The upcoming Greek elections on June 17, as well as the Irish referendum on May 31, and how their results will be received by EU leaders who have been making intimidating statements to voters in both countries in recent days to encourage them to vote « responsibly, » will no doubt be part of the picture.
While we wait to see what the outcome of the crisis will be, we continue to study the political activities of those who triggered it: the banks. Our new report, « Addicted to Risk »(7), shows that they have not changed, continuing to maximize profits above all other considerations. It would seem that the « growth » argument has prevailed over the « stability of the financial markets » argument among European politicians worried about the short-term effects of the recession… And the banks have jumped into the breach. Taxpayers are not done paying.
In terms of crises, climate change and the destruction of biodiversity also continue. The Rio+20 conference is approaching, and with it the discussions around the « green economy », a concept carried by large multinational companies which, in its current form, is a simple reasoning: putting a price on nature will stop it being destroyed by the markets. The problem is that the reasoning is simplistic: putting a price on nature will mainly allow it to be privatized, and destroyed if its destruction is more profitable than its preservation. The model for such a « biodiversity market » already exists and the EU is a strong advocate of it, having created it: the carbon markets. A little over a decade after their creation, they have managed to create a massive speculative market of 120 billion euros per year from nothing… However, this has not resulted in any measurable emission reductions(8).
These crises, Ramon Fernandez Duran, CEO’s long-time companion who died on May 10, 2011, had observed them all his life. He made a point of leaving a book before he left, which we translated into English, « The Breakdown of global Capitalism, 2000–2030 »(9). Here is the presentation made by our colleague Belen, who knew him well:
« This book is not always a relaxing read. It confronts the reader with an imminent and dark future. Yet Ramon insisted that this book should not be considered pessimistic. He wanted to prepare us for an immense change — nothing less than the collapse of industrial civilization. The beginning of the end of fossil fuels is the heart of this crisis. [..]
In the last years of his life, Ramon fought cancer the same way he had lived: with courage, love and determination. This text embodies in part his political and ideological legacy and is a final goodbye.
for Corporate Europe Observatory
May 27, 2012