Saturday, June 21, 2008

Birds of a feather

As do birds of a feather flock together, so does big business love the EU. Predictably, therefore, we see ritual wailing in The Financial Times as a group of bloated bureaucracies and rip-off merchants, complain that the Irish "no" vote is "bad for business".

"Business" in this case is Siemens, Austria's OMV and Adidas, and their chief executives are telling the FT that the "no" vote weakens the EU on the global stage against the Middle East, Russia and Asian countries. They are thus "worried" about how it would affect Europe’s ability to compete against the US and Asia.

What worries us, though, is the commentary introduced by the journalist responsible for the story - Richard Milne. He writes:

European companies are often sceptical about the work of the EU, believing it can create unnecessary bureaucracy and that it lacks relevancy for them. But the treaty aims to streamline the European Commission and provide stronger leadership with more effective foreign policy. Companies are worried that in the scramble for natural resources, particularly oil, Europe risks being in a weaker position compared with the negotiating power of China or the US.
In that one paragraph there are so many false assumptions that one could virtually write a thesis refuting them. But, for the FT, they are simply the received wisdom and waved through without so much as a raised eyebrow.

However, it comes to something when Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer, chief executive of OMV, the Austrian oil and gas company, feels able to say, "I am quite disappointed by the decision of the Irish people," while Peter Löscher, head of Siemens, Europe's largest engineering group, glibly talks of seeing "a strong EU as very important" and complaining that "it isn't at the moment."

Do we really care that Herbert Hainer, head of Adidas - the world’s second largest sporting goods group – thinks that: "This [the referendum result] is definitely a setback for the European Union," adding, that the lack of a strong Europe would hurt business "in competition with the US market and with the Asian market, or China in the future"?

But, undoubtedly, we should care when, according to the FT the (unnamed) chairman of a large German financial services company says, "This has to be the last time a small country can upset things like this."

Not only do birds of a feather flock together – they think together and come up with the same answers. And they are not to our advantage.


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