The New Economics Foundation (NEF) produce a weekly economics briefing. This week they look at the detail of Prime Minister David Cameron’s renegotiation of the EU, and find neoliberal finger prints all over it. By Christine Berry, Senior Researcher at NEF
LAST week, the European Council released details of its proposed offer to David Cameron, designed to keep Britain in the EU and ward off the threat of ‘Brexit’ at this year’s referendum (now almost certain to be held in June).
The right wing press and Conservative Eurosceptics were generally unimpressed , while Cameron insisted he’d achieved what he set out to. But what’s lurking in the detail of the proposed deal – and who will it really benefit?
Attention has focussed on proposed powers to restrict in-work benefits for migrants, generally considered to be the most controversial aspect of Cameron’s demands. Much less has been said about the EU’s concessions on ‘competitiveness’ and ‘cutting red tape’ – after all, these are things it sounds difficult to be against, and commentators have tended to treat them as uncontroversial.
“In reality, under the threat of Brexit, the UK has been aggressively pushing the EU to adopt an agenda which could see more power put in the hands of corporations.”
But in reality, under the threat of Brexit, the UK has been aggressively pushing the EU to adopt an agenda which could see more power put in the hands of corporations, and less ability for democratically elected politicians to act to protect the environment, workers, consumers or financial stability if doing so would affect corporate profits.
The Tusk proposal includes commitments to:
* work towards ” specific targets at EU and national levels for reducing burden on business, particularly in the most onerous areas for companies”
* “review the body of existing EU legislation” with a view to scrapping unduly onerous rules ( the Council also “invites the Commission to propose repealing measures that … impose a disproportionate regulatory burden”).
There’s little new in here – this process has been going on for some time, and a new ‘Inter Institutional Agreement’ changing how the European Parliament, Commission and Council pass new laws is already on its way to being agreed. It’s largely modelled on existing UK processes designed to “[put] the needs of businesses centre stage”, which have gone largely unnoticed by civil society.
“The effect of these ‘burden reduction targets’ may therefore be to transfer costs from corporations to wider society.”
The problem is that ‘burdens’ aren’t defined just as compliance costs or form-filling, but all costs of legislation to companies – the cost of cleaning up pollution, of giving employees paid maternity leave, even the profits they lose if harmful products like tobacco or neonicotinoids are restricted or banned. The effect of these ‘burden reduction targets’ may therefore be to transfer costs from corporations to wider society.
Campaigners are also concerned that complex ‘impact assessment’ processes will offer ample opportunities for corporate lobbyists to ward off new laws by making inflated claims about the ‘burdens’ they will impose – while civil society lacks the resource to keep up with this new bureaucracy.
The tobacco industry lobbied hard for the introduction of impact assessments in the EU, because they thought it would make public health legislation harder to implement.
Ultimately, this is a neoliberal agenda – based on the view that prosperity and jobs come not from public investment or industrial strategy but from freeing up wealthy ‘job creators’ from the rules that hold them back.
Civil society opposition is building in Brussels – but without a wider backlash, it’s very likely this will continue to be seen as an ‘easy win’ for EU negotiators keen to show they are responding to Cameron’s demands.
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