TTIP, the US/EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a "free trade" agreement between the world two biggest economies, being negotiated now. However, many think that TTIP is not about trade and that it is in fact a corporate coup that will take us to a "corporatocracy", a corporate-run world. Stop TTIP is a grassroots campaign and the alliance of around 150 groups that formed "citizens' initiative", which can propose EU legislation as long as it is backed by at least one million citizens from at least seven of the 28 member states. Their final goal is to stop this agreement. H-Alter spoke with two members of this initiative, Michael Efler and Lisa Albers.
Citing diplomats in Brussels, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Berlin objects to clauses outlining the legal protection offered to firms investing in the 28-member bloc. If the deal with Canada (CETA) is rejected “then the one with the United States is also dead”, added the official. How do you comment on this?
In fact, the spokesperson of the German Federal Ministry of Economy has already denied this newspaper article underlining that the German government has not yet decided if it will agree on CETA or not. It would of course be a good signal if CETA was rejected but right now there are no indications of real opposition to it at least within the German government. Therefore, we have to ensure that the signature collection for the ECI starts in full power in September and that we – the citizens – work hard to prevent both TTIP and CETA from being adopted.
Can you tell me about initiative Stop TTIP!, your next steps, and why did you decided to join it?
We decided to initiate a European Citizens' Initiative against TTIP and CETA because we consider these two agreements to be a threat to our democratic system. There are several reasons why we believe that TTIP and CETA should not enter into force. The most obvious one is the way how these agreements are negotiated. Civil servants from the US/ Canada and the EU discuss the content of TTIP and CETA behind closed doors. EU citizens are completely excluded from the negotiating process. And also the most important documents like the mandate will not be disclosed. What we do already know of the agreement, however, will only weaken our democratic standards. The planned Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement (ISDS), especially, is unacceptable to us and one of the main reasons why we have initiated the campaign. It would give investors special rights when they believe their investments have been damaged due to governmental regulations. They could then sue governments directly in secret tribunals and claim damages that lie in the millions. We believe that the EU and the US do not need ISDS as both have a functioning public court system, which can be used by multinational companies as by everybody else. There is no reason to create special protection for bis businesses.
About the initiative in general, so far we are a coalition of 168 organizations from 19 different EU countries. The coalition is very diverse as it consists of NGOs working in all kinds of fields such as environment, consumer protection, democracy, digital rights, human rights etc. Moreover, there are trade unions, different associations and cultural organizations that support the ECI. We have registered the ECI at the European Commission in mid-July. If they approve the initiative we will start to collect the 1 million signatures that are required for an ECI to successful in September.
Could this initiative, in your opinion, stop TTIP?
Yes, I do believe that we can stop TTIP with the ECI. The ECI is the first and only pan-European participatory instrument and we will use it to create Europe-wide public pressure. So far there are several countries where this public pressure is already quite high such as Germany. However, the ECI is a good way to spread awareness to countries where TTIP has not yet been a big issue. By creating a huge EU-wide network of partners who oppose TTIP we can reach as many citizens as possible in all different parts of Europe. Decision-makers will not be able to ignore the public opposition to the agreement. Moreover, the ECI will give this protest an official framework that will force the Commission to deal with the citizens' will in case we are successful in collecting 1 million signatures.
How important is this story? In the case that TTIP (and CETA) is implemented, what consequences would it have to European countries?
If TTIP and CETA are adopted, every single one of the 500 million citizens living in the EU would be directly affected. First of all, it would weaken democracy even further as the agreements would give multinational cooperations large possibilities of influencing regulations. Public scrutiny regarding risk regulation, on the other hand, would become much harder. In addition, it is unclear what would happen if ISDS was really established between the EU and the US. The financial consequences for EU countries, however, could be very severe as we have rather strict risk regulations in many domains. Moreover, multinational companies would be significantly empowered just because they will have the possibility to sue governments in secret international tribunals. This would of course be at the expense of ordinary citizens who would have to pay the damages that are agreed on in these ISDS tribunals. In addition, TTIP is a “living agreement” as it implies that all future regulations on the EU and US side would be discussed through regulatory cooperation and within a regulatory council, which consists of US and EU officials. This would have consequences for the citizens' everyday lives. Risk management of products, chemicals, GMOs, food safety etc. would be further internationalized and the precautionary culture that persists in Europe regarding risks would most definitely be weakened. Although some experts believe that TTIP would create new jobs and lead to more economic growth (which is a very contested claim), democratic standards would loose out due to the agreement.
Which areas and sectors could be affected the most with this deal?
First of all, the trade deals are a threat to democracy in general. Lobbying by big multinational stakeholders would be intensified and they would gain a lot of power due to investment protection via ISDS. Furthermore, regulatory cooperation and the establishment of a regulatory council would be high risk for our standards whereby consumer protection, environmental standards and social rights are particularly sensitive issues. In general, TTIP would affect many areas, which is why our ECI coalition against the agreement is so diverse. NGOs, trade unions, church associations – they all fear to be negatively affected by the EU-US trade deal as well as by CETA.
What will happen to Croatia if TTIP is passed, especially if one Croatian government changes the law of the previous government, and if that change affects on profit of some American corporation that has concession on oil exploitation in Adriatic Sea?
This could well lead to a ISDS procedure, which could have enormous consequences for the Croatian budget.
Will peripheral countries have even bigger problems with TTIP than, for example, Germany?
I think that every EU country is affected by TTIP in the same way. But of course, for those countries who have already very big financial problems because of the financial crisis and/or a high public deficit, it would be disastrous if they were sued by an American company through ISDS. It could lead to very high financial losses and ultimately it would be the taxpayers (=citizens) who have to account for it.
There are lots of fears that companies will be immune to regulation, particularly on social issues and labour standards. What are your thoughts?
Many trade unions in Europe are indeed very worried about TTIP. They are either very reluctant towards the agreement or they reject it altogether. We already have a number of trade unions in our coalition such as Unison from the UK or OGBL from Luxembourg. They fear that American companies would seek action against European labour and social standards, which tend to be higher in Europe than in the US. Labour and social standards are also definitely areas that could fall under regulatory cooperation between the EU and the US. An effect could be that they will be increasingly adjusted meaning that European standards would be watered down.
Other issues, such as climate change have been mentioned as possible losers under EU - US trade deal. Could you highlight some of your other concerns?
TTIP is such a broad agreement that almost all areas of our everyday lives are concerned: consumer rights and especially food safety, digital rights, environmental issues etc. Culture is another area that might be fundamentally affected by the free trade agreement: subsidies for European films for example could be challenged by the American film industry via ISDS. The biggest threats are ISDS and regulatory cooperation.
Which areas are considered as “non-tariff barriers” regarding TTIP (like GMO crops), according to European commission and can we trust them?
The EU Commission for example always mentions different bureaucratic requirements in the EU and the US regarding safety measures in the automobile industry. These requirements could be either adjusted or mutually accepted in order to cut costs for businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. However, this is example is only one part of the story and could apply to other much more sensitive areas as well such as GMO regulation as you have mentioned.
Why do you think that TTIP is negotiating in such secrecy? Personally, how do you get information about TTIP?
The responsible negotiators of the EU and the US discuss very sensitive and contentious issues. They know that public outcry would be even higher if they talked about the agreement more openly. Much of the information that we receive has been leaked. However, the great majority of the agreements' contents has still not reached the public and so there is a lot of speculation going on. Nevertheless, we know that ISDS and regulatory cooperation are definitively part of the TTIP agreement as this was also confirmed by the Commission.
How intense is corporate lobbying in Bruxelles and could we call this a legalized corruption? Can you describe this process on some example?
Lobbying by big corporations in Brussels is enormous and civil society looses out most of the time. The TTIP negotiations are a good example for this. Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a civil society organization that monitors lobbying in Brussels, has found that 520 out of 560 lobby meetings that the Commission had in relation to TTIP were held with business lobbyists. Only 26 meetings took place between the Commission and public interest groups. The agribusiness sector is very powerful in the Brussels lobbying scene as well as the pharmaceutical-, financial - and car industry. Moreover, BusinessEurope, which represents national business federations in Brussels is also a big player in the TTIP negotiations. They explicitly demand ISDS and regulatory cooperation to be included in the free trade deal between the EU and US and so far their demands seem to be very much respected by the EU Commission despite public opposition to these elements.
In Europe, the TTIP opponents are present in the public debate for months. They succeed in being heard. Is it the same in the US and what are the biggest fears for American anti-TTIP activists?
In the US there is definitively also high public concern about TTIP though maybe not as intense or widespread as in Europe. We have already been in touch with NGOs that campaign against TTIP on the US side such as the organization Public Citizen, which is especially worried about regulatory cooperation. Indeed, there are areas in the US that are more strictly regulated in the US than in Europe such as the financial sector. And of course, in the US they equally fear that these standards will be weakened.
In the province of Quebec, Canada, the company Lone Pine is using NAFTA to challenge a recent law establishing a moratorium on fracking underneath the St. Lawrence Seaway until that government can review the environmental issues and develop appropriate protections. Lone Pine asserts its “property” has been expropriated and that the Quebec Parliament didn’t follow fair processes in passing the law – even though the company doesn’t even have a permit to frack under the St. Lawrence. Can we expect the same aftermaths in Europe, since TTIP is called the "NAFTA" on steroids, because they think that this agreement will do even more damage than NAFTA did to, for example, Mexican farmers. Do you agree on this?
Yes, the example of the fracking moratorium in Canada that is now challenged by a US firm is a perfect example of how ISDS is a threat also for Europe. In Europe, the public is widely opposed to using fracking and there are countries such as Germany that are considering to completely prohibit this technique. However, via Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement, American companies might have the possibility to challenge European risk regulations on fracking.
The British government has given the negotiators a free hand to negotiate their rights to control their health system. Until 2012., when they passed act which opened it's health system to privatization, American corporations are the main buyers. But, if TTIP is passed, American investors will be able to haul any UK government that tries to reverse privatization to a tribunal – the “investor state dispute settlement”. These tribunals will have the power to award billions in damages and compensation for lost profits and the loss of projected future profits, with no right of appeal. Is this the beginning of trend that could spread to other European countries and are this tribunals the biggest problem with TTIP?
As I have already mentioned, for us, ISDS was the main reason why we started the European Citizens' Initiative. The business sector is very eager to include ISDS in the TTIP and CETA agreements, which already indicates that they are ready to use it once it is adopted. However, the procedures behind ISDS are completely nontransparent and therefore democratically not legitimized.
Mainstream media are not covering TTIP story in Croatia. What is the situation in Germany? Why do you think that this is the trend?
In Germany, the mainstream media is reporting on TTIP on a weekly basis. Public opposition to TTIP is already very high here and this might also be due to the fact that the media is often very critical towards the agreement. For our initiative this is very helpful. However, there are of course other newspapers that regularly publish positive articles on TTIP. Nevertheless, it is true that in many other European countries, TTIP is not yet a big issue in the media. This was also one of the reasons why we decided to start the ECI. One of our main goals is to spread public protest beyond Germany's and other countries' borders to regions where TTIP is not yet discussed as much. If we want to be successful in abolishing TTIP and CETA, we need to have a strong basis of opposition in at least almost every EU country.