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They are still saying it

Posted by Helen Saturday, October 09, 2004

In advance of a full round-up of those European Parliament sessions with the incoming Commissioners (though I am out of my post-Tory Conference quarantine) here is a small and incomprehensible item.

Writing about the questioning of Charlie McCreevy, already described by my colleague, the Wall Street Journal Europe said yesterday:

“Mr McCreevy is a prospective member of what some analysts say is shaping up as the most free-market Commission ever.”
Who are these analysts, we should like to know? Did they pay any attention to Peter Mandelson’s assurances that he will continue with the same EU trade policies or Ms Boel’s shock at the very idea that agriculture could be run without subsidies according to market forces or to the derided Greek Environment Commissioner Dimas earning brownie points after his cheerful admission that the the European countries are unlikely to comply with Kyoto, that he will keep up the flow of legislation?

Apparently Commission President Barroso “is an avowed Atlanticist who isn’t shy about affirming his free-market credentials”. The two are not, of course, the same thing at all, and what Barroso has not been shy about is demanding a greater contribution from member states to the EU budget in order to have money for grand projects. I don’t remember anything of that kind in Adam Smith’s or David Ricardo’s writings, but perhaps I simply missed the relevant chapter.

Then, of course, there is Nellie Kroes, who has been lambasted for her business connection. Well, that is her story, anyway. Actually, if she really does believe in economic freedom she should not have become Competition Commissar but having done so, she should have realized that sitting on endless corporate boards was not a good idea. And since when have large corporations believed in the free market?

Oh yes, and Industry Commissioner has promised to look into the possibility of amending a new law on chemicals regulations, which the industry dislikes. Unbridled capitalism, this ain’t.

Well, what of Mr McCreevy? He has come up with the obligatory comment about too many regulations and the market being the best regulator. All fine and dandy, but what is he going to do about it all? What can he do about it all? The EU does not provide for repeal of legislation. Is Mr McCreevy going to introduce that concept? Um no. He wants to knock down barriers and introduce “more of a single market for business and consumers”.

Not a free market but a single market. That means yet more harmonizing and consolidating measures that will apply to firms whether they sell their produce across the EU or not. In other words, he wants more of that regulatory structure under which business across the Union is groaning. A somewhat ridiculous Conservative UK MEP, Arlene McCarthy has announced that Mr McCreevy’s approach “is exactly what we are looking for UK businesses”. Really? Has she ever been anywhere near a UK business? Has she heard their tales of woe as a result of single market regulations? Does she know how many perfectly successful small and medium sized businesses became non-viable because of inappropriate single market (I repeat not free market) regulations?

Mr McCreevy did express himself in favour of member states keeping their own laws on taxation – he would, being Irish – but that is not precisely his portfolio. Noticeably, he did not say that he will look into and deflect some of the ongoing legislation, planned years ago, turned into framework directives more recently and emerging as regulations even as we speak. Perhaps, like most commentators, he is unaware of the relentless managerial system of legislation that is the EU.