Thursday, May 20, 2004
Another Nail in Thatcher's Legacy

Jack Straw's recent speech at the Confederation of British Industry's annual dinner was a brief survey of pro-Europeanism, for an audience that is increasingly noted for its Euroscepticism. Neither Brown nor Blair deigned to dine at this club: notable absences that either showed they did not wish to reinforce a pro-business image for the Left; or, that they feared the risk of an unwelcome response.

Instead, the CBI obtained Straw's 'service industry' foreign office. This is not an insult, since a foreign office providing services is more useful than the Soviet contempt broadcast to British citizens postwar.

Straw's pro-European speech was a reminder to the assembled businessmen of the government's perception on Europe. Two items were restated: British power can only be enhanced through European cooperation; and British companies are only able to compete through the deeper opportunities afforded by the single market. These questionable assumptions, overlaid by a thin veneer of sanctimonious support for the neoliberal orthodoxy (sadly unobserved on the home front), demonstrate the true surrender of sovereignty. Unwilling to stand up and admit that economic growth is not dependent upon Europe, the invention of economic and commercial justifications for membership outweigh teh possible damage caused by directives that undermine British interests (where Straw introduced a sly dig on the Working Time Directive, with an unspoken reminder that it was a Tory defeat).

Contrast that with the present problems which we are having in implementing the Working Time Directive. There is much to be said for the principle of this directive; but the fact is that when it was agreed in 1993, it did not satisfactorily protect British interests. We are now dealing with the consequences of that – and the European Commission will release tomorrow some proposals on the way forward.

Sadly, Straw did not take the opportunity to warn businesses that the new Information and Consultation Regulations will introduce central bargaining by the back door. It is just a new way for unions to reintroduce the closed shop. Guess who picks up the tab.

The Department of Trade and Industry estimates that for those firms with no pre-existing structure, who just implement the standard legislative process for informing and consulting, the total set-up costs per firm would be £4,000 for medium-sized firms and £6,300 for large firms.

But Mr Lang disagrees. He said: "The cost in management time of this new directive could be huge, with companies having to think through their processes and then actually provide the information. Time is already short for the first businesses affected to start the process of putting measures in place."

(23.01, 20th May 2004)


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