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Babes in arms

Posted by Richard Monday, November 08, 2004

The annual CBI conference starts today and, according to The Times (online version), its president John Sunderland is going to be using the event to whine about the EU.

"British business is frustrated with Europe's failed attempts to catch up with the US economy", he will say, in an attempt to send a message to incoming EU president José Manuel Barroso that a handful of governments must not be allowed to hold back the urgent need to reform Europe’s economy.

In the time-honoured style of newspapers reporting events before they happen – and then ignoring them afterwards – we learn that Sunderland will make these comments when he delivers the opening address of the conference. "The vision of Europe becoming the world's most competitive economy remains a very much distant one," he will then tell his audience.

All of this, of course, is a bit late. For most if its existence, the CBI has been staunchly "pro-EU" and its predecessor, the FBI, was one of the organisations which campaigned for British entry to the EEC. Now, when things are not going so well – and certainly not delivering the benefits that the CBI expected, Mr Sunderland still has not got the message,

Despite the obvious and growing evidence that they represent structural failures, he is to tell business leaders that these problems can be cured. The CBI wants the commission to reduce regulations and increase the flexibility and skills of the labour force, while it wants the member states to carry out economic reform, especially of unsustainable pensions and social security arrangements in countries such as Germany.

And still, Sunderland will proclaim its fealty to the CBI's EU masters, proclaiming that: "British business is pro-European. That is not a political view, just a statement of this country’s economic interest… but we would be failing in our duty if we did not speak out when policymakers endanger wealth creation and jobs."

It really is quite surprising (although it should not be) how apparently intelligent and successful businessmen can be so naïve about political issues. Like the businessmen supporting the self-appointed "Vote-No" campaign – who just love Europe but hate the constitution, politically, these people are babes in arms.