Democracy in Peril!
There is fear in the air, a fear that Europe is about to be sold off to American multinationals via TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). Concern has arisen because of a lack of information and of consultation by the EU Commission. Secrecy breeds doubt and scepticism. It allows a host of posits to be formulated and truth becomes the preserve of the speaker. Trust in the government system has been damaged by the Commission.
It is not simply the usual activists bawling their voices hoarse. The number demanding
assurances is considerable. The bbc1 report a huge demonstration in Berlin with over 100,000 in attendance. Demonstrations also took place in Madrid and other centres, caused by the ‘confidential talks’ that were taking place.
According to waronwant2 an online petition had already secured over 3.3 million signatories Europe-wide. War on Want point to several areas which may be under threat from TTIP: social standards, environmental regulation, labour rights, food safety and an opening up of the public sector to privatisation.
A further challenge comes from German small and medium enterprises (SME). This new group of business people have reservations about how TTIP will affect their livelihoods. They accuse the Commission, “The EU delegation has already caved in, weakening the standards associated with the carcinogenic Captan pesticide”.3 (Apparently it makes fruit look pretty4/5). The group are organising nationwide events to raise public awareness and are hopeful of adding another 5,000 businesses to their growing membership.
Anxiety is further heightened by a report in theguardian6. It notes that several documents from the EU dealing with correspondence between the Commission and oil companies were “heavily redacted”. Also, that detail of meetings with ExxonMobil and General Electric were “withheld entirely”.
Moreover, Lee Williams writing in the Independent newspaper voices7 endorses the analysis of War on Want but adds that most of the available information has come from leaked documents or freedom of information requests.
He brings our attention to ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlements) which many view as a direct threat to democracy. The case of the Swedish company Vattenfall is cited as they pursue the German government in court for reducing spending on their nuclear power generation. Williams suggests that there are some 500 such cases around the globe.
The article goes on to list a number of concerns with the trade talks. In particular, that 70% of processed food in America uses GMO (Genetically modified organisms). The use of growth hormones in cattle while widespread in America is restricted in Europe. It is an obvious no-brainer that US businesses will insist on expanding this trade in Europe. The EU has virtually no GMO!
Furthermore, while Europe bans 1,200 substances from cosmetics the US only bans 12. Can we realistically keep our doors firmly locked against these products?
However, the area which caught my attention was the REACH regulations of the EU. These stipulate that goods must be proven to be safe before use. But, in America use is permitted until proven unsafe. Hands up if you want to be a guinea pig!
Another critical worry is that of data protection. According to opendemocracy8 the European Court of Justice has ruled that the US is not allowed to collect data about EU citizens. However, the article suggests there is “strong evidence” that Google, Facebook, IBM and Hewlett-Packard are lobbying intensely for a relaxation of the ruling. As you may have guessed, America does not have strong data protection.
The Empire Strikes Back
Cecila Malmstrom the EU Trade Commissioner has come back at the critics determinedly. She gives 10 straight No’s to: privatisation, treated beef, food safety and a categorical NO to a reduction in standards describing them as myths9.
In the UK we can already witness creeping privatisation in education and of the NHS. There’s a little procedure in the NHS which allows patients to make a choice of hospital, it’s called ‘choose and book’. It seems a minor intrusion but is a Trojan horse of massive proportions. There is an estimated 1250 private hospitals in the UK and expanding quickly.
The Commissioner claims that the negotiations are as open as possible. The phrase ‘as possible’ is a money sign to a lawyer and a credible doubt to a member of the public. It is well documented that MEPs had to seek permission to read some documents in a closed environment. This restriction has recently been lifted.
Furthermore, the evidence of the Guardian, the Independent, Open Democracy and SME of Germany tends to shed a different light on proceedings. Therefore peoples’ disquiet cannot simply be dismissed. In the latest draft the Commission has made a concession to include better access to information for small and medium companies after severe criticism from SME.
The Commission’s submission on trade and sustainable development, a whole chapter, states that there will be no relaxation on the EU’s present laws and commitments. That it will maintain all regulation based on ILO (International Labour Organisation) Decent Work Agenda. That such a commitment is not negotiable. But, in the small print the Commissioner accepts that the US and EU have different strategies on labour and environment and it may come down to legal interpretation.
We should also consider the view of America’s trade unions that recognise that Europe has much higher standards and warns:
“…U.S. – EU agreement must not be used as a tool to deregulate or drive down these higher standards. If that is the goal, working families of both regions will pay the price.”10
Perhaps the greater concern is ISDS, reassigned by the Commission as ICS (Investment Court System). The whole concept of a court deciding and/or overriding the democratic rights of the electorate leaves me cold.
Cecila Malmstrom believes she has tightened the legal framework by insisting on qualified judges and a guarantee of an appeal. Her proposal will ‘enshrine’ a government’s right to regulate.
There are several issues with this court. It reads like a massive money spinner for legal teams. Interpretation of the law will become critical to any judgement and could be determined by the political bias of the legal mind.
If government can regulate (enshrined) and thus change the law to suit, will this not make the court null and void. When a company decides to challenge a national decision, must the court rule on existing law or EU law? Is there any possibility to introduce retrospective legislation? Or are we all aboard the EU ship?
There are doubts by the boat load. Minor and major concerns and a lack of detail about the process sees these concerns grow deeper.
The Commission are undertaking a charm offensive but the damage has been done; trust in the integrity and the ethics of the deal has soured many minds. There is no doubt the deal is about profit not people.
- 5. sitem.herts.ac.uk/aeru/ppdb/en/Reports
- 6. theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/26/ttip
- 7. independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html
www.trade.ec.europa.ea/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1364 also 1396 + 1393
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