New Internationalist

Europe in question - the facts

Issue 394

The defeat of the European constitution last year has left many wondering about the future. NI charts both the resilience of European achievement and the market-driven inequality designed to undermine it.

Level of equality^1^

The Gini Index measures equality and inequality. Lower numbers indicate more equality. Denmark is the most equal and Turkey the least equal.

Winners and losers^2^

Ordinary Europeans are caught in the squeeze as profits rise and wages (as a percent of GNP) fall over the last five decades.

Demographics^4^

  • In many European countries the fertility rate is very low – Poland (1.26), Spain (1.15), Italy (1.23) and Germany (1.37).
  • Europeans are also getting older. The average age of Europeans in 1950 was 29.2 years while in 2003 it was 37.7. If present trends continue, in 50 years the average European will be nearly 50. European pension funds and other social programmes will be sorely taxed by having a large economically inactive population.

Unemployment^5^

ullstein – CARO / STILL PICTURES / WWW.STILLPICTURES.COM
But who will carry the garbage out? Europe’s ageing population should worry about who will do the work and pay the increasing cost of pensions. ullstein – CARO / STILL PICTURES / WWW.STILLPICTURES.COM

EU – Where is the power?^3^

The European Commission – the main everyday governing body of the EU, made up of 25 commissioners nominated by each member state. The Commission not only runs the EU bureaucracy (largely in Brussels) but also has the power to ‘initiate’ legislation. Although the Commission is approved by the European Parliament (in Strasbourg) that parliament has very limited control over it. Each Commissioner is the Director-General of a particular department (internal market, competition, agriculture, environment).

The Council of Ministers – composed of 25 ministerial representatives from each member state, the Council, which largely meets in secret, must approve legislation before it goes forward. Voting is weighted to member population although some areas such as taxation proposals require unanimous support. In fact most council decisions do not involve ministers at all but are taken by ‘The Committee of Permanent Representatives’ to whom power is ceded.

The European Parliament (EP) – oddly sits in both Strasbourg and Brussels and has 732 MEPs who are elected every five years by a European-wide electorate of nearly 400 million. Despite being the only EU organization with a direct democratic mandate the EP has very limited powers and lacks the right to initiate legislation, although it can veto it in some policy areas.

European Central Bank – located in Frankfurt and charged with monetary policy related to the EU’s official currency, the Euro. The Bank, modelled on the German Bundesbank, has established as its main goal ‘price stability’ and deficit control. This involved a stability pact to restrict government spending to three per cent of GDP (until that proved impracticable). The Bank’s board of directors is dominated by four of the six directors from Italy, Spain, France and Germany.

Behind the power^3^

There are more than 500 corporate lobbies working to shape EU decisions in a corporate-friendly fashion. Here are some of the most powerful.

The European Round Table: Brings together executives and CEOs from 45 of Europe’s biggest transnational corporations. Europe’s most powerful business lobby has set up a number of spin-off organizations such as the Association for Monetary Union to deal with particular issues.

European Services Forum: Was actually set up at the behest of EU bureaucrats rather than as a direct initiative of business. Its purpose is to lobby the WTO to force an opening up of public services to competition from private providers mostly in the Global South.

UNICE (The Union of Industrial and Employers Confederations of Europe): Representing business associations from around the continent, UNICE keeps a careful eye on EU regulations to make sure they are corporate-friendly and in the spirit of a single market without regulatory impediment to profitable investment.

As the European Round Table logo indicates, corporate Europe has the EU surrounded.

AmCham (The EU Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce): Represents major transnationals of US parentage that are involved in the European market. Combines a pro-EU, pro-globalization perspective that values corporate investment rights over other forms of regulation (environmental, social, consumer) that may limit corporate prerogatives.

  1. The World Development Report, The World Bank, Washington, 2005.
  2. The Social Europe we need, Robin Blackburn, Andre Brie et al, Spokesamn Books, Nottingham, 2004.
  3. Europe Inc, Balanya, Doherty et al, Pluto Press, London, 2003.
  4. Megatrans Europe, Adjiedi Bakas, cyanCommunications, London, 2006.
  5. Euro-indicators, 1 June 2006, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu

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