Interview with Philippe de Buck, director-general of BusinessEurope
“Europe is a means,” says EESC presidential hopeful
By Gaspard Sebag | Wednesday 13 June 2012
Philippe de Buck, due to retire at the end of the year from BusinessEurope after having headed the industrial and employers’ federations for the last ten years, is campaigning to become the next president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). His goal: enhance the role of the committee. To do so, he puts forward his track record and credibility in the business sector, both of which have put him in direct contact with European decision makers. Driving the economy forward should be Europe’s top priority, says de Buck. In this respect, he believes the EESC can bring a “reality check” on decisions taken at the highest level.
Why are you interested in becoming the next EESC president?
Because in the present circumstances there is a need to reinforce the role of the Economic and Social Committee, on the one hand, but also to present a representative from the business community with a track record and a visibility and a capacity to change things. What I can offer to my colleagues and to the committee is my credibility. What I can also bring is good personal relationship with the leaders.
What is your programme?
The programme will be put together with the colleagues from the committee. I’m not here with a full-fledged programme that I will impose. There is a lot of work done within the EESC but it is not really being used outside the committee.
That seems to be one of the central problems of the EESC. How would you make its voice heard?
By working with the people who are the decision makers: the Commission, the Parliament and the Council. You have to have somebody at the helm of the committee who can do that. After 40 years at national and European level in the business community I think that my track record is certainly something that can be useful.
The second point is that we have to streamline our messages. The EESC has to give an opinion on almost everything but what we should bring out as civil society are the key points to drive Europe [ahead], [to drive] the interest of the citizens but also the economy and the employment forward.
We are in an unprecedented crisis, we are in Europe in a confidence crisis. How can we make the economy grow? This should be the first priority. It’s not about more Europe or less Europe, “it’s about the economy, stupid”. We from the employers’ side can bring something. Of course we’ll have to discuss this - and I have done that all my life – with the trade unions, with the consumers, with the NGOs, with all the partners… in order to achieve something together but knowing that the starting point for the social dialogue, for the social model, for the education, for the family, is the economy. If that is understood we can make some progress.
How do you restart the economy?
There is a short-term plan and a longer-term plan. We have a lack of confidence in the institutions, we have a lack of confidence in the currency and there is a lack of confidence in the financial sector. When you have that you will never create the conditions for growth because nobody will invest.
We have to start to create confidence in the institutional capacity to take decisions. Secondly, we have to safeguard and reinforce the euro. Thirdly, we have to create all the conditions in order to maintain the capacity of the financial sector to invest in our economy. That is the short term. That is a very difficult part.
Then comes the longer-term programme. Where are the conditions for investments? There are areas where without any public money you can create those conditions.
No. Through predictable policies: in energy, in climate, in the Digital Agenda.
What is the road map for energy, which is a key driver of the economy, between now and 2020 or 2030? That is what we should talk about. How do we create the real conditions for an internal market for energy? People are waiting for that. Instead of putting all kinds of burdens on them let’s create the conditions of development.
So there is a need to lift certain legislative restrictions?
Yes. Politicians always think that legislation will drive growth. It’s not true. It’s the technology, the market, the demand that boosts the economy. It is necessary to change the mindset of bureaucracy at the European level.
By boosting research and innovation?
Yes. There is also need to reconsider the role of universities. There’s a lot to do there.
How would you make citizens interested in the EU?
Citizens are not interested in Europe as an abstract concept. They are interested in real life. To make progress, to find a job… They are looking for solutions. In absence of feedback from the public - and with few European media outlets - I think Europe’s leaders are in dire need of the EESC to serve as a ‘caisse de résonance’ [sounding board - Ed] to help them understand what is going on in society. My fear is that European leaders are a little bit disconnected from reality. The EESC can perform a reality check on their decisions. This would be an important ‘democratic plus’.
The Brussels scene is rather polite. Can the EESC introduce a new approach, a more critical one?
My colleagues here at BusinessEurope know that I hate one expression used very often, that is ‘we welcome, we welcome, we welcome…’ We must dare to urge and ask but we have to do it in a responsible way. We also have to give, to commit, to achieve. And businesses also have to do that.
I’m not here to say Europe, Europe, Europe. I’m not here to say I’m passionate about Europe. I’m passionate about the economy, about social development, about education - and Europe is a means. But not only at European level. For me there should be more Europe at national level in the implementation of what is decided at the European level.