If you’re out on the streets these days, campaigning for the EU elections, or just convincing your friends to vote, you’re going to have to answer a very difficult question: exactly what does the EU do for its individual citizens? Why should anyone care about the EU institutions at least as much as local governments?
Here’s one example of the power of the EU in action. Today, the European Commission fined Intel a billion Euro for anti-competitive behaviour.
Intel is a manufacturer of computer hardware, most notably CPUs - the main chips that do most of the work in a personal computer. Its main competitor is a company called AMD. It now seems that Intel paid companies that assemble computer systems and sell them to consumers, in order to stop them using AMD chips. Intel’s bribe was so big that one company mentioned in the linked article actually refused to use chips that AMD gave it for free, because doing so would mean losing Intel’s money. As a result, it was impossible for AMD to compete with Intel on the strength of its product quality, and consumers were denied a fair choice and the benefit of healthy competition.
The European Commission and its antitrust Commissioner Neelie Kroes have applied the biggest corporate fine in EU history against Intel. To put into perspective, Intel’s net income for the 2008 fiscal year was $5.3 billion, or around 3.8 billion Euro. Thus the fine makes up more than a quarter of the company’s total profit for the year.
Even for a giant company such as Intel, this is an extremely significant loss, painful enough to (hopefully) deter them from doing anything so shady in the future - and a clear message to other multinational corporations.
Out of all entities in the world today, the EU is the only one with both the power to apply punitive damages against an incredibly rich and powerful global corporation, and the political will to protect the interests of its citizens, above those of big business. This - not presidencies or the shape of bananas - is why the EU is important to each and every European citizen, on a very practical, everyday level.