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.
Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the ‘little’ people – the populations they are treading on – are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]
Your rights and freedoms have been under attack from all sides.
Not only has the government been able to pass the ‘gagging’ bill, preventing you from organising large-scale campaigns against repressive right-wing Conservative and Liberal Democrat legislation; not only are the police lobbying a sympathetic Home Secretary (there’s no restriction on their campaigning powers) for permission to use water cannons to suppress public on-street political protests; not only is the government hiding legislation to shackle news reporters and ignore the democratic process within a Bill that is supposed to be about cutting ‘red tape’; but negotiations to barter away your rights in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are still taking place.
Now, dear reader, you have probably written to your elected representatives at the European Parliament already. You haven’t? In that case, please look them up here – MEPs are elected on a regional basis so you should write to everyone representing your constituency – and get writing.
For information, here’s the letter I wrote to my own MEPs. Do not copy this, paste it into your email program and send it as your own! You will be ignored. The best way to grab their attention is to put in your own words your concerns about this issue. Use what follows as reference, but say it your own way.
Readers of Vox Political have been accused of improper behaviour before, because they copied and pasted rather than using their own words. Let’s not allow that again.
Here’s my letter; see if you can improve on it:
May I draw your attention to the detrimental effects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This agreement, currently in negotiation between the USA and the European Union, has as its stated aim opening up markets for services, investment and public procurement.
Much of the groundwork has been carried out in secret, hidden from public scrutiny, but the information that has been made available has aroused serious concern that this agreement will weaken existing standards and regulations that protect workers and consumers in the EU.
In particular, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow any foreign company operating in the UK to make a claim against the government for loss of future profits resulting from any regulatory action by the government, such as new legislation. Such claims would be considered by an unelected, unaccountable tribunal composed of three corporate lawyers whose decisions are likely to favour the corporations and would override national laws.
ISDS was set up to protect companies operating in countries with a history of political instability where the rule of law could not be guaranteed. This does not apply to either the US or the EU and you should interpret this mechanism only as a device for subverting our national and supranational legislation.
It is widely believed that the TTIP will be used by our Conservative-led government as a means of locking-in its detrimental changes to the National Health Service. I am sure I do not have to rehearse the arguments that introducing private companies to the health service in England is leading to a patchwork system in which care is provided entirely on the basis of profitability. There is now no obligation on the Secretary of State for Health to provide a high-quality service across the whole of the UK, and the new system encourages Clinical Commissioning Groups and medical practices to exclude from their lists patients with conditions that are expensive to treat. The TTIP will forbid the UK government from improving this system with legitimate public health regulation, health protection and health promotion policies as private health companies will be able to sue the state for loss of future profits. ISDS would make it impossible for CCGs to cancel contracts with private providers, even when those firms were providing inadequate standards of patient care, because they would then face a legal challenge for loss of earnings that they could not fund. It will also limit the government’s ability to regulate professional standards and qualifications regarded for healthcare workers and lower the quality of patient care. In short, it would be impossible to reverse the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012, and its marketisation of the NHS. Do you want the health of your constituents to depend on a foreign company’s balance sheet?
You may wish to take heart from comments by the British Medical Association that it believes the NHS will be exempt from the TTIP. There is no evidence to support this statement. In fact, David Cameron stated in reply to a Parliamentary question in June 2013: “I am not aware of a specific exemption for any particular area, but I think that the health service would be treated in the same way in relation to EU-US negotiations as it is in relation to EU rules.”
In fact, as comments from the chairman of the Liberalisation of Trade in Services Committee (LOTIS) and financial services pressure group TheCityUK make clear, no issue had been identified that would allow exclusion of any sector from the second round of TTIP negotiations in November last year. You should also note that the Lisbon Treaty provides no protection for the NHS, despite the arguments of some people.
Furthermore, evidence to the House of Lords European Sub-Committee on External Affairs has shown that public health measures such as warnings on food labels, pesticides and chemicals, and other potentially toxic or unhealthy products may be restricted to bring the EU in line with the narrow approach to risk assessment taken in America (that promotes sales) and away from the EU’s broader precautionary principle (that promotes safety). Are you in favour of sales or the safety of your constituents?
You will know that the USA has not implemented fundamental labour rights such as the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Regulatory harmonisation brought about by the TTIP will lower European labour rights to American standards – the agreement will always bring standards down to the lowest common denominator. This means that workers in all sectors, including (again) health, will lose vital rights in their struggle for fair pay and conditions of work. Do you support attacks on workers’ rights?
To sum up: The TTIP is ill-judged in its entirety and neither the UK nor the European Union should have anything to do with it. It would give huge power to transnational corporations while stripping away member states’ rights to regulate them and, in that sense alone, represents an enormous threat to democracy. British people fought long, arduous battles to gain the few rights they have, and neither you nor anybody else in the European Union have a mandate to sign those rights away.
This agreement may safeguard the profits of large multinational companies, ensuring that huge amounts of money go into their shareholders’ bank accounts (wherever they may be), but it will undermine the wages of everybody who works for them – again, according to the principle of the lowest common denominator. Yet it is workers’ wages that support national economies – by necessity they spend most (if not all) of their income as soon as they get it, on rent, utility bills, groceries and other vital supplies. The TTIP will harm national economies.
There is an argument that the TTIP will create growth and jobs – but there is little evidence for this, and even that is poor. The European Commission’s own impact assessment admits that a 0.5 per cent increase in growth would be “optimistic”, and independent research suggests that a meagre 0.01 per cent increase in the growth rate over 10 years is more likely. The North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico led to a net loss of almost a million jobs in the US.
Negotiations on the TTIP represent a test on where your loyalties lie. Do you support the people who elected you – or are you a puppet of the corporations?
As my representative, I am asking you to take all steps necessary to publicise this attack on democracy and on our sovereignty, and to take any action – individually or collectively – to put an end to it.
Please let me know what you intend to do.
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The Coalition government has finally put its cards on the table, calling for the completion of a ‘free trade’ agreement with the United States of America that will end democracy as we know it today.
Do you think this statement is needlessly hyperbolic? In fact, it probably does not make the point strongly enough!
You will lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.
Profit will rule.
Also threatened would be any other public service that has been privatised by this and previous governments, along with any that are privatised in the future; all would fall under the proposed agreement. So the debate over energy bills would be lost because gas and electricity provision would come under the agreement, along with water and the Royal Mail, among others.
Speaking today (Wednesday), Osborne announced: “We should set ourselves the urgent task of completing the transatlantic trade and investment partnership – the EU-US Free Trade agreement.
“This would be the world’s biggest ever trade deal – together our economies would account for half of global output.
“The Commission estimate it would boost the European economy by 120 billion euros a year – that’s over 500 euros for every family in the EU. It would bring £10 billion pounds a year to the UK alone.
“Some in the European Parliament talk about stalling this Trans-Atlantic Partnership to pursue other agendas.
“But when a quarter of young people looking for work in Europe are unemployed, this would be a complete betrayal.
“We need to create jobs, increase trade, support business growth – we’ve got the European tools to help with the job, let’s get on and use them.”
Did you notice that, for him, it’s all about the money? Yes – he mentions job creation. But these jobs would be provided under terms dictated by the hugely powerful global corporations. Their bosses would take the profits and ground-level employees would be treated like – well, like Orwell’s metaphor for the future: a giant boot, stamping on your face, forever.
You may have heard very little about this – and for a good reason. The architects of the planned agreement want the deal done before anybody realises what is going on and organises robust protest against it.
So let’s give you some of the facts:
The US/EU Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP), called Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the US, is a bilateral trade agreement between the US and the EU. It goes much further than any previous EU trade agreement in deregulating, in establishing the rights of transnational corporations and in undermining the ability of governments to control corporations.
It is set to completely change our society, and is already in process, as with the NHS.
‘Trade’ and ‘international trade agreements’ are different. While most people would consider trade to be good thing, international trade agreements give rights to transnational corporations while reducing states’ rights to regulate them, thus reducing democracy.
All free trade agreements include goods, services and intellectual property rights – but the additional elements of the TTIP that are the main part of the agreement are much more far-reaching. These are regulatory harmonisation, investor state dispute settlement and the intention to establish global rules via these trade agreements.
‘Regulatory harmonisation’ means ‘harmonising’ regulation between the EU and US, downwards to the most lax form, across all areas, to suit transnational corporations. This will mean the degrading of regulation on health and safety, food, environment, labour standards, privacy and much more, including financial services regulation. The NHS is now already ‘harmonised’ with the US corporate-access public health model – and this was always the Conservative Party’s plan.
TTIP will also include ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS), allowing transnational corporations to sue governments directly for the loss of any future profits resulting from any government action, at any level, such as new legislation. Where ISDS is already included in ‘trade’ deals, it is shown to lead either to big payouts from governments to transnational corporations or to deter governments from legislating – the ‘chill’ effect.
In theory, this means that if a national government had banned a product – a toy, perhaps – on the grounds that it was harmful to health because it contained lead – for example – the manufacturer could then sue that government for infringement of the TTIP. The national government would lose, and our children would come down with lead poisoning.
In practice, we can see a classic example in the current lawsuit taken out by Philip Morris, the antipodean tobacco giant, against the Australian government over the law that enforces plain packaging on all tobacco products there. The law was enacted to discourage people from smoking – an act with proven health risks – but it seems likely that Philip Morris will win because Australia’s government has restricted its ability to make massive profits.
TTIP and the TPP are intended to set global ‘trade’ rules which will eventually become the norms for the multilateral World Trade Organisation, but formulated outside of a structure that allows other countries to jointly resist the corporate-dominated agenda.
As with all bilateral ‘trade’ agreements, TTIP negotiations and agreement texts are secret until the negotiations are completed – ensuring that the public cannot protest against them until it is too late.
Trade agreements are effectively permanent.
Although international ‘trade’ agreements are negotiated government-to-government (by the Trade Commission for EU member states), they are promoted and driven by transnational corporations, which benefit from states being bound by international trade law – these are the the same transnational financial service corporations that caused the global financial crisis.
As part of the TTIP, a framework for the ongoing ‘harmonisation’ of all future regulation is being put in place with the setting up of a Regulatory Co-operation Council. This non-elected Council will be able to override national and EU legislation.
‘Public procurement’ – government spending – is a major target in the international trade agenda.
The TTIP is being rushed through, with the aim of completion by the end of this year (2014).
TTIP will include provision for the movement of temporary workers across borders. This will inevitably mean cheap labour, and the undermining of working conditions and labour rights, especially in a context of degraded regulation. These are the jobs George Osborne wants for you!
The Trade Commission has set up a communications ‘spin’ unit to manage public opinion on the TTIP.
Once TTIP negotiations are completed, the European Parliament will only have the right to say yes or no, to the deal, with no amendment allowed. It will then, as with all EU ‘trade’ agreements, be provisionally implemented before it comes to member state parliaments for ratification.
In the US, the government is seeking ‘Fast Track’ provision or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from the Congress. If granted, US representatives will similarly only be allowed to pass the agreement or not, without amendment.
You may wish to examine the following documents for further evidence:
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