With Brussels keeping its transatlantic trade negotiations quiet, we could soon be scratching our heads wondering why our elected representatives can’t protect their citizens from the clenched fist of corporate greed. Van Poynton takes a look at at the growing shift in power from governments to faceless corporations.
David Cronin is that rarest thing: a journalist worth reading. His 2010 book Europe’s Alliance with Israel, exposing EU complicity in Israel’s apartheid of the Palestinian Occupied Territories, earned him high praise – with veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk saying it left him “breathless”.
His latest, Corporate Europe, is a chilling report on how an army of lobbyists sets about manipulating politics in order to undermine our health, climate and peace on behalf of “60,000” of the super-rich. Brussels-based since 1995, Cronin’s relative insider status never makes his writing less than readable, and what he describes is so criminal – yet so legal – that Corporate Europe proves an intriguing, unsettling account of endemic conspiracy.
Compromised policy-making as routine is the stark image Cronin paints of EU politics and its “corporate army” whose lavish lobbying of politicos has one core objective, “slash and burn regulations designed to protect human health and the environment.”
Q. “Between 2005 and 2012, Monsanto submitted about 80 requests for approval of genetically modified (GM) crops to the [European Food Safety Authority]. By its own admission, EFSA has only issued favourable responses to such applications.” What does this mean for EU citizens?
Cronin: There’s kind of a de facto moratorium on GM foods in Europe, not because of the EFSA or the European Commission (EC), but because of the attitude of a number of European governments. Monsanto has for a long time been frustrated by such attitudes, to such an extent that it’s indicated having lost interest in Europe. But it hasn’t lost interest. I know from my own research that there’s lots of discussions going on, mainly in secret, where the biotech industry is trying to end this de facto moratorium.
And just recently the EC authorised Pioneer 1507 maize, Pioneer [DuPont] being one of the world’s major biotech companies. So there’s deliberate efforts being made to speed the process of getting GMO onto shelves. And these new trade talks between the EU and US [the proposed, must-oppose Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] are probably being used as a vehicle to achieve that. There’s a lot of talk about “regulatory convergence” between the EU and US, which basically means ending what’s called the “precautionary principle” here in Europe, whereby European governments or authorities can say no to particular foods if they have good reason to believe they may be harmful.
Q. Some of the more diabolical aspects you touch on are groups like Frontex, “the EU’s border management agency”, and the European Defence Agency…
Cronin: Obviously we’re seeing a troubling rise of the far right and foreigners are being scapegoated in many countries. But it’s important to underline that there are perhaps even more serious discussions taking place, with no real public scrutiny, at EU level. And recently the Lampedusa tragedy, in which 360 migrants drowned, has actually given a new impetus to this work. Such tragedies are being exploited as an opportunity to escalate plans to use drones for tracking asylum seekers on their way to Europe and to stop them reaching European shores. The response from the EU’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, was basically that we should deploy drones for such purposes as quickly as possible, which is outrageous. Drones are warplanes and these asylum seekers are from the poorest countries in the world, doing nothing more sinister than fleeing poverty.
Q. Would you agree with Vincent Browne’s description of the Irish as a “beaten” people?
Cronin: I’ve seen briefing papers, prepared for senior EU officials ahead of the Irish general election in 2010, that basically said the political parties can say what they want in the run-up to the election, they can talk all they want about ‘burning the bondholders’ but at the end of the day they will be compelled to stick to agreements that Brian Cowen and his cronies made in 2010. And under those agreements they, or we, will repay the bondholders (of course, ‘bondholders’ is a synonym for French, German, and some UK and US, banks) that had facilitated the extreme gambling of [Seán] Fitzpatrick and [Seán] Quinn.
There has been more resistance to this in Spain and Greece, and one reason may be that the Irish are simply leaving the country. According to some the exodus is at levels unseen since the Famine, whether that’s true or not it’s certainly extremely high and I think is one explanation for why we’ve not seen protests as large in Ireland as we have elsewhere.
Q. Most people rely on state-corporate media for news, where the sort of processes you report tend to be portrayed benignly or, normally, are simply omitted from coverage.
Cronin: I was home for three weeks while the Croke Park discussions were taking place and I felt like attacking the television. RTÉ just completely missed the point. It was being portrayed as this sort of technical adjustment, whereas it’s part of a much bigger attempt to perpetuate the austerity agenda and destroy the welfare state and, to a large degree, the unions.
There’s a very kind of cosy relationship here between officialdom and those supposed to be holding officialdom to account. Because journalism is generally quite badly paid, many abandon the profession and go to the more lucrative side of the fence and become propagandists for the EC, other public authorities or the private sector. Journalists here are just as much a part of what’s known as the Brussels ‘beltway’ as politicians or lobbyists. We spout the same jargon, basically. We drink in the same pubs, eat in the same restaurants.