Published on April 19th, 2016 | by frances6
By Andrew Macdonald, Prospect BT Nottingham
When we were in Brussels I was fascinated by the subject of lobbyists, which was raised by more than one of the speakers we heard. I could sense their concern. It is a very topical subject and those that are following the Bernie Sanders campaign in American politics will now that there are deep concerns over the Atlantic about the damage lobbyists are doing to their democracy. Remember; we the public have never been allowed a vote on any of the treaty changes in the last 40 years, but lobbyists certainly did have an influence.
The referendum campaign has created strange bedfellows on both sides. On the Remain side, trade unionists find themselves making common cause with corporate multinationals. I wanted to look further into unusual alliances. Is it possible that both sides benefit from EU membership equally?
Several weeks ago thirty six FTSE 100 bosses signed an open letter in support of Britain staying in the EU. Interestingly the figure of 36 out of 100 seems very low considering we are told big business supports remaining in the EU. Together, the businesses represented by those signatories spent 20 million Euros lobbying the EU and received 120 million Euros in grants. That is not a bad return is it? Do you believe that their support for the EU is motivated by any other reason than corporate profit?
Our distance, both physically and culturally, from Brussels begs the question how much influence do we, the people, have? Big business, it seems, has a much closer relationship and vastly more influence. We are told constantly that we benefit from having “a seat at the table” but examples of the benefits are hard to discover. How much influence can you have as one of twenty eight? Imagine if you and 27 of your neighbours had to agree on a common broadband supplier! Ah, but we would all compromise, you say! I would say that you should remember the old saying about compromise, that “A camel is a race horse designed by a committee.”
International bankers Goldman Sachs has contributed a “six figure sum” to the Remain campaign but the exact figure is undisclosed. Their CEO Gary Colm says their support is because they want London to “stay a major financial centre.” Remember when Goldman Sachs threatened to leave the UK if Britain didn’t join the Euro, and at the time forecast the demise of our financial services sector? Just as well that we did not follow their advice at the time isn’t it? Topically, the IMF also strongly advised joining the Euro.
It’s estimated that 30,000 lobbyists are involved with the EU and they are estimated to influence 75% of EU legislation, according to Ian Traynor in the Guardian last May.
I would ask everyone to put 10 minutes aside to read this article, which was a group effort by several respected journalists. It is long but, believe me, you will be shocked.
Among many shocking facts, I was dismayed by the “revolving door of senior commission officials, diplomats and MEPs who retire or quit office and instantly take up office to translate their contacts and inside knowledge into lucrative lobbying work, often by moving to an office across the road.”
Nice work if you can get it.
The good news is that the EU provides the ‘EU transparency register’ for us to research lobbying. As the name implies, it really does shine a bright light on corporate lobbying. I would recommend a look at this public and accessible website and that people do some digging on the 9000 organisations registered. You can see how many people, and what budgets, are assigned to lobbying and also what benefits they may have accrued.
So how has this common cause with the multinationals come into being? Well the single biggest rationale for remaining that I hear from the side of unions is that membership of the EU “protects a raft of worker’s rights.”
Well I want to challenge this. I would ask you, do we really believe that the British public are going to vote in any party that proposes revoking any of the major working rights legislation from the last 40 years? Are the British people really going to vote for a party that says it will have the Equal Pay Act rescinded? Or a party that wishes to reduce health and safety legislation? Or reintroduce discriminatory laws and reduce equal treatment? Or reduce paid holidays? Are those vote winners?
Do you really believe the British people would vote for any of this? I don’t, I don’t believe any party will ever propose it and, if they did, I have a huge amount of faith that we, the British people, would completely reject it.
I believe the “EU protects” argument is a red herring and that the price of believing it is getting into bed with the multinationals. In doing so, the danger is that we support the objectives of the global richest 1% and not those of our members.