Less than half of the European Citizens have felt it necessary to vote. The new Parliament will if Eurosceptics from the UK, Bavaria, Austria and other states within the conservative parites are also counted, have an enormous amount of members which do not want a better Europe but no Europe at all. To those who want a socially responsible Europe where different cultures are seen as a challenge for a unity in diversity and those who just want to open markets for the biggest industries a third big party has emerged which threatens both. But strangely enough this will not as propagated by the two German heads of the biggest fractions lead to a joint effort for a new European credibility. Who ever dreams of such a big coalition of constructive forces should just look to Germany where such coalition has managed basically to tear down rules and borders and give guarantees to banks but was unable to create a new ideal for a sustainable future that could convince the electorate. The same may happen to the EU if the cultural nihilism present in its market policies is not overruled by a new effort in consumer protection and corporate social responsibility. It is therefore crucial that within the Socialist and the Conservative Parties as well as in the green and left opposition forces those who want to overcome the neo-liberal Europe of free markets come together and define the role of the EU in the economic and cultural future of Europe. In this respect the control of the EU-Commission by the Parliament should be put onto the first place. Control of its recruiting, control of its power relations, control of its relations to the industry lobby, rejection of white, green and red papers who have no legitimacy, transparency on how expertise is generated and used and a clear whistleblower Directive to get at least some self-control into it.
Whatever people perceive as European by now is primarily defined neither by the Parliament nor by the Council. It is the EU-Commission which is the visible expression of its aspirations and therefore it is also the fault of the European Commission that people do not see why they need Europe besides its travel and currency opportunities. But it is not even the Commission. There is a second Commission within the Commission, the financial Commission, which based on neo-liberal assumptions overshadowed the rest of the Commissioners with their harsh neo-liberal policy statements based on one argument only – Europe is either a market or nothing at all. A recent interview by Neelie Kroes as well as the pressure exercised by the liberal as well as the conservatives to dominate the financial Commission with neo-liberal candidates like Fox and Merz should be concern enough to look what the new Parliament will do with regard to its right to approve the Commissioners.
There is Power in Brussels – not in Strasbourg
People in Europe have been reluctant to vote on Sunday. All newspapers credited them for the good arguments supporting such abstensions
The European Parliament they are only able to vote for is located in three cities, rarely present and legally restricted to comments on what comes from the powerful EU Commission. If there is control of the Commission at all it comes from the Council where national opposition parties are excluded. Governments instead play a backstage zero-sum game. The support for one national interest is paid for by giving in to another country’s special interest. The Public and the Parliament is excluded. Many see their members as national politician which got the golden handshake to leave the country and its politics to others. Only protest on the streets in Brussels can give the sovereign, the People, some influence as shown in the prevention of the market only approach to services in the draft Directive on services presented by Commissioner Bolkestein from the Netherlands. In banking and finance nobody has yet realised that the same prescriptions eliminated from the Service Directive are dominating tenth of highly complicated financial services Directives.
While in the core questions the big Three (Germany, UK, France) dominate the political agenda there are „expert countries“ where the enormous industry lobby in Brussels has invested most. For financial services not the big three but the financial three made up of the closely interlinked UK, Ireland and the Netherlands are in charge. They have built up a solid neo-liberal pressure group which directly channels private banking interests into EU-Policies. There are nearly no German, French or Belgian or other countries‘ officials in the Commission or in the Parliament or in the different Councils who are really knowledgeable in financial services and consumer protection and who speak enough English to follow these experts in their deliberations.
Control the Commission and its Financial Three – a lesson learned from the financial crisis
But control would be necessary since the financial three have recently declared bankrupt for their banking systems. Even the most eminent experts in banking and finance starting with Josef Ackermann (Deutsche Bank) and continuing with Jean-Claude Trichet or Dominique Strauss-Kahn and others admit that deregulation of financial markets has been one of the core reasons why greed has turned into destruction. The bill for this deregulation is now paid by lower income households who have to sacrifice their jobs and family well-being for this irresponsible politics where markets have replaced law, cut-throat competition replaced regional responsibility, and hazardous profit seeking sustainable developments and public involvement.
One of the driving forces of this development were the three neo-liberal „market“ DGs: DG Market, Competition and „Consumer Protection“. Their expertise has been concentrated and misused to restrict the influence of the culturally informed Departments of Justice, Social Policy and Regions to areas like Microlending, education etc. Tenths of Directives have been passed without significant parliamentary control to deregulate national achievements in taming the unlimited powers of banks. They have transformed banks from intermediaries between surplus savings and productive credit into investors that seek to inflate money volumes for mere money gains. Council and Parliament have delivered their affidavit of means to the public by creating the Lamfalussy procedure where experts and lobbyist have overtaken the regulatory functions from them in the financial sector („more effective and quicker“) and where politicians are reduced to spectators and apathetics.
The Commission still floods the public with white and green papers describing and defining our financial future. These papers come directly from financial lobbyists and are sometime literally identical with papers like for example the paper from the European Banker’s Round Table. They have no democratic basis at all, are no-where voted upon, and have been prepared with public money by biased research selected by public functioners for life time. This second layer of employees at the Commission even escape the control of their superiors as the long term Commissioner on Enterprise and Insdustry Günter Verheugen revealed last year.
Also within the Commission there is no control. President Barroso has been chosen for his political weakness even at home in Portugal. He administers a Commission where single Commissioners have built up their own kingdoms. It comes from inside the Commission that there is a Commission within the Commission consisting out of the three financial Departments mentioned above.
The neo-liberal ALDE Commission inside the Commission
The financial Commission is in the hands of the liberal parties especially from the financial triangle of states. A core role plays the smal Dutch Liberal Party VVD which already sent Frits Bolkestein (DG Market) and now Neelie Kroes (DG Competition) to Brussels. The Party has to a large extend ruined the Dutch welfare model and is located right of the Dutch conservatives. It lacks the cultural and human rights wing we are used to have in liberal parties in the UK and Germany. (see its Islam critique Ayaan Hirsi Ali) It is the perfect expression the economic believes of Neo-Liberalism. This party is member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) which in Germany is represented by the FDP and in the UK by the Liberal Democrats while in Italy the Margherita joins them. This rather small group with 100 out of 785 members of the Parliament thus exercises a major influence on the European financial policies.
DG Internal market is now headed by the Irish minister of Finance who at home overlooked the policies of creating an Irish off-shore financial market within the EU between 1997 and 2004. McCreevy’s party Fianna Fáil joins the VVD in Brussel within ALDE. ALDE and the Irish Finanna Fáil already claim the next Commissioner job in this triangle presenting its leading figure Pat Cox who already served as a president of the European parliament. At DG Consumer Protection we meet a Commissioner from the Bulgarian liberal party, NDSV, who again joins the ranks of ALDE in Brussels. Her predecessor, Markos Kyprianou, was a Zyprian representative of ALDE coming from the liberal DIKO party who had been founded by his father. From England we still remember Peter Mandelson in the Commission.
Neelie Kroes – a Believer in Neo-Liberal Values
The most eminent representative of neo-liberalism is presently of the ALDE Commissioner Neelie Kroes. In an interview to Süddeutsche Zeitung of today she managed („schwadronierte“ (FinanzNachrichten)) to argue that the most important lesson from the crisis is to dismantle the German banking system. She especially opposes the state run savings banks and small coop banks which presently guarantee the supply of credit and retail services for consumers and small businesses. Instead she favours the creation fo more major banks like HRE which as well as some Landesbanken that have turned into investment banks can only survive with taxpayers‘ support. While in Germany everybody praises the stability of this retail banking sector compared with the situation in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands, Neelie Kroes asks for „more competence for Brussels in supervising the German banking industry“, calls the savings- and coop banking system out-of-date and requires a total privatisation of the system according to the UK and Dutch model. Although it is the private sector who presently gets most of state support Kroes is able to argue that the abolishment of local savings banks would be a major precaution against future collapses of the financial system.
„Our areas of direct involvement are state aid funding and merger control.“ is the definition of her task which is a strange definition for a department which instead of managing an area has to fulfill a quasi-religious comittement.
While merger control has become unfashionable Kroes has focused all its efforts on fighting state influence in the financial markets, a somehow strange attitude nowadays. Germany should help to promote concentration in their home banking market in order to gain a more important financial role in the world. Kroess seems to forget that recently the largest bank of the world, Citigroup, had to be nationalised while RBS followed.
This is a long term programme as her speeches from before the crisis reveal:
„Progress has already been made in integrating the EU financial markets under the framework of the Financial Services Action Plan.“ (which is solely done by the Commission)
„When we launched our inquiry, we could already see major signs of weakness in the strength of competitive forces the retail banking sector:
- First, there were clear signs that markets were still fragmented along national lines.
- Second, we could see widespread barriers to entry – particularly for market players who wished to do business in other Member States.
- Thirdly, there was evidence that consumers and SMEs were facing a range of obstacles in getting efficient and good value banking services – from narrow product choice to difficulties in choosing and moving between providers. …“
The blind value given to access instead of quality is further underlined in the following remarks:
„The second fundamental question which we asked is: why is it so rare for consumers to switch between banks? We found that less than 8 per cent of European customers decided to switch their current accounts in 2005 – and this low level of customer mobility is worrying. We see it across the board in the retail banking sector and it means that European customers are not putting competitive pressure on banks to force them to provide better services and value for money. „
An Alternative to the ALDE Commission
Financial issues are too important to leave it to the neo-liberal representatives of some smaller parties especially from countries where banks have dominated the politics of the last decade and now created enormous social problems for those who cannot be blamed for it.
While of course the liberal parties are the first to stop this kind of using the democratic weakness of the EU Institutions in Brussels by creating a neo-liberal Commission within the Commission thos big parties on the left and the right who represent the majority of ordinary citizens in Europe have to be asked why the voted for the creation of such in groups which have a devastating effect on socially and culturally informed national politics.
Why is there no conservative or socialist or green who in the past decade has entered this area and backed some timid tries of Commissioner Verheugen to control this system where major private banks exercise direct influence and have direct access confounding their company policies with European politics?
Protect small banks and direct influence of people into their banks either through communal ownership (savings-banks) or co-operative ownership or through clients who care for the purpose of its investments and the quality of its credit.
Reform the EU – Parliament should decide on each Commissioner
People in Europe will start to get interested in European Elections if the Commisison, the true power in Brussels, has been freed from the lobby influence and opened to democratic control.
In so far the Parliament who has to approve each single Commissioner should start to exercise this power and stop the blackmail exercised on it by presenting the Commission only as a whole. It should at least single out the Financial Commission and vote on it separately. Parliament should also have the right to nominate own candidates and it should get the right to revoke single Commissioners. It is true that most national states have abolished since cherry picking strategy for national governments. But in Brussels in would be a good starting point to get the Commission and its neo-liberal Kings and Queens under control.
The big parties should recognise that leaving the core political field of financial services to the liberal parties and its backers in the industry makes all their efforts to create a culturally diverse and meaningful Europe vain.