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The Brussels Lobby Youth
by Matt Reichel
February 14, 2005

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In the year 2005, everybody wants to be a lobbyist. Of course, when these young, hip corporate pawns admit to you that they lobby for their company in Brussels (home of the European Union), they usually do it under their breath. It could be my rather unorthodox, punkish attire that sends signals to their brains saying maybe I don’t like the lobby game, but, regardless, it’s always the same “…and…and I lobby in Brussels.” And I respond: “Ah so that’s what “Public Relations Assistant” means!” One of the great things about existing snugly on the Left is I’m pretty sure that I’m never going to own one of these dastardly job titles intended to cover the disgusting work that I, in fact, am in charge of doing for my mercenary organization. But for an alarmingly increasing number of kids my age in Europe, Brussels is where the business is at. Behind the hip façade of revelers at many popular Parisian discotheques lies the unfortunate reality of a cadre of neoliberalism’s ground troops.

It wouldn’t have been worth writing an article had I not run into very many of these kids. They tend to be among the coolest cats at the club checking out the newest “cutting edge” house or techno. Fashion is extraordinarily important in this town, and so these people likely have dished out a couple hundred Euros on their costume for the evening: in order to represent that perfectly “cool” or “decontracté” look. Rather than ever seeming authentically cultural, it always looks like a vivid photocopy of what appears on MTV throughout the world. The extra effort put into being MTV cool by these lobbycrats effectively takes any semblance of “cool” out of their being.

And, of course, they always want to speak English, as this is the most important language for business. In order to stay on top of their performance, their English must be groomed. Any time I try to steer the conversation in the direction of French (hoping to perhaps improve my language skills in this country where French is supposedly spoken) they respond again in English. I’m sure other Anglophones have run into this in France: conversations where the Francophone is speaking English and the Anglophone is speaking French. It’s too important for them to pass up an opportunity to talk in a real live English mother tongue conversation. So thus we see what good neoliberalism is for linguistic diversity: The sun never sets on the English language.

One time I was placed in the unique position of being snuggled at a bar in between two guys working for Europe’s two competing telecommunications giants: SFR and Orange. While a few empty comments were thrown back and forth like “Ah the competitor! What a bastard,” in fact, there wasn’t much animosity. This was like the Democrats and the Republicans. They both stood to benefit from the same set of socioeconomic policies, and were pushing for largely the same bills in Brussels. The competition comes over market share: but like with the Dems and Republicans, there will never be much of a difference. It was like Lieberman and McCain sitting around over a few beers, listening to horrendously overpriced and foul music, and assuming this to be “the life!” but being entirely wrong in making that assumption.

You have to hand it to the corporate thugs in charge: they are always on top of things with their intelligence and cunning. The “offer a sweet job to a smart kid coming right out of college” maneuver works so well. “Do you want 50-75,000 Euros a year to come work for us in the “Public Relations Department?”

“Public Relations? Well that’s not my specialty. My degree is in finance, I don’t know if I….”

“Don’t Worry. We’ll Teach You!!”

The corporate bosses don’t want to gamble with old people who might be more skeptical and less flexible. In essence, what’s happening here is the embedding of a whole new ideology and reality across Europe, and the neoliberals in charge want to make sure it sticks. Thus, they sell a lifestyle to kids who don’t know any better. In fact, they make it cool to be a lobbycrat. Saying that you make the round trip every week from Paris to Brussels on the Thalys train will likely attract the girls, make you a hot shot at any of the mainstream nightlife venues, and guarantee your spot in the future of neoliberal hegemony. 

This is “synergy” at work. Corporations stopped selling just products a long time ago, because the real money is in selling lifestyles. Without the ability to link their logo to a cool and trendy life, corporations will ultimately sink in the neoliberal world. The winners will be the Nikes of the world who are most effective at getting people to pay 50 euros to advertise their logo on top of their head. The losers are those people who are just trying to do a public service and sell things we need like food, clothing, shelter and commodity. Thus we see that neoliberalism is nothing short of capitalism on drugs: the capitalism that got distracted by some wild and incoherent fantasy about how things ought to be.

Ultimately, I believe that people will prove too good in the end to let our lives be determined by the “free market” euphoria. Perhaps if we work hard enough at explaining to people that taking that train to Brussels does not qualify as cool, we can make up some ground. At minimum, as long as people are talking underneath their breath when they embarrassingly admit their hot new lobby job to me, we must be making some progress. They must know that turning the EU congress into the neo-liberal playground does not qualify as cool. They must know that there is something wrong with pushing the interests of a few corporate bullies in what’s supposed to be a body representing the interests of real people in real communities throughout the European mainland. They must know that they are helping usher in an era of neoliberal tyranny. And they must know that there’s other people in their midst that are not going to stand for it.

Matt Reichel is an American expatriate and graduate student in Paris specializing in international relations theory. He can be reached at:

Other Articles by Matt Reichel

* The Neoliberal EU Treaty: French Labor Says No
* Lessons from the Heckling of Lula
* France’s Fallujah: The Battle of Cote D’Ivoire