Occupy Wall Street takes its inspiration from the Indignados who have taken to the streets of Spain and Greece in recent months to complain about the austerity packages and the undemocratic way in which they have been pushed onto societies in Europe - as well, of course, as from the Arab Spring. So it feels very timely that this week in Brussels grass-roots activists are gathering in Brussels with a shared analysis about the roots of the economic crisis: squarely blaming corporations who fight against regulation, avoid paying taxes and then award themselves massive bonuses – and the politicians who have let them get away with it for too long.
It is no coincidence that these activists are meeting in Brussels. After all, Brussels is the European capital of lobbying and at the heart of ALTER-EU's analysis, is huge concern about the corporate capture of European decision-making by business interests. We stand opposed to the way in which lobbyists and lobbying have infiltrated practically every European institution, often behind the scenes and out of the public eye, to the detriment of public interest policy-making and democracy.
From the huge number of industry and lobby representatives who sit on the Commission's 'expert groups' and originate proposals for policy and regulation, or the easy passage through the 'revolving door' by decision-makers who move into lucrative jobs as lobbyists working for the 'other side', there is much that we must change if the European Union is to meet a democratic ideal.
Yet, just as the protesters in Wall Street take inspiration from campaigns in Europe, so we can take inspiration from developments in the US. The Coffee Party movement has been set up in direct opposition to the Tea Party movement and it is a growing political force. With its slogan of 'wake up and stand up', and its opposition to the corrosive influence of money on politics and policy, its simple platform of demanding reform to campaign finance, Wall Street and tax policy is winning new hearts and minds every day. Annabel Park, one of its founders, is sharing her experiences with ALTER-EU members at the assembly.
Annabel will be joined by Craig Holman from Public Citizen to explain some of the reforms that President Obama has introduced to curb corporate capture in Washington's corridors of power. In terms of lobbying transparency and ethics regulation, it can be said that the EU lags behind the US, and the Obama reforms are having some impact. Holman points out that, two years into the George W Bush administration, a number of political appointees were under investigation by the FBI for administrative corruption. At the same point of time under Obama, there are no known cases of this. Of course, the power of the business lobby in the US remains huge, but these reforms, plus the strength of the Coffee Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street protesters, should inspire us in Europe that it is possible to start to curb corporate influence and begin to reclaim democracy!
The ALTER-EU Annual Assembly “Curbing Corporate Power and Reclaiming Democracy” takes place on 13 and 14 October in Brussels.