Monday, April 21, 2003

Europe Whips US Companies Into Shape

For those of you who are victims of the regulatory wars of recent years (that is if you are members of labor unions, government, environmental organizations, or if you work in hazardous workplaces, or live in a polluted environment), you need to read this fascinating article in the NY Times. Excuse me if I quote from it extensively (all emphasis is added by me):
The European Union, which includes 15 member countries from Portugal to Finland and Ireland to Greece, is adopting environmental and consumer protection legislation that will go further in regulating corporate behavior than almost anything the United States government has enacted in decades. For American companies that are accustomed to getting their way in Washington, it has come as a shock.

Earlier this year, the European Union adopted two rules that companies in the United States estimate will cost them hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The first will prohibit electronics makers from using lead, mercury and other heavy metals in their products. The second will require the makers of consumer electronics and household appliances to pick up the bill for recycling their products. Since last year, automakers have had to take responsibility for recycling the cars they sell.


Broader and costlier rules are in the works. Among them are a requirement that chemical makers run safety and environmental impact tests on more than 30,000 chemicals; the industry has said that the rule could cost it more than $7 billion. The commission is also considering prohibiting consumer products companies from directing television commercials at children. And it is looking at passing a law to encourage manufacturers to cut the energy used and greenhouse gases generated in making their products. It also wants to reduce the number and volume of hazardous chemicals in products made in Europe.
OK, lets stop here for a moment. Why is this? Why can the European Union impose these regulations not only on their own companies, but on U.S. companies. Regulations one-quarter this stringent in the U.S. bring cries of SOCIALISM! WAR ON SMALL BUSINESS! KILLING THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGG! JOB KILLERS! COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS! REGULATORY REFORM!

And that's just from the Democrats.

So what's their secret?
In Washington, corporate lobbying has weakened or killed legislation aimed at regulating tobacco, pharmaceuticals and pollutants that contribute to global warming. In all three cases, the affected industries spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and advertising, all to persuade lawmakers that regulation restricted the free market and would hurt American business.

Such tactics would not play well in Europe, where there is a long history of state intervention in the economy and where senior government officials are usually more highly regarded than are corporate executives.
Not only that, but
Some American business practices are regarded with deep suspicion here, in light of the corporate accounting scandals and what many Europeans see as the Bush administration's high-handed and unilateralist policies on the environment and Iraq.
Yeah, yeah, they're viewed "with deep suspicion" here too. Fat lot of good it does.

And here's an idea:
In the European Union, measures often seek to avert harm before it occurs. By contrast, regulation in the United States often responds to a crisis; the recent Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, for example, tightened corporate accounting rules after the Enron and WorldCom scandals.

"No longer do public authorities need to prove they are dangerous," she said at a recent conference on the chemicals legislation. "The onus is now on industry" to demonstrate that the products they sell are safe, she added.
Gosh, why didn't we think of that. Oh, yeah, I forgot, in this country we treat chemicals like people: innocent until proven guilty. (Actually, since passage of the Patriot Act, chemicals have more rights than people.)

Oh, but let's not forget that we're talking about those limp-wristed, Sadaam-loving, snail-eating French and their equally squirly German neighbors:
Often, American executives are bewildered when European ideals of social democracy trump America's more laissez-faire values. In Europe, "there is a whole kind of underlying socialist suspicion of corporations," said a lobbyist for an American investment bank. "Consumers are treated like children in Europe."
Au contraire, mein Freund. Seems to me consumers (and workers) are treated like f*!%#^ing HUMAN BEINGS rather than the losing end of a cost-benefit analysis. Hell, we don't even treat children like children in this country.
European regulators, however, seem to perceive the companies themselves as children who will misbehave if left unattended. In Washington, corporate lobbyists deride legislation as an example of "big government." But such arguments do not play in Brussels.
Now these are the two best paragraphs:
John T. Disharoon, a lobbyist for Caterpillar who moved to Brussels three years ago from Washington, says policy makers in the United States are generally more accountable to the public than European regulators. "So it basically changes the entire lobbying dynamic," he said. "Traditional pressure points like jobs, economic data, what it will do to industry are not as effective."
Note from the editor: More accountable to the public? The Public? Who do we think Mr. Disharoon considers "the public" here? Three guesses:

(a) Workers
(b) Consumers
(c) Business Interests

If you don't know the answer, read on....
The biggest difference in Brussels and Washington, lobbyists here say, is that American politicians rely far more on corporate donations to finance their election campaigns. Further, the revolving-door phenomenon, a virtual institution in Washington where former officials go to work for the industries they once regulated, is far less common in Brussels.
(I once again want to thank Grist for bringing this article to my attention as it was buried somewhere in yesterday's business section, rather than being on the front page of Section A where it belonged.)

It's amazing what a clear picture we can get of ourselves by looking through the eyes of other countries. What we're dealing with in this country is a no-holds barred, ideological war against workers, consumer, children, communities and the environment, using lies like economic efficiency, weighing costs and benefits, and tons of other garbage. And it's a war we're losing and will continue to lose unless we educate people and make them mad. Not mad enough to despair. Just mad enough to fight.