European Union

Rising inequality and undermined democracy: a new report sheds light on Europe’s richest

Tax evasion, winning public procurements, opaque corporate backgrounds, environmental damage, poor working conditions and below average salaries for employees: the recipe for making huge fortunes across Europe seems to be similar in many cases according to a new report released by the European Network of Corporate Observatories (ENCO). 

Atlatszo portrayed Hungarian billionaire Lőrinc Mészáros in the publication which takes a close look at some of the key figures, owners of the largest corporations across Europe. We detailed how a childhood friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has managed in just a few years accumulate assets equivalent to a 161 thousand years of work by someone working for the minimum wage in Hungary.

The report prepared in collaboration by civil society and media organisations recalls that since the financial crisis of 2008, the number of European multimillionaires has doubled and that they are increasingly influencing political decision-making across Europe through lobbying, party funding, the media they own:

“The story of how they make their wealth is often also the story of many of the ills of our economic and social systems, which have generated the very problems the Davos Forum claims to address. A story of tax avoidance, financialisation and dishing out of dividends, heavy reliance on public subsidies and tendering, secretive corporate structures, environmental damage or substandard wages and working conditions.

Levels of inequality are becoming no less astronomical in Europe than in other parts of the world. Hungarian billionaire Lőrinc Mészáros’ wealth is worth more than 161,000 years of his country’s minimum wage. For Jim Ratcliffe, it’s more than 623,000 years of the UK minimum wage. The net worth of Amancio Ortega, more than 61 billion euro, is equivalent to more than 4 million years of the Spanish minimum wage. For Bernard Arnault, his assets represent more than 3 million years of the French minimum wage.

While much has been said about the political role and influence of billionaires in the United States, starting with current President Donal Trump, Europe’s super-rich also wield considerable, and increasing, political influence. They cultivate close connections with political leaders and officials, they spend massive amounts of money in lobbying, they fund political parties (mostly of a conservative or far-right obedience), they own and influence mainstream media… … and sometimes they decide to get into politics themselves, like current Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.”

Written by Gabriella Horn. You can read the ENCO report here.