Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Another "perestroika" think-tank

Readers of this blog who have long memories will recall the excitement caused among Western politicians, journalists, academics and other analysts Mikhail Gorbachev's concept of "perestroika", otherwise known as reconstruction. It was a wonderful get-out clause for those who fought hard against all evidence about the Soviet system. Here was a leader who believed in that system but wanted to reform it.

Some of us maintained that it could not be done and we turned out to be right. In case anybody is wondering, there was no mass resignation of all those experts who turned out to be wrong.

It is, however, a very useful expression and there are many "perestroika" organizations, both europhiliac and eurosceptic. We used to refer in those terms to the Centre for European Reform, but that has changed in the last two or three years and become europhiliac without much attention being paid to any possible reconstruction though they do, from time to time, call for reform of something or other in the European Union.

Its long-standing director, Charles Grant, Jacques Delors' biographer, has now turned up in another "perestroika" organization, Business for New Europe. Actually, it has existed since 2006 but has now turned up on my horizon or, to be quite precise, in my e-mail inbox as part of the regular information I get from the Stockholm Network, a pan-European network of market-oriented organizations.

So what is Business for New Europe and what does it hope to achieve? It "is an independent coalition of business leaders articulating a positive case for reform in Europe" and its aim is "to support the UK's active engagement in Europe, and a reformed, enlarged and free-market EU". This is rather a muddled set of aims as there seems to be no difference in the minds of those who wrote them between Europe and the European Union. Furthermore, the "reformed, enlarged and free-market EU" is nothing much more than a pipe-dream even if BNE and its talented staff could define what they meant.

Going past all the various refugees from the short-lived "Business for Europe", ex-FCO people, including Sir Stephen Wall, and Charles Grant we come to those who, presumably, actually run the place. Well, decide on the policy, at least, as it is run undoubtedly by badly paid assistants and unpaid interns.

Zaki Cooper has been Director of Business for New Europe SINCE February 2006. Prior to that, he worked as the Head of External Relations for the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks and in public affairs for One to One/T-Mobile between 2000 and 2003. He has also worked for a British MP and a U.S. Congressman. He has a BA in Politics and Parliamentary Studies from Leeds University and an MPhil from Cambridge University in Social and Political Sciences. As well as his role at BNE, Zaki is also an inter-faith consultant and commentator.
Vrey nice, too. All the right qualifications: degrees from good universities but dubious subjects; jobs in public relations and work for various politicians; inter-faith consultant (wot dat?) . I see no particular reason to suppose he knows anything about the EU but I may well be wrong. Certainly this letter to the Wall Street Journal, published on July 1, does not exactly fill one with any kind of faith (if I may use that word) in Mr Cooper's knowledge and understanding:
Wall Street Journal, 1 July 2009

EU Membership Is a Boon For Britain

It is ironic that there is still so much ambivalence and hostility toward the European Union at a time when the direction of travel has been toward Britain ("The Dis-Uniting Kingdom," State of the Union, June 30). Since 2004, the EU has expanded to 27 member states and has made progress on strengthening the single market, such as the services directive which liberalized services, accounting for 70 percent of the European economy.

Developments in the area of financial services illustrate that the debate has moved in a Britain-friendly direction. Britain's financial industry is an important component of the European economy and London has established itself as the leading financial market in the EU. The single market and in particular the free movement of capital has been integral to that process. The corollary of the single market is regulation, and again many of the efforts to coordinate the regulatory structure have helped the development of financial services. Obviously the financial crisis has necessitated some new thinking and changes to the regulatory system. But rather than a federalized single regulator, many of the ideas being considered aim to increase coordination as well as strengthen warning systems. Such measures could make the British financial services industry even more robust to withstand economic turbulence. While there are specific regulatory threats such as the directive on Alternative Investment Fund Managers, the EU can manage overall to help rather than hinder Britain's financial services dynamism.

Zaki CooperDirector, Business for New Europe
They do also have a Public Affairs Executive:

Arif Shah joined Business for New Europe in September 2008. Prior to this,he worked at Westminster for a Member of Parliament and a member of the House of Lords. Arif has been closely involved with various non-governmental organisations including Human Rights Watch, Médecins Sans Frontières and WarChild Canada. He has a MA in International Studies from Durham University and BA in Political Science from Dalhousie University (Canada).
A true denizen of the tranzi-world.

The Advisory Council gives us a list of all the usual suspects from the business world but it hardly matters. No think-tank ever asks for advice from its Council. They would be mad to do so.

What worries me more than anything is that I can easily imagine that the Conservative government, should we have one after May next year, will turn to organizations like Business for New Europe for advice because they are so on-message.