While those on the political stage attempt to grapple with the so called “earthquake” which hit Europe in the form of recent European election results, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations continue to take place away from any such stage or spotlight, behind tightly closed doors. The outcome of these negotiations will potentially change the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the continent. TTIP is the proposed EU-US free trade deal, which has more to do with standards, regulations, corporate rights and investment guarantees than trade, as tariffs are presently by and large very low. By altering many parts of the economy, including manufacturing, services and agriculture, the European Commission claims that TTIP will boost economic growth by €119 billion and €95 billion a year for the EU and US economies respectively, creating jobs and lowering the cost of living.

However, the recent European election results may cause difficulties for further progression of this deal. With the rise in anti-establishment parties in the European Parliament, TTIP is likely to be greeted with hostility from both the radical left who believe such free trade deals to threaten workers’ rights, and the far-right parties who oppose the potential increase in mass movement that may accompany free trade.

The Front National (FN) who topped the polls in France, are famously anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-Semitic, and anti-trade, perhaps for consistency if nothing else. Though it should be said that the FN argue that they have distanced themselves from their fascist past, and are a new reformed party under leader Marine Le Pen. But wait, isn’t Marine Le Pen the daughter of the fascist, Holocaust-denying, previous leader of the FN Jean-Marie Le Pen? Besides questioning the apparent nepotism present in the FN, one does wonder how far it’s really possible to distance yourself from your father and founding member of your party. If the weeks leading up to the election are anything to go by it appears that the FN hasn’t strayed too far from its roots, as Marine Le Pen launched a campaign against halal and kosher meat being served in French schools, sending Jewish and Muslim pupils the message; “eat pork or go hungry”- I’m sure Papa would be proud.

Surprisingly UKIP is not as avowedly anti-trade as some of its continental counterparts, which is possibly why there was no mention of TTIP in the televised debates between Farage and Clegg. I say surprisingly as it may appear odd that the UKIP leader takes the same stance on this matter as the other establishment parties, but I would put this surprise down to my momentary forgetfulness that Farage is in reality about as anti-establishment as Buckingham Palace. Maybe the British public would have had a chance to hear about this momentous deal if leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, had taken part in the debates as she publically requested. The Greens unsurprisingly have concerns over the democratic, environmental and social threats posed by TTIP, and they are not alone. More than 120 organisations have rejected the corporate agenda of the negotiations.

To date the lack of transparency and democratic procedures has caused much of the concern and mistrust over the intentions of the TTIP negotiations. Of what little is known about TTIP, the proposed inclusion of an ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) provision is particularly alarming. ISDS procedures will give investors exclusive rights, or “super-rights”, to sue states when democratic decisions are believed to impact negatively on their potential profits. For example, there are worries that TTIP will provide a basis for energy companies to take governments to private arbitrators if they try to regulate or ban fracking. As there is plenty of dirty cash to be had in this new dash for gas, any preventative governmental measures, made by public institutions in the public interest, may be seen as “unnecessary” obstacles in the eyes of big business, and TTIP will only aid putting profits before people. Such procedures will undermine national and EU democratic structures when it comes to legislating laws and policies in the interests of citizens of the continent.

A further anti-democratic structure created by TTIP is the ‘Regulatory Cooperation Council’ which aims to “harmonize” EU-US regulations. This feature is, at best, naively ambitious, as although on both sides of the Atlantic, legislation is required before regulators may act, EU legislation, is notably more detailed and prescriptive than its US equivalent. In place in the US is the Trade Agreement Act of 1979 which prohibits agencies from setting standards that create “unnecessary obstacles to the foreign commerce”. With equal ambiguity, it also stipulates that international standards should be considered and used as the basis for US standards “where appropriate”. Unlike US legislation which often consists of wide-ranging grants of discretionary authority which allows federal regulators to make policy within broad bounds, EU “red tape” is what has thus far helped protect our environmental and food standards from the destructive threats of GMOs, fracking, and inhumane animal welfare, all of which are commonplace in the US market.

Despite the new additions of eurosceptics and anti-establishment parties that are likely to add to the already vocal opposition to a deal with the US, the European Parliament remains a pro-trade majority. This majority is keen to eliminate, so called, “unnecessary” hurdles to favour corporations over the citizens of their nation states. There is much evidence to suggest that the proclaimed but unsubstantiated economic benefits are marginal to most of society.

The challenge for TTIP negotiators is to find an effective system for enabling the two disparate structures of the EU and US to work more effectively, efficiently and cooperatively together with the aim to increase living standards, not create monopolies with a race to the bottom. If we are truly to be given a say over the EU, then surely a vote on TTIP is what we should all be fighting for. We must combat all threats to our fundamental rights, acquired through long democratic struggles, which are vital to protecting the interests of all citizens of the world.

 

Sources:

-Study by the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), accessed here: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2013/february/tradoc_150519.pdf

-Prof. Richard Parker and Prof. Alberto Alemanno, 2014, ‘How do the EU and the US regulate? New study to feed the EU-US trade negotiations’, published by the European Commission, accessed here: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2014/may/tradoc_152466.pdf

http://corporateeurope.org/international-trade/2014/05/pan-eu-civil-society-coalition-rejects-us-eu-free-trade-deal-process