PARIS – Lovers of turbo-neoliberalism, rejoice – and take your bottles of Moet to a prime ringside seat; there won’t be a nastier catfight this summer than the opening rounds opposing two Western giants. Forget about the Pentagon “pivoting” to Asia without ever abandoning the Middle East; nothing compares with this voyage in the entrails of turbo-capitalism, worthy of a neo-Balzac.
We’re talking about a new Holy Grail – a free-market deal between the United States and the European Union; the advent of a giant, internal transatlantic market (25% of global exports, 31% of global imports, 57% of foreign investment), where goods and services (but not people) will “freely” circulate, something that in theory will lead Europe out of its current funk.
The problem is that to reach this Brave New World presided by the Market Goddess, Europe will have to renounce some of its quite complex juridical, environmental, cultural and health norms.
In that Kafkaesque/Orwellian bureaucratic paradise also known as Brussels, hordes of faceless equivalents of the bowler hat men in a Magritte painting openly complain about this “adventure”; there’s a growing consensus Europe has everything to lose and little to gain out of it, in contrast with the much-derided enemies of the European integration, as in the fanatics of an “pro-American” and “ultra-liberal” Europe.
That yellow peril again
It gets curioser and curioser when one observes that the great majority of European nations actually have wanted a free-market deal for quite a while, unlike the much more protectionist US. By now, at least officially, not a single EU nation is opposed to the deal. Here’s the non-official reason; none can afford to be blamed an enemy of the United States.
The European Commission (EC) estimates that the gross national product growth of the EU as a whole will grow by 0.5% – not exactly a Chinese target. The Americans, on the other hand, are way more excited; the US Senate estimates that without custom duties, US exports to Europe will grow by almost 20%.
The meat of the matter in clinching the deal will be harmonizing rules that are blamed for blocking the much-vaunted totally free circulation of goods. “Harmonizing” means diluting European rules. And there’s the rub; Washington does not want just a transatlantic deal. The final countdown is to set in stone a global free for all that would later be imposed everywhere; that’s code for totally opening the Chinese market, with absolutely no restrictions, for Western corporations.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States goes straight to the point; Western capitalism must remain the universal norm, against the “threat” of state-managed Chinese capitalism. Reduced to ashes is the irony that Chinese capitalism has been – and will continue to be – the savior in the massive ongoing crisis of Western capitalism.
The US-EU deal is also supposed to be the icing on a cake of deals already being struck by the US with individual nations in Asia. There’s absolutely no question about who the stronger side is. US President Barack Obama is already engaged in high-stakes PR, spinning on every possible occasion that Europe has been in trouble trying to find a recipe for growth. And the US may count on fifth column elements such as the European Commissioner for Commerce, Karel De Gucht, for whom the French – who defend a lot of exceptions – are already isolated.
Make no mistake; Washington will go for broke, Iron Man 3-style – as in smashing European norms of sanitation and phyto-sanitation, and “liberalizing” food, everything genetically modified from meat enhanced with hormones to chlorine chicken. The pesky rules established by the faceless men in Brussels have been routinely derided in Washington as “non-scientific”, unlike the American non-rules.
The ultimate bowler hat man
Startled European citizens are only now coming to grips with the fact that the EU proposed the deal to the US – and not the other way around. EU here means the European Commission. And that’s where the juice hits the throat; it’s all about the ambition of one man (a Portuguese) against the pride of a whole country (France).
Compounded to the fact that the negotiation was personally green-lighted by Obama, and with the US Congress interfering at every level, the bottom line is that for the Americans, “everything is on the table” – code for we want it all, and we’re willing to give no ground.
France – already supported by the ministers of culture of 12 nations – wants the audiovisual industry to be excluded from all negotiations, in the name of its much-prized “cultural exception”. This is one of the few countries in the world – China is a different matter altogether – not totally swamped by Hollywood products.
If that’s not the case, Paris will veto everything – even if, off the record, French officials admit they don’t have the power to veto anything; the French corporate world also badly wants the deal.
Still, Paris will battle for everything ranging from the “cultural exception” to the most crucial sanitary/environmental norms. It will be joined by Italy on many fronts; there’s already open revolt in sublimely artisanal Italy about a bleak future where people all over the world will be consuming Made in USA Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and Brunello wines.
On a different front, it’s certain that Washington will not open the US market to European financial services or maritime transportation. That’s just one example of how much Europe has to lose and practically nothing to gain.
In the end it all amounts to the blind ambition of an astonishing mediocre European career functionary – the Portuguese EC head, Jose Manuel Barroso. Barroso expects to get a mandate to negotiate in the name of all member-states on June 14. And he expects the negotiations to finish before the end of his current mandate, on November 2014.
Some audibly furious EU diplomats confirmed off the record to Asia Times Online that Barroso mounted this formidable operation virtually by himself, eyeing a handsome future reward from his masters – in Brussels? Forget it; Washington. Barroso wants either to become the secretary general of either the United Nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Neither of these posts can be had without Washington’s green light.
That would explain Barroso’s chief of cabinet being nominated EU ambassador in Washington, furiously lobbying the Americans alongside Portugal’s ambassador to the US and Portugal’s ambassador to the EU.
All bets are off on the winner of this monstrous catfight. EU member-states may vote against their own interests; but another thing entirely would be an overwhelming eruption of anger by already beleaguered European citizens. This new saga of Western turbo-capitalism has all the elements to be, well, quite revolutionary.