Europe’s landscape is changing–dramatically in its Eastern half, which is groping toward capitalism, and less spectacularly in the Western part, which is on the road to a single market. The following notes on recent transformations suggest that the two trends are not unconnected.
Big if Not Beautiful. The announcement on July 30 of the long-heralded takeover of International Computers, Britain’s champion in this field, by Fujitsu, the big Japanese specialist, created quite a stir in Europe. It was a reminder that in several fields European corporations cannot compete with the giants of the international marketplace. But Fujitsu’s move was taken as a challenge not to Europe’s big producers of mainframe computers–the German Siemens, the French Groupe Bull and the Italian Olivetti–but to I.B.M., the American giant.
There is no complaint about the invasion of American capital for the simple reason that for some time now money has been flowing across the Atlantic in the opposite direction. The only novelty, according to a recently published study, is that in the past few years French companies, particularly state-owned ones, were the leaders in this transAtlantic transfer of capital. While new, this development should not be surprising. In the earlier phase of the Industrial Revolution business concentration had proceeded much further in Britain and Germany. It is now the turn of Panorama and Espresso and the successful daily La Républica. As to the ownership of Mondadori itself, the battle for its control was a real-life Dallas, a saga of power, passion and money that has fascinated Italians for the past year.
In one comer you had the ingegnere (“engineer”), Carlo de Benedetti, whose European empire is built around his Olivetti base. In the other, you had sua emittenza (“his broadcasting highness”) Silvio Berlusconi, king of commercial television and owner of three Italian channels. In the middle stood the original owner, the Formenton family, which at first was intimately linked with de Benedetti. But part of the family switched to the other side and there followed an intricate legal battle which ended, if such feuds ever do, last June, with the victory of the ingegnere.
Most press lords in Italy are industrial tycoons such as the Agnelli family of Fiat. Berlusconi, like the Frenchman Robert Hersant, belongs to the new breed of media magnates who tend to expand beyond national frontiers. When one objects to both kinds of vulture that increasingly have come to dominate European culture, the standard reply is that such moguls are needed to stand up to the mighty Americans. But the problem is not keeping out Twain, Faulkner or Doctorow. The problem is to resist American trash, and it is small consolation if this commercial rubbish acquires European citizenship.
Grazhdanin Kane. In 1986 Bertelsmann A.G. had to pay a fortune to purchase Doubleday, the U.S. publishing house. On July 30 it spent a mere $2.14 million to acquire a controlling interest in Nebszabadzag, Hungary’s biggest daily and not so long ago the mouthpiece of that country’s Communist Party. Such are the ironies of history, and Bertelsmann is no pioneer. In Budapest it follows in the footsteps of Axel Springer, Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, citizens Kane and Co., our Western gang of plunderers, are now scanning Eastern Europe. The prices are dirt cheap, yet they are looking less for immediate profit than for long-term domination. For the moment they have moved strongly only into newspapers and publishing, but, as deregulation proceeds, they will be spreading into radio and television. And they are already dreaming of the huge Soviet market.