A Rough Guide to the European Round
Table of Industrialists
By Dr. Noel Currid
January 30, 2006
The European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) has been in the forefront of encouraging further EU integration for over twenty years. However, many EU-critical campaigners appear unaware of the ERT. Intended to increase awareness, this article will merely sketch the ERT and its activities. Making no claims to originality,  the article briefly examines the ERT's origins; its structure; its world-view and working methods; and its "achievements."
The ERT's origins
In the early 1980s the erstwhile European Economic Community was unable to respond effectively to the economic "stagflation" which Western Europe had been suffering from for almost a decade. At the same time there had been little movement towards further integration within the EEC. However, Pehr Gyllenhammar, Volvo's Chief Executive Officer (CEO), started campaigning for an overall scheme "to spur growth, and build industry and infrastructure" in Western Europe. Working closely with Fiat's Umberto Agnelli, Philips' Wisse Dekker and the then EEC Industry Commissioner Etienne Davignon, Gyllenhammar drew together a group of leading European CEOs into the ERT with the objective of "relaunching Europe." Gyllenhammar declared "Europe really is doing nothing. It's time for the business leaders to enter this vacuum and seize the initiative," [2} while Dekker argued that "If we wait for our governments to do anything, we will be waiting for a long time. You can't get all tied up with politics. Industry has to take the initiative. There is no other way."  In April 1983 the ERT's inaugural meeting was held.
The ERT's structure
The ERT now has 50 members, representing companies from 18 European countries, including three non-EU states (Norway, Switzerland, and Turkey).  Its current chairman is Gerhard Cromme of Thyssenkrupp, with Alain Joly of Air Liquide and Jorman Ollila of Nokia as Vice-Chairs. Other companies represented on the ERT include DaimlerChrysler, Ericsson, Fiat, Nestle, Renault and Siemens. Membership is personal, rather than corporate, and strictly invitation only.
ERT members meet in twice yearly plenary sessions, which determine the ERT's work programme and priorities, budget and publications. Decisions are made by consensus. Much of the ERT's work is done by Working Groups established at Plenary Sessions.  The ERT's Secretary General is in "use charge of a small Brussels-based secretariat which co-ordinates projects, acts as a contact point, provides administrative support and publishes ERT reports. 
"This is not just another lobby organization" (Pehr Gyllenhammar)
The ERT may sound like just another pressure group lobbying Brussels. However, it was formed with the express intention of furthering EU integration and shaping it to benefit those European-based transnational corporations with "a significant manufacturing and technological presence worldwide" represented on its board. The ERT believes that "industry is entitled to...an EU which functions like an integrated economic system with a single centre of overall decision making." The ERT has consistently supported the removal of national vetoes and of other forms of "fragmentation" within the EU: "The problem is that in the individual countries the politicians have to gather votes."  By way of analogy, "The United States could do nothing if every decision had to be ratified by 52 [sic] states."  At the same time the ERT claims to be primarily interested in the economic consequences of further EU integration, and not be overly concerned with the political consequences: "Our job is to say that potential gains are much more important...It is not for us to make speeches about the political unity of Europe." 
The ERT is also distinctive from other lobbying groups, as it does not bother with detailed legislation: "We don't deal with national issues. We only talk about the overall questions."  It is also distinctive in its ability to gain access to major players in the EU, both at national and supra-national level. The ERT's website boasts that:
"At European level, the ERT has contacts with the European Council, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament."
"Every six months the ERT strives to meet the government that has the EU presidency to discuss priorities."
"At national level, each member communicates ERT's views to its own national government and parliament, business colleagues and industrial federations, other opinion-formers, and the press." 
In short, the ERT's aim is to set the agenda at the highest levels of the EU, most notably the European Commission. The evidence of two decades suggests that it has been extremely successful.
The Irresistible Rise of the ERT?
By 1993 "Other lobby groups, when questioned about the influence of the ERT, respond[ed] that the ERT is no longer a lobby group, but has become part of the EU apparatus."  There seems a fair amount of evidence over the past two decades to support this assertion.
The Single Market: For Jacques Delors, the ERT was "one of the main driving forces behind the Single Market."  In late 1984 the European Commission put forward a package of proposals to remove trade barriers within the EEC, eliciting little enthusiasm from either member governments or business. However, in January 1985 Wisse Dekker published Europe 1990: An Agenda for Action, which proposed eliminating trade barriers, harmonising regulations, and abolishing fiscal frontiers within the EEC by 1990. Europe 1990 was part of an ERT document Changing Scales, which was sent to EEC heads of state. Three days after Dekker presented his Europe 1990 initiative, the newly appointed Jacques Delors delivered a speech to the European Parliament closely matching Dekker's proposal. A few months later, Industry Commissioner Lord Cockfield published his White Paper, the basis of the Single European Act, which postponed the ERT's 1990 deadline for internal market completion until 1992. However, the ERT had achieved its main aim.
Trans-European Networks (TENs): From its beginning the ERT regarded the development of "A single interacting system or meganetwork with a single output - mobility" as a top priority.  Claiming that existing infrastructures formed a barrier to unrestricted flows of goods in the single market, the ERT argued alongside the Commission for the adoption of TENs, the largest infrastructure plan in history. TENs includes the Channel Tunnel, numerous airport expansions and 12,000 kilometres of new motorways. Through an intensive lobbying campaign, which specifically targeted national transport ministers, the ERT helped put TENs squarely on the EU's agenda, culminating in the inclusion of TENs in the Maastricht Treaty. In 1991 the ERT published Missing Networks, which advocated the introduction of "user charges -- to distribute the funds for improving effective transport" i.e. toll roads and road pricing. 
The Maastricht Treaty: the ERT was very active during the 1990-1 Intergovernmental Negotiations for the Maastricht Treaty, meeting regularly with Commissioners and national policy makers. As early as 1985 the ERT had argued that the internal market could only be completed by introducing a single currency. The timetable for EMU implementation in the ERT's 1991 Reshaping Europe report is very similar to that contained in the Maastricht Treaty. In 1995, the ERT "wrote a formal letter to all heads of government saying 'When you meet at the Madrid Summit, will you please decide once and for all that monetary union will start on the day agreed at Maastricht and with the criteria agreed at Maastricht.' We wrote to them; we asked them to do that. And they did it. They put out an announcement in Madrid and said exactly that: 'We will do it.' " 
The ERT post-Maastricht: In 1993 the European Commission put forward Delors' White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness, and Employment. At its media launch, Delors thanked the ERT for its support in its preparation; a week earlier he had taken part in the ERT's press launch of its similar report Beating the Crisis. Furthermore, Beating the Crisis suggested the creation of a EU-wide body based upon President Clinton's Competitiveness Council. In February 1995 the EU set up a Competitiveness Advisory Group. Under Jacques Santer relations between the ERT and European Commission continued to be warm, since "By and large, our priorities are the same."  The ERT was largely happy with the outcome of the 1997 Amsterdam summit, after heavy lobbying, especially by the strengthening of the Commission President's powers, which would "minimise that lack of coherence within the Commission which makes life so hard for industry."  At the same time, the ERT was strongly supportive of the EU's expansion into Eastern Europe: "it is as if we had discovered a new South-east Asia on our doorstep." 
The ERT in the new Millennium: Prospects & Problems
On June 23rd 2003, the ERT held a 20th Anniversary Reception at the Palais d'Egmont in Brussels, with Romano Prodi as guest of honour. In a speech there, ERT Chairman Gerhard Cromme declared that the ERT "is proud of having being at the forefront of advocating these reforms [single market, EMU and EU enlargement] and of what the Union has achieved. Nevertheless, much remains still to be done..." 
In the new Millennium the ERT has continued to press for further integration, and has called for more powers to the European Commission. In 2002 the ERT told members of the convention on the EU's future that a stronger Commission was "vital," since it was "the genuinely Europe-focused institution and the one most capable of articulating the common European interest above national and regional interests." The ERT also opposed any erosion of the Commission's powers in economic affairs through their transfer to EU member states or to a system of shared responsibility.  For ERT's Wim Philippa "the Commission must fully retain its current executive powers."  With the proposed EU Constitution ensuring that the Commission would keep the sole right to proposed new laws (Article I:26) and firmly establishing the primacy of EU laws over those of national governments, (Article I:7)  the ERT's wishes on the the EU's political front appear to have been granted.
However, as Gerhard Cromme has recently commented,  the push for EU political integration in recent years has not been matched by sufficient changes in the economic sphere for the ERT. The ERT welcomed the call at the March 2000 Lisbon European Council to make the EU the "most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world" by 2010:  not surprisingly, as it had been heavily involved in the meeting's preparation. In 2000, ERT member Daniel Janssen declared that implementing the Lisbon proposals would cause a "double revolution" in Europe: "reducing the power of the state and of the public sector and deregulation" and "transferring many of the nation-states' powers to a more modern and internationally minded structure at European level" i.e. the European Commission. 
In reality, even by 2002 "The vision of Lisbon is slipping as fast at it was decided and the commitment is no longer there."  Before the March 2005 EU Summit, where the "Lisbon agenda" was discussed, the ERT wrote to the European Council, calling upon the EU to back the European Commission's call for a "New start for the Lisbon strategy."  Furthermore, the ERT was unhappy about the "Lisbon agenda" being downplayed to increase the chances of the EU Constitution being approved in referendums. 
The ERT described the French and Dutch votes against the EU Constitution in the early Summer of 2005 as a "wake-up call." However, the ERT did not regard these votes as a signal that the process of EU integration should slow down:
"The results demand an immediate, constructive and determined response from the heads of government of Europe. It is time for positive leadership to engage public support, restore economic dynamism to the single European market, and allow Europe to act with confidence and conviction on the world stage." 
That is, the ERT saw the crisis over the EU Constitution as another opportunity to push the EU further towards the goals it has been advocating since 1983.
By way of a conclusion
Hopefully, this brief tour of the ERT's activities over the years shows that it is an extremely important player in moves pushing us towards a de facto United States of Europe. The ERT has been able to achieve many of its aims in alliance with the European Commission, an undemocratic, bureaucratic and unaccountable body par excellence. The ERT is no friend of the rights of Europe's peoples to democracy and self-determination. For the ERT, the bigger the EU's "democratic deficit," with the Commission plugging much of the gap, the better.
Dr. Currid is Chairman of Kilburn Democracy Movement ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
1 The article draws a great deal upon Belen Balanya et al (2003) Europe Inc : Regional & Global Restructuring & the Rise of Corporate Power (London: Pluto Press). Unless otherwise indicated, the information in this article can be found in Chapter 3 of Europe Inc: "Writing the Script: The European Round Table of Industrialists," pp.19-36.
2 George Monbiot (2000) Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain (London Macmillan), pp.320-1.
3 Newsweek 28 March 1983, quoted in "European Round Table (ERT): agenda setting for the EU" Corporate Watch magazine Issue 12 (Autumn 2000).
4 A full list is available at the ERT website. There are seven representatives of British companies: Paul Adams, British American Tobacco; Martin Broughton, British Airways: Tom McKillop, Astrazeneca; John Rose, Rolls-Royce: Peter Sutherland, BP; Ben Verwaayen, BT; & Paul Walsh, Diageo.
5 There are eight at the moment: Accounting Standards: Competition Policy; Competitiveness; Employment/Industrial Relations & Social Policy; Enlargement & Neighbourhood Policy; Environment; Foreign Economic Relations: & Taxation. http://www.ert.be/pd/pdb/endb00.htm
7 Newsweek 18 April 1983, quoted in Corporate Watch, op cit.
8 Keith Richardson, former ERT Secretary-General, quoted in Balanya et al, op cit, p.20.
9 Caroline Walcot, former ERT Assistant Secretary-General, quoted in Balanya et al, op cit, p.20.
10 Keith Richardson, quoted in Balanya et al, op cit, p. 62. The reference to 52 US states was in the original. Would you trust the advice of someone who got such basic political facts right?
11 Keith Richardson, quoted in Balanya et al, op cit, p.31.
12 Keith Richardson, quoted in Balanya et al, op cit, p.20.
13 http://www.ert.be/pc/enc03.htm 14 Ann Doherty & Olivier Hoedeman (1994) "Misshaping Europe-The European Round Table of Industrialists" The Ecologist, Vol.24, No.4 (July/August).
15 Balanya et al, op cit, p.22
16 Balanya et al, op cit, p.22
17 Doherty and Hoedeman, op cit.
18 As the ERT's 1991 document Reshaping Europe put it more succinctly: "Japan has one currency. The US has one currency. How can the Community live with twelve?" ibid.
19 Balanya et al, p.25.
20 Keith Richardson, quoted in Balanya et al, op cit, p.62.
21 Keith Richardson quoted in Balanya et al, op cit, p.29.
22 http://www.ert.be/pd/pdb/endb600.htm 23 Paul Betts (2002) "Business chiefs seek stronger Commission" Financial Times 26 June, p.8
24 Interview with Wim Philippa EuroActiv.com, 18 May 2003.
25 Information c/o Democracy Movement.
26 Hugh Williamson (2005) "Companies hope to loosen their chains" Financial Times, 14 March, p.12.
28 Balanya et al, op cit, p.xx. Janssen was speaking to a Tokyo meeting of the Trilateral Commission.
29 Morris Tabaksblat, Reed Elsevier chairman, quoted in Betts, op cit, p.8.
30 http://www.ert.be/pdf/ERT Message to Spring Council 2005- Letter to PM Juncker.pdf
31 Williamson, op cit, p.12.
32 http://www.ert.be/ERT press release -EU Constitutional Treaty.pdf
See also http://www.spectrezine.org/europe/corporateeurope.html http://www.spectrezine.org/europe/Denny3.htm http://www.spectrezine.org/europe/currid.htm