Letter: A grovel in Brussels

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your Business Outlook article on BA's problems over its proposed alliance with American Airlines (12 June) states that, in dealing with officialdom, "the first rule is to grovel, however humiliating the experience". What terrible advice to give! The Brussels bureaucracy is there to serve the Union, but too often is allowed to become the master.

My own experience relates to container shipping, but with similar frustrations. One problem is that there are only a handful of people who matter in the Competition Directorate and they are bound to know more about the competition rules of the Treaty of Rome than they do about the many industries they are required to deal with. Commission policy continues to be based in part on false premises.

Another problem is that the competition rules need updating. They were devised by the original Six. The present members in the British Isles, Scandinavia, Iberia and Middle Europe are entitled to a voice. The rules were devised over 40 years ago, since when industrial technology has become more complex, favouring mergers to cope with the large scale of investments required. Many industries, including most of the transport sector, have become oligopolistic as a result. The competition rules need to recognise this more clearly than they do.

The key to improvement is to strengthen the democratic process. Governments need to take greater interest in Brussels decisions. At present this inevitably translates into greater activity in the Council of Ministers. The weight needs to be better distributed and the obvious institution to take more of the strain is the European Parliament.

European industries deserve a better system, one that avoids protracted wrangling in Brussels, all too often leading to recourse to the courts. A new democratic order setting out how the competitive interests of suppliers and customers are balanced is too important an issue to be left to a handful of regulators with a 40-year-old brief. European industrialists should stand up tall about the principles of competition. Grovelling will get them nowhere.


Consultant in Liner, Container and Intermodal Shipping

Tonbridge, Kent