Who are Europe’s billionaires? How did they build their fortune and how do they use it? The Multinationals Observatory and its partners in the ENCO network draw a portrait of the super-rich of the old continent. A story of growing inequalities and weakened democracy.
In January 2020, economic and political leaders from around the world gathered once again in Davos on the occasion of the World Economic Forum to discuss the world’s great challenges and how to meet them. Once again, this gathering of global elites has taken place against a backdrop of growing inequality and a climate crisis. Since the financial crisis of 2008, inequalities have been growing steadily around the world. Every year the number of billionaires increases. The richest people have never raised so much money as half of humanity struggles to extricate themselves from dire poverty, living on a few dollars a day.
Most of the attention is focused on the super-rich in the United States. But billionaires are also found in China, Russia, and Europe, which has a growing number of them. The report Know your billionaires takes a close look at some of the continent’s key figures. They are linked to some of the biggest European companies, such as BMW, Ferrero, LVMH, ACS or Ineos. Most of them come from western Europe, but eastern countries are also seeing great fortunes growing in the hands of a handful of billionaires, who are now investing more and more in countries like France or Germany.
The story of their enrichment is often a reflection of the ills of our economic and social systems, which generated the problems that the Davos Forum claims to address: stories of tax optimization, financialization of the economy, increasing distribution of dividends to shareholders, heavy dependence on subsidies and public contracts, lack of transparency in corporate structures, environmental damage or sometimes substandard wages and working conditions.
Levels of inequality are no less astronomical in Europe than in other parts of the world. The fortune of Hungarian billionaire Lőrinc Mészáros is worth more than 161,000 years of his country’s minimum wage. For Briton Jim Ratcliffe, it is more than 623,000 years of the UK’s minimum wage. Amancio Ortega’s fortune of more than 61 billion euros is equivalent to more than four million years of the Spanish minimum wage. For Bernard Arnault, his heritage, constantly increasing, represents more than 3 million years of the French minimum wage.
And, like America’s billionaires, starting with current President Donal Trump, Europe’s super-rich also wield considerable and growing political influence. They cultivate close links with the leaders, they spend large sums on lobbying, they sometimes finance political parties (mainly of conservative or far-right persuasion), they own the media … launch themselves in politics, as the current Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.
The “Know Your Billionaires!” was facilitated by the European Network of Multinational Observatories (ENCO).
It brings together contributions from Corporate Watch, Observatori del Deute en la Globalització and Xnet, Atlatszo.hu, Gresea, Observatoire des multinationals, Goliathwatch and Deník Referendum, as well as independent journalists.
With case studies on Jim Ratcliffe (United Kingdom), Florentino Pérez (Spain), Lőrinc Mészáros (Hungary), Christoph Blocher (Switzerland), the Ferrero and Agnelli families (Italy), Albert Frère (Belgium), Iskandar Safa ( France), Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt (Germany), and Andrej Babiš (Czech Republic).
On the occasion of the release of this report, we publish the portraits of Florentino Pérez (Spain), the Ferrero family (Italy), Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, and Jim Ratcliffe (United Kingdom):
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See all the publications on the ENCO network website.