Friday 25 September 2020

CEOs unite!

Now that the socialists have given up on solidarity it’s up to businesses to promote the blessings of the European Union, says Farid Tabarki.

In Europe, solidarity has always been organised on a grand scale. The Soviet Union was founded on the solidarity between workers and the friendship between peoples. The European Union came into being some thirty years later, based on the solidarity between peoples and the friendship between people. The big difference is that solidarity Soviet-style ruined the economy while the European variety stimulates it.


In the meantime Europe itself could do with some friends and solidarity. Frightened politicians shy away from the European message and preach mainly to their own parish. For some time, now support for the Union has been coming from an unexpected quarter. It’s not the happy-clappy Euro federalists humming ‘Alle Menschen werden Brüder’, or the Germans who, with the success of the Union, would consolidate their power in Europe.

It’s (organised) business that is supporting the European Union. The entrepreneurs of Europe are showing their solidarity with the oppressed. And oppressed is what the Euro MPs and commissioners, bent down under a load of euro scepticism, and anti-euro rhetoric could now be classified as being.

Employers’ organisations are greatly in favour of the free movement of goods, services, people and capital which lies at the heart of the EU. During the national election campaign in 2012, Dutch employers’ organisation VNO-NCW caused a buzz by putting up a banner on the front of their headquarters saying ‘Choose Europe and your job’. The report that went with it was called ‘The Netherlands depends on Europe’. According to these representatives of the business world, Europe is essential for Dutch prosperity.

In the UK – not the most Europhile of countries – business organisations are also making pro-European noises. The British version of the VNO-NCW, the Confederation of British Industry, emphasised the importance of Europe in a report called ‘Our Global Future’. Its authors calculated that British BNP would go up by 7.1% if the common market improves.

Being British they insist on a strong measure of subsidiarity: things that can be handled by the UK should be handled by the UK. As far as the Brits are concerned, access to the consumer markets of about half a million Europeans and common relationships with the rest of the world fall outside the boundaries of national concerns. And rightly so.

Innovation agenda

While employers’ organisations are positive about European cooperation, the same can’t be said of captains of industry. A few years ago I asked the then AkzoNobel boss Hans Wijers why this was. He said CEOs ran businesses and weren’t into influencing public opinion. He was right: shareholders aren’t known for their vision so I do understand the difficult position CEOs are in. But in the light of the endless criticism directed at the European Union, it seems to me that shareholders would be better served if CEOs – in the frontline of Europe so to speak – were to come out in favour of the EU.

The common interests of European countries are united in the innovation agenda. Under the Horizon 2020 scheme, Europe will be spending €80bn on research and innovation between 2014 and 2020. The initiative needs to come from businesses which unfortunately all too often keep their money in the till. Most don’t contribute to the social debate.  

Captains of industry

We should look more to the Anglo-Saxon world of business. There companies are not afraid to take a stand on social issues. In the United States, giants Delta, Mariott and Apple turned against a proposal in the state of Arizona to give companies the right to refuse products or services to gay people based on religious grounds. In Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland objected to the referendum on Scottish independence in September. The bank said publicly that this sort of initiative would be harmful in the long term, both for the bank and Scottish society as a whole.

Now that socialists have swapped solidarity for market thinking it’s up to the market thinkers to take the long view. CEOs of the world, unite!

Farid Tabarki is a trendwatcher, public speaker, panel moderator and founder Studio Zeitgeist.

This column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad










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