Thursday, October 06, 2005

New Europe versus Old Monopolies

The visit by the European Commissioner for Internal Market Charlie McCreevy to Sweden yesterday must have been a jolly affair. Judging by the media reports, it looks as if McCreevy tackled head-on some of the more sacred of all the sacred cows in the old Swedish approach to things.

He challenged the state monopoly on gambling, and by implication also on the retail sale of wine and liquor. Both are often seen as sacred components in some sort of social model.

But of even greater importance was his robust defence of a far more open European labour market than at the least the Swedish trade unions are prepared to accept.

It's a sign of the time that the buses in Stockholm these days are carrying big ads for the system of collective agreement favoured by the unions. The fact that one feels it necessary to invest massive amounts in a massive PR campaign is of course a sure sign of a rather weak position.

Over time, there is no doubt that a more open Europe will erode the old monopolies. That the entrenched interests of the past will do whatever they can to stop or slow down this process is equally obvious.

But the McCreevy visit to Stockholm clearly indicated the direction in which things are moving.

Not necessarily very fast - but necessarily very certain.