April 17, 2013
The Risk-Monger has spent 28 years in Belgium and has grown quite fond of this incremental development concept called “Brussels”. There are, in its geographical location, many “cities” both very rich and extremely poor, many cultures, languages and opportunities. Brussels is a function more than a place and the “Bubble”, Brussels EU, is unique in its recent history and achievements. Like it or not, things come out of Brussels in a rather Belgian manner (think René Magritte or Tintin): faceless and surreal.
More and more, I have noticed that nobody works in the Brussels Bubble. Sure, people go to conferences, click on clever PowerPoints and meet for coffees to strengthen their networks, look busy writing emails and may contribute to a paper or two if they can get a consensus in their organisation. But by work, I mean to actually make something. Where are the people who wake up in the morning and go to work for a company that makes things, sells goods or services, invests, takes risks, innovates and tries to grow, hire people and add value to the economy? I don’t see such people in the Brussels Bubble and this is troubling.
The “esprit de corps” in Brussels is this closed community of people who are paid by governments, trade associations and civil society organisations; people who know each other very well, move around from one job to another, and have never been in an organisation that “works”. I don’t mean to offend them: these are very smart people who figured out that attending conferences and meeting for coffees is more agreeable (and better paid) than physical labour or entrepreneurial risk-taking . But if you have spent your entire life doing well in a “not working” career, with those around you doing the same, how much do you really understand about the real world?
Many civil society organisations like Corporate Europe Observatory or Friends of the Earth have been taking an increasingly anti-corporatist role, campaigning against industry and entrepreneurs, trying to stop or redirect research and innovation investment from going into the types of organisations that create jobs and make things that benefit society. As they huddle together around their PowerPoints, reconfirming their beliefs within their social media silos and expanding their networks into the levers of power in Brussels EU, their trending success on certain issues (on the environment, agriculture and energy) has become detrimental for the vast majority of Europeans who actually would want to work or add value to society.
The salaries of employees in Corporate Europe Observatory or Friends of the Earth (to take two examples) are not paid by profits from risked capital or sales from innovative technologies. They are no longer receiving many donations from a grateful public who want their voice collectively heard (although that is a perception they would like you to believe). More and more, these organisations pay quite handsome salaries with funds coming from charitable foundations, trusts and grants (both public and private). Ironically many of these funders (like the Sigrid Rausing Trust or the Rockefeller Brothers Fund) obtained their money from successful entrepreneurs and corporations, who several generations later, have had their boards infiltrated by activists with anti-corporate agendas (the Willie Sutton rationale: I rob banks because that’s where the money is!). More ironically, fabricated NGO umbrella organisations like EPHA or HEAL survive almost solely on European Commission grants, intended to allow civil society organisations to have the means to engage in stakeholder dialogue, and yet they use these funds to create closed networks that try to obstruct such principles of dialogue and build up their own sphere of influence.
Sometimes industry lobbyists come to Brussels and try to bring up the risk of lost jobs, competitive disadvantages or handcuffs on innovation, but they usually get glazed, incomprehensible stares in return. It seems that working for a company is dirty, tainted and socially offensive (why EU officials and MEPs are publicly berated when they are seen talking with people who work or create jobs). Brussels insiders even grin when they hear these ‘scare’ stories of lost jobs, and smugly reply: “Well, you’re coming from a big corporation. Of course you would try to say such a thing.” Industry people never get much farther than the Sheraton in Zaventem, and that is not really Brussels.
So if your salary isn’t paid from a source that is directly linked to work, and everyone around you has also never “worked”, should we be surprised then that the policies you advocate pay little attention to people who either work or would like to feel comfortable in knowing their jobs will be there to meet next month’s rent?
- Advocating a “renewables only” energy policy and pushing (quite successfully) to phase out fossil-based, nuclear and hydro-electric energy sources will cost thousands of European jobs. But hey, no problem, the Isvara Foundation will continue to pay my salary.
- Even though I have never pulled a carrot out of the ground or bet the farm on the seeds I choose, I feel compelled to impose my organic philosophy on global populations, because I can afford it and it makes me feel like I am making a difference. The French organic co-op network assures me this is doable.
- Although I am not a chemist, I have been told that chemicals do bad things to people and if we can ban them, the world will be a better, greener place. With the next European Commission grant, we will be able to buy new computers, cars and office materials (that are, of course, “chemical free”).
People who don’t work, never have, but feel empowered to influence and make decisions for those who do, are, simply put, dangerous. They skew policies away from growth, job creation and innovation, in favour of unreasonable and untestable ideals. Living so long in a functional location like Brussels EU where nobody works, they have forgotten that people need to work and that innovation and entrepreneurship can create more opportunities for more people than their trust funds or grants.
I think before we allow people from Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth, EPHA or HEAL to get any more funds, perhaps we should put them to work. Given the consequences of some of their job-negating policies, prison labour might be appropriate.
Disclaimer: The Risk-Monger does not receive any money from charitable trusts or foundations. Even though he knows how easy it is to get funds from these organisations without any conditions or due diligence, he prefers the integrity and dignity of working.