Leon Brittan was so pleased with the job that the Financial Leaders Group (FLG) did in jump-starting the stalled talks that he invited Andrew Buxton (pictured), chair of Barclays Bank and President of the British Bankers Association, to form a European services network to promote further progress in the more general services area. Brittan noted: ‘A similar effort will be needed for the next Round of service liberalisation negotiations.’
The European Services Forum (ESF) was formed in 1998 (originally called the European Services Network) to provide private sector advice and information directly to the EU’s WTO negotiators. Its formation was supported by CEOs of leading European corporations and federations as well as Europe’s major employer association UNICE. Naturally British Invisibles became a ‘prominent member’ of ESF. So too did companies that have benefited from privatization of services such as the giant water companies Suez and Vivendi/Veolia.
Buxton was the first chair of the ESF. He noted that the US Coalition of Service Industries (CSI) ‘has shown us the way’. Like the CSI, the aim of ESF is to actively promote the interests of its members. According to ESF Managing Director, Pascal Kerneis, ‘the European industry understood that it was important to work together in order to exchange information and to defend global European service industries positions.’
ESF is an official member of the EU delegation at WTO conferences, as well as being a registered NGO at the same conferences. It produces position papers on various aspects of services liberalization that are distributed to EC officials and negotiators and EC officials attend ESF Policy Committee meetings, where these papers are discussed. Also it is apparent that the EC not only played a role in setting up the ESF but that it has also ‘actively sought ESF guidance in formulating its GATS negotiating positions’ and even, according to Wesselius, ‘prioritised’ that advice over that of member states:
It is, of course, unjustifiable for the European Commission to treat corporate advice on an equal footing with the input from EU member states in formulating EU GATS negotiating objectives and strategies, but it has been able to do so due to the lack of effective democratic control of EU external trade policy…. privileged co-operative arrangements between business and government has no place in a democratic policy-making process.
Buxton used the same structure for the ESF as the FLG: a European Service Leaders Group which includes the CEOs of more than 40 companies and a Policy Committee which includes 39 service industry federations covering 20 service sectors, UNICE and representatives of the CEOs in the Leaders Group. Both were supported by a secretariat hosted by UNICE. The Leaders Group provides the high public profile and muscle: ‘They give the political impetus to the ESF messages and are the ambassadors of ESF, spreading the messages of the European service industries around the world in their various business travels.’ The Policy committee formulates policy and carries out ESF activities, and the secretariat services both groups.