Brussels: A town where nobody works

This blog was originally published on 17 April 2013 in a form of free-style sarcasm towards many of the people I deal with who take their views, without any experience, far too seriously. As the next round of TTIP picks up this week, look at the the rhetoric coming from the loudest mouths and ask them: Have you ever worked?

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 tribal 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.

Money for nothing

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 (like the Life+ grants – €3.4 billion to a selection of NGOs in the latest round), 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.

Through the looking glass

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?

Some examples of policies that could only be promoted by those with no ties to the real world of risked capital and hard work:

  • 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.

Comments from the original publication in BlogActiv

  1. Truth-Monger says:

    “Sometimes industry lobbyists come to Brussels” = understatement of the century.
    The fact is, there are hundreds of industry lobbyists based in Brussels, with continuous access to the EU institutions at the highest levels of influence. Have you never heard of BusinessEurope or ERT?

    1. The Risk Monger says:

      Thank you Truth-Monger for that stereotypical answer. Your view is very widely believed in Brussels and I believe you have been convinced of this view by an extremely efficient NGO communications machine in Brussels that has done an impressive job to create an impression that industry lobbying is massive and imbalanced. I’d like you to withhold your bias for a moment and try to consider other views. Having worked as a lobbyist in Brussels, I can only liken industry’s general incompetence in getting a message out and pushing its positions effectively to that of the Keystone Cops. With in-fighting and long, arduous consensus processes, industry spends most of its lobbying energy denying charges and trying to undo bad regulations. Tell me, Truth-Monger, if industry was so good at lobbying, why are the environmental NGOs leading the policy debates – tabling the agendas and pushing their views and people into the mainstream? – It is not their moral righteousness – many of these people are pretty nasty zealots and some of their policies have been disastrous for the environment (biofuels, certain renewables, subsidies for electric cars…). In an earlier blog, I noted how hapless industry groups like BusinessEurope are at even getting shale gas regulations on the agenda – small anti-fracking NGOs with effective communications consultants will do rings around these business groups and shale gas (fracking) will inevitably suffer an EU moratorium. And what will that mean? The energy revolution in the US from shale will lead to such a competitive advantage for industry there that thousands of industry jobs will migrate from Europe to where cheap energy is. NGOs won’t care – they will celebrate this exodus of evil industry as they believe that the EU economy will do just fine with salaries paid by trusts and foundations, and the rest of the population receiving state benefits. That these discussions are not even being heard today shows just how powerful the NGO lobbies are at shaping the policy debates. That you believe them without thinking openly does not surprise me (I call that “commonality”) … it makes me a bit sad to think how narrow people can be in their approach to other views. I suspect my children will leave Europe in search of work and that saddens me more. But OK, you are right and have facts and truths behind you … whatever.

  2. Excellent. Sticks a well-aimed foot out in the path of these slip-streamers in the Zil lanes.

    1. They are paid by the Commission to lobby themselves. That’s brilliant, thanks Patrick.

  3. Truth Monger – you are also missing another, important, point. Large business can afford the sort of costly, inefficient, bureaucratic regulation that governments (all governments, not just the EU) impose. Small businesses cannot – so the strategy of large businesses is often to propose or assist in regulations that will:
    1) increase the burden on all businesses – particularly if it will increase the burden on competitors or innovators that might out-compete them, and;
    2) pass the burdens on to consumers who have limited opportunity to shift or avoid the burden themselves.

    It may not be obvious, but the pernicious effects are just as great as if the regulations are imposed without participation from the business sector

  4. Thanks for the post, interesting to read. However, how to proceed to break this situation? Create a lobby group? 😉

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