Paul Taylor writes: Is the EU friend or foe to industry? - "They are a friend to the Consumer and Industry the way it should be."
For an institution that sees itself as the business executive's friend, the European Commission has taken a beating lately. The main telecommunications lobby in Europe has compared it with Stalin; a German energy executive has called it a greater threat to energy security than Gazprom; and a top Austrian telecommunications boss has said it is easier to do business in Belarus than in Brussels.Supporters of the commission say it is because Brussels is tackling cozy business interests that obstruct competition and exploit dominant market positions for their own profit.Critics say it is because the commission, the European Union's executive arm, is trying to make itself more popular, with crowd-pleasing initiatives that bash business.
There are grains of truth in both explanations. The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has made no secret of pursuing an agenda of delivering lower prices and greater rights to consumers, aiming to demonstrate the benefits of the EU after voters rejected a proposed constitution in 2005. Brussels has used opinion polling to identify its targets for action, like cross-border fees for mobile phone calls and text messages, credit card charges, obstacles to changing bank accounts, and windfall earnings of giant energy companies. Neelie Kroes, the EU competition commissioner, has assessed record fines against companies she accused of fixing prices and rigging markets in everything from elevators to beer. Kroes, a former business executive, often accompanies hefty fines with stinging comments accusing companies involved in cartels of "outrageous" behavior and "ripping off" consumers. Fresh from her antitrust victory over Microsoft, she is now turning to the field of energy, trying to break up European giants to promote greater competition. Kroes argues that separating power suppliers from the ownership of natural gas pipelines and electricity grids will spur investment and force prices down.
Comment EU-Digest: "we hope the EU Commission will keep up the pressure on the many unscrupulous multi-national corporations which operate in the EU. One only has to look at what has happened to the US economy as a result of the liberties that were given to corporations and the financial sector to operate and do as they please".