Facepalm: When Karel de Gucht [pictured] offered to hold a public consultation on proposals for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, he clearly did not expect to receive 150,000 responses. Now he is calling the public reaction a “concentrated attack”.
Isn’t it a shame about Karel de Gucht?
The European Union’s trade commissioner launched a public consultation on the hugely controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership back in January – as reported in this blog – but has now changed his tune.
Perhaps somebody could send the following message to Mr de Gucht, to help him understand something fairly fundamental about his position:
When hundreds of thousands of people voice opposition to a political plan, that isn’t an attack; it’s called democracy.
Apparently it’s quite a popular concept in Mr de Gucht’s home country of Belgium, where they’ve been struggling to form an effective government since 2007. Perhaps that’s why he seems to have a problem with it…
Mr de Gucht seems keen to forget about his consultation so, faced with this opposition from a man who clearly thought an ill-informed public would support TTIP – or would not care about it – SumOfUs has launched an alliance with more than 150 partner organisations to create a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) calling for TTIP negotiations to be halted.
For this to work, these groups must collect at least one million signatures in seven European countries. The ECI can request a legislative act from the European Commission, repealing the European Union’s negotiating mandate for the Transatlantic Trade Investor Partnership (TTIP) and not concluding the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) – and can force a hearing at the European Parliament.
Inevitably there is a price to pay for this kind of democracy and SumOfUs is seeking donations to pay for the two full-time staff who are coordinating the European-wide campaign work, developing a software to collect the signatures online, and planning to print and send thousands of packages with information material and signature lists “so that TTIP is an issue on every market stall in even the remotest village in Slovenia”.
To contribute a quid towards this project, click here.
It might be one of the most important pounds you’ve ever spent.
What a bunch of… bankers: As mentioned in the article, the government is happy to spend your money defending bankers’ bonuses in the European Union – but when it comes to defending your publicly-funded health service, they haven’t squeaked.
Remember the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? Also known as TTIP? The proposed agreement between the EU and USA that – in its current form – would lock future UK governments into a legal framework that protects the privatisation of health services in this country?
A part of the agreement called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement would allow any commercial organisation the ability to sue governments that acted in an anti-commercial way such as – for example – re-nationalising health services that the Conservative-led Coalition has sold off to firms in which many government MPs have shady personal financial interests.
David Cameron used to have a cabinet minister responsible for handling negotiations on the TTIP – Kenneth Clarke, the Minister Without Portfolio (aha! Now we know what he was supposed to be doing for a living).
But of course Clarke left the government in the July reshuffle. He gave every indication that he was delighted to be going, which suggests that work on the TTIP was not agreeing with him.
Perhaps it was the weight of all those people campaigning against the locked-in commercialisation of the NHS, in which treatment for particular conditions will depend on whether it is profitable where you live, coupled with the weight of Cameron’s determination to do nothing to prevent it – all obscured by the veil of secrecy that all involved have tried to draw across the negotiations.
Unite’s Len McCluskey told the Huffington Post: “First David Cameron claims there are no exemptions [so the NHS will be included in the deal – we should always remember that is Cameron’s default position], then EU Trade Commission[er] Karel De Gucht suggests that the NHS may have been exempted.
“Now civil servants are sending out statements claiming that the NHS was never in TTIP to begin with. It seems the government simply does not know what the world’s largest bilateral trade deal actually covers.”
Confusion! That’s an excellent way to slip in unwelcome changes – but it would mean the government was admitting its own incompetence.
McCluskey added: “David Cameron can choose to exempt the NHS if he’s prepared to fight for it. He was prepared to go to Europe to defend bankers’ bonuses.”
Good point. Despite the fact that bankers caused the financial crisis and many banks are still in debt, Cameron went to Europe to defend the ridiculously high bonuses they continue to award themselves. Then again, Cameron and his ministers have spent the last five years pretending that the crisis was entirely the fault of the previous Labour government. They must think we are stupid if they think we’ll swallow that – and we must bear that in mind when considering Coalition policy towards the TTIP.
Under the TTIP, a few other British standards will also suffer, according to the HuffPost:
We will be forced to accept other countries’ rules. UKIP voters take note that your party supports the TTIP.
Bosses will be allowed to reduce wages and hammer labour rights.
Food regulations will be weakened to allow banned products – like chlorine-bleached chicken and growth hormones in beef – into the country.
The UK could be forced to reverse its ban on asbestos in order to match US standards, leading to an increase in lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The European Union’s trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, reckons he’s going to consult the public over the controversional Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – the EU/US free trade agreement.
He says he is determined to strike the right balance between protecting EU firms’ investment interests and upholding governments’ right to regulate in the public interest.
Bear in mind, this is for the investment part of the deal, which includes investment protection and the red-hot disputed subject of investor-to-state dispute settlement, where firms would be allowed to sue governments if regulations got in the way of their profits, as the deal currently stands.
A proposed text for the investment part of the talks will be published in early March.
“Governments must always be free to regulate so they can protect people and the environment. But they must also find the right balance and treat investors fairly, so they can attract investment,” said Mr De Gucht.
“Some existing arrangements have caused problems in practice, allowing companies to exploit loopholes where the legal text has been vague.
“I know some people in Europe have genuine concerns about this part of the EU-US deal. Now I want them to have their say… TTIP will firmly uphold EU member states’ right to regulate in the public interest.”
Do you believe him?
The European Commission wants to use TTIP to improve provisions already in place that protect investments by EU-based companies in the US, and vice versa.
In practice, we are told, there would be a require for this protection to defer to states’ right to regulate in the public’s interest.
There would also be new and improved rules, including a code of conduct, to ensure arbitrators are chosen fairly and act impartially, and to open up their proceedings to the public. This comes after significant unrest about arbitrators being chosen exclusively from big business, with a natural bias towards the interests of their employers.
It seems “no other part of the negotiations is affected by this public consultation and the TTIP negotiations will continue as planned”.
Is this the only part of the deal that affects the public interest, then?
I don’t know. The TTIP negotiations have been shrouded in mystery since they began last June. Can anyone outside the talks – and those taking part are sworn to secrecy – say they are an expert?
Since the talks began, the Commission has held three rounds of consultations with stakeholders – big businesses operating in both Europe and the USA “to gather the views and wishes of the public and interested parties across Europe”, it says here.
“The Commission has also done public consultations before the start of the TTIP negotiations.” Have you taken part in any such negotiations?
The rationale behind the talks is that the EU is the world’s largest foreign direct investor and the biggest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world, so it must ensure that EU companies are well-protected when they invest in countries outside the EU. This involves reciprocal agreements to protect foreign companies.
“Investment is essential for growth, for jobs and for creating the wealth that pays for our public services, our schools, our hospitals and our pensions,” the argument goes. But who gets the wealth? The people who work to make it – whose living and working conditions are likely to be reduced dramatically to lowest-common-denominator terms? Or the company bosses who are ironing out the terms of this agreement while most of us are being told to look the other way?
Let’s look at an example of this in action. According to OpenDemocracy.net, the TTIP talks “could see England’s NHS tied into a privatised model semi-permanently.
“The idea [is] that the Health and Social Care Act was developed to allow foreign transnational corporations to profit from NHS privatisation.
“Even worse is the idea that, once passed, an international trade agreement will leave us irreversibly committed to privatising the NHS. Even with a change of government and the repeal of the Act, we’d be facing the insurmountable obstacle of international competition laws.”
The article demands that the government must be clear with the public – will our health service be opened to multinational business as part of this trade agreement?
Leftie politics sheet the New Statesman agrees: “This will open the floodgates for private healthcare providers that have made dizzying levels of profits from healthcare in the United States, while lobbying furiously against any attempts by President Obama to provide free care for people living in poverty. With the help of the Conservative government and soon the EU, these companies will soon be let loose, freed to do the same in Britain.
“The agreement will provide a legal heavy hand to the corporations seeking to grind down the health service. It will act as a Transatlantic bridge between the Health and Social Care Act in the UK, which forces the NHS to compete for contracts, and the private companies in the US eager to take it on for their own gain.
“It gives the act international legal backing and sets the whole shift to privatisation in stone because once it is made law, it will be irreversible.
“Once these ISDS tools are in place, lucrative contracts will be underwritten, even where a private provider is failing patients and the CCG wants a contract cancelled. In this case, the provider will be able to sue a CCG for future loss of earnings, causing the loss of vast sums of taxpayer money on legal and administrative costs.
“Even more worrying is that, once the TTIP is enacted, repealing the Health and Social Care Act in the UK will become almost impossible.”
The public has the democratic right to contest the agreement, and fight for a health service that protects them, the Statesman says, “but how can they when MEPs do nothing to inform opinion or gather support back home? The NHS is in a very precarious position. It seems that soon, with the help of Brussels, its fate will be sealed.”
Would you like your MEP to speak up for you – in other words, to do what he or she was elected to do and actually represent your interests? Then why not get in touch and ask why they’ve been so quiet about this for so long? It’s easy – you can find their contact details here.
The EU has released a ‘factsheet’ summarising how it would like you to understand changes to existing investment protection rules and the ISDS system.
The previous Vox Political article about TTIP is here.
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.