European bosses lament that nobody loves them while Labour promises them employers' paradise


Last week EU employers' lobby group UNICE gathered in the European Parliament's hemicycle to sing their annual hommage to the Great God Competitiveness. Enthusiasm for this particular form of evangelicalism seems to be at an all-time low, however. The bosses are feeling unloved, jilted by a population that refuses to appreciate the sacrifices they make for us. “When I was made head of UNICE in March, the European Union seemed well placed to confront change,” said new top man Ernest-Antoine Seillière. “But when I actually took up my post on 1st July, the situation was completely different: two referenda which rejected the European Constitutional Treaty, no budget agreement between the member states, growth kaput and differences of opinion regarding the Union's borders. We are going through a major crisis.”

In a context marked by the increasing refusal across every country to accept a neo-liberal Europe, the 'voice of business in Europe', as UNICE styles itself, now confesses without mincing words that convincing people that 'liberalisation' is a synonym for 'opening up the world' is problematic. “It's much easier to hurl abuse and denounce globalisation than it is to praise it. Today you need a certain amount of courage to celebrate the opening up of the world. What multinationals are anxious to do is to offer work and a livelihood to hundreds of millions of people,” Mr Seillière, who was previously head of the French employers' organisation, ought to convince his audience. “Take, for example, major petroleum concerns – that's what they do, they offer life, but nobody is willing to recognise it. Then, all of a sudden, a tanker sinks, there's a black tide and everyone says that pollution is caused by the capitalists. On the other hand, we had a huge storm in France in 1999 and when EDF (which, spectrezine would point out, remains for the time being at least in public ownership) rapidly restored the electricity supply, this event allowed everyone to sing the praises of the public service. We must repeat that what we do leads to more positive than negative elements.”

After Mr Sellière's heartrending outburst, UNICE responded to its allegedly crisis-stricken plight by calling for more of the same. “We support the European social model and we are expecting a strong message,' Mr Sellière continued. “The values behind the social model cannot be maintained unless we have growth in Europe. The member states must leave behind a mentality of job protection to move towards a mentality of job creation!”

What are needed, apparently, are a number of 'structural' reforms of the labour market (flexibilisation and making jobs less secure), and the liberalisation of the service sector (all speakers, including Seillière, deplored the 'slow pace' in the 'necessary' adoption of the Bolkestein directive): “The combination of the directive on services and that on working time could represent a very good solution.” Extremely worried by the prospect of a new blockage in the negotiations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), UNICE is calling, at the behest of the British, for a soft-pedal approach to agriculture in order to gain advantages for industry and on services.

Barry Gardiner, British Under Secretary of State for Competitiveness (we hope the bosses were honoured by the visit of such a dignatory) represented the current British Presidency of the European Union. “The British Presidency has put forward ambitious proposals, but a Presidency cannot force; it can only facilitate,” he lamented. “Understanding and overcoming frontiers – both physical and psychological – is at the heart of the quest for competitiveness in today’s business environment.” Enterprises were being strangled by red tape and could no longer create employment. Regulatory constraints must be fundamentally reviewed. The first duty was of course to protect the weakest workers from exploitation, but at the same time a 'flexible' labour market is the best protection for workers. “Today’s additional social protection is tomorrow’s unemployment. There is no benefit to us from having the best science base in the world if we do not invest in it to turn ideas into products that people want to buy.” It was imperative that we change. “It is not simply the right path, it is the only one.” If, for any reason, you would like to read the rest of Mr Gardiner's embarrassing drivel, go to this website

This item is based on a report written in French by Thomas Lemahieu for the French left daily l’Humanité. English language translations from the daily can be read here