Eurocrats eye big business

For the commission to refer so explicitly to Enron is significant. The EC’s review of corporate governance was already underway before the company crashed. And it is normally the way of Eurocrats to deny cause and effect, particularly when it comes to accountancy and audit reform. Being seen to react to events does not normally play well within the corridors of power.

But the commission’s group of company law experts made no attempt to disguise its motives – an Enron may not have happened on this side of the Atlantic but it could. The proposals themselves are not that remarkable – mostly they raise the corporate governance bar for continental Europe to the level that already exists within the UK.

More interesting is the politics that lie behind them. The men responsible for this week’s proposals – Jaap Winter, Unilever’s legal adviser and head of the company law group, EU internal markets commission Frits Bolkestein and Karel van Hulle, head of the EC’s financial reporting and company law unit – may be motivated only by governance issues.

But once European finance ministers get hold of them – a process begun at the Ecofin meeting on Tuesday – they are likely to become far more of a battering ram – particularly at a time when the SEC is considering opening an office in Brussels.

There is nothing less than the mantle of (de facto) global corporate regulator at stake.

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