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Richard Allday welcomes David Cronin’s devastating critique of the corporate interests driving EU policy, including the new ultra-neoliberal TTIP proposals, in Corporate Europe

David Cronin, Corporate Europe: How big business sets policies on food, climate and war (Pluto 2013), xiii, 204pp.

With the European Commission and the US government pushing hard for the latest neoliberal trade treaty (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – aka TTIP), activists need a readable, informative analysis of the forces driving this project. David Cronin has provided one.

An intriguing, information-packed, insightful and incisive critique of the coalition of corporations against the populations of the world, this book does what it says on the cover: it exposes ‘how big business sets policies on food, climate and war’. Any book that provides activists with a wealth of detailed facts and analysis is to be welcomed; and this book is crammed with them. When an author consciously avoids gobbledygook and jargon, it is clear s/he has written a book designed to be read by ordinary folk.

Partisan and polemical from the outset, he ensures that the reader is in no doubt s/he is reading a book on our side, against the rich and powerful. But this is no diatribe resting on unfounded claims or unattributed smears; with 776 references (for a mere 157 pages of text), Cronin allows no wriggle-room for any politician, lobbyist, bureaucrat or corporate spokesperson to claim they have been quoted out of context, or misrepresented - and as virtually every assertion redounds to their discredit, this will, hopefully, really piss them off.

Written in chapters dealing with specific industries, covering health, weapons manufacturers, finance, food and the tobacco industry, he details the crossovers, the links, and the undercover deals with precision and a devastating humour. So, in his introduction (p.9), he refers to CSR Europe (CSR standing for Corporate Social Responsibility): ‘an assortment of weapons (Dassault), car (Toyota, Volkswagen, Renault) and food (Unilever, Danone and Cargill) companies formed in 2010. Nobody should be deceived by CSR. It is not an effort by chief executives to get in touch with their inner tree-huggers.’ And he then goes on to blow apart the PR myth of ‘corporate social responsibility’ describing it as ‘an oxymoron’ and, ‘Worse …. a distraction from the need to confront the power of big business. Predictably, EU policymakers have allowed themselves to be distracted.’

Each chapter has a wealth of such darts, well aimed and sharp. So many that it becomes hard to choose one as more apt than another, so read for yourself and choose your favourite.

The strength (and the weakness) of this book is the painstaking detail with which the author unravels the close-woven mesh of deceit and dissimulation under which the Mandelsons, Blairs and Barrosos collaborate with the Monsantos, BAE Systems and other corporate slugs to drive home their agenda. Yet the central aim of the book is not to slag off the eminently-slaggable, it is to expose the very real consequences for ordinary people – the dispossessed of the world, north and south – if capital gains its prize.

And he is clear that the solution lies in our hands. In his final chapter, he punctures the myth of reform:

‘While I respect many campaigners who try to engage with the EU politely, I am convinced that the time for timid interaction is over. What we need is a mass movement that confronts power directly’ (p.151). He goes on (apropos climate change) to welcome the emerging mass movements: ‘Civil disobedience on an unprecedented scale might be the only way of preventing these corporations from frying our future.’

The only weakness of the book, if it can truly be described as a weakness, is precisely the painstaking detail. The preface of the book (pp. ix and x) is a wonderful two-page ‘short guide to the European Union’. Do not skip this. It is as good an analysis of the flaws of the EU as I have read anywhere, in a concise, precise and readable form. However, the final paragraph is misleading. He states that he aims to provide ‘a few snapshots’ to illustrate his central thesis.

A few snapshots! Ha! Do not be fooled, this is more akin to your in-laws’ “We took a few snaps of our holiday, would you like to see them?” and when you escape, hours later, you know more about Costa Malina than you ever thought possible; and about the salesman from Basildon who was in the same hotel, and his extended family, and the man who sells donkey rides on the beach, and the bloody donkeys? Enough!

This is not ‘a few snapshots’; it is page after page of a closely-researched demolition of corporate propaganda, so that no-one who reads it will be able to sustain any illusions in the supposedly impartial nature of the EU, major corporations, lobbyists or the politicians who court them and collaborate.

If it were not so well written, it could easily fall over into unreadability, which it never does. But it is not an easy read (at least not for a working lorry driver, who read it in fits and starts, as work and fifteen-hour days allowed). It is so densely-packed with closely-reasoned arguments, and the examples to back them up that it was a case of a few pages at a sitting, until I had finished a chapter; and then a few days to let it sink in before starting the next one.

But always, a compulsion to start the next one, because you realize from very early on, that every page of this book is arming you with facts indispensable for any activist who wants to carry the argument against TTIP, or international corporations, or the neoliberal agenda of austerity.

It is a Joe Calzaghe of a book, middleweight rather than heavyweight, but not an ounce of fat, unremitting and relentless, driving forward with a punch that leaves the opposition with nowhere to go but the canvas. I would recommend that any serious campaigner against TTIP (or austerity) read this book. You might end up a little punch drunk, but that will pass, and you will be far better trained for the next round. Thanks are owed to David Cronin.

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