The EU-US trade agreement, victim of right-wing extremists and security lunatics

European Parliament. Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, LIBE, meeting. Discussion on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens by the NSA. Moraes, Claude (third from left), Constanze Kurz, Dominique Guibert, Nick Pickles. (EP Audiovisual Services, 14/10/2013).

European Parliament. Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, LIBE, meeting. Discussion on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens by the NSA. Moraes, Claude (third from left), Constanze Kurz, Dominique Guibert, Nick Pickles. (EP Audiovisual Services, 14/10/2013).

The 17 days, that the extreme right (Tea Party politicians) of the US Republican Party forced the American administration to partially shut down, have already cost the GOP the mayorship of New York and the governorship of Virginia, but have also endangered their country’s trade agreement with their closest economic partner, the European Union. The European Sting has been following this story very closely.

Late on Friday night 4 October, the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman informed EU’s Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, that “due to the ongoing furlough, the US Administration will not be able to send to Brussels next week officials from USTR and US Government agencies to maintain the planned second round of negotiations in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). All negotiation sessions planned for next week (7-11 October 2013) in Brussels are therefore cancelled”.

Shutting trade partnership down

That was an unexpected impediment in the multi trillion trade and investment agreement between the two largest economic entities of the world. If it was only for the American administration shut down, the EU and the US could have easily, within days, set another date for their second round of negotiations over the TTIP. However as they say ‘bad things come in pairs’.

The NSA scandal of taping millions of European targets and the German leader Angela Merkel then broke out, and created a new unfavourable political environment for the continuation of talks for the TTIP. At this point, it has to be noted that the EU and the US had repeatedly tried to start negotiations over a bilateral trade and investments agreement, but every time some powerful lobby blocked it. This time though, the two sides had managed to do it, that is, to start negotiations for a trans-Atlantic close economic partnership.

Now the American surveillance of Europeans has rendered very precarious every effort to revive those negotiations on trade and investments. Even more so, due to the forthcoming European elections of May 2014, with all and every EU politician being now very itchy over his/her image. Consequently, the US is not any more at the apex of its popularity in Europe. In many ways, the European Parliament has connected the two affairs, the NSA scandal and the trade agreement.

Change of climate

EU legislator Claude Moraes headed a delegation of his peers, members of the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament, to a trip to Washington towards the end of October. The purpose of this trip was clearly the fact that the allegations of the US conducting a mass surveillance of Europeans, could jeopardise the ongoing free-trade agreement talks. The EP’s civil liberties committee launched an inquiry to find out the truth. To this effect, some members from the civil liberties and foreign affairs committees met with US representatives in Washington to discuss the allegations.

Moraes, in an interview spoke about the findings of this Committee. He was asked about possible legal remedies to safeguard Europeans’ privacy. The legislator said that there are may be such remedies. Then he added “When we complete our report in February 2014 and present it to Parliament, we will present a legal framework to protect EU citizens. It will include, for example, issues like whether there should be a remedy in law for EU citizens when data is transferred to the USA. At the moment those remedies are inadequate. The report will look at issues such as Safe Harbour, the arrangement whereby when data is transferred to the United States, companies in the US have an obligation to protect that data. It will also look at our many arrangements with the United States like SWIFT and PNR, to make sure that all these arrangements are safe and secure and do what they are supposed to do, which is to fight terrorism but protect our data while we are doing it”.

Then he was asked if there still enough trust between the EU and the US to successfully conclude a free-trade agreement between them. He answered like that, “The EU and the US are fundamentally allies and when it comes to important issues like trade, jobs and investment, this is where our alliance must be very strong and I have a belief that in time we will get this trade agreement. However, it is important that this trade agreement is built on trust and there’s no question that the recent spying allegations and allegations of mass surveillance have done two things: they have dented trust between the EU and the US and secondly, they have slightly damaged the issue of commercial trust. This is not just a question of invasion of citizens’ privacy, it is also a question of unanswered allegations about the breaking of encryption, of backdoors into commercial activities, and I think this is where there was some breakdown of trust. So, this is about a process of rebuilding trust. If that happens, my belief is that the EU-US trade deal is something that of course will happen”.

Anti-American feelings

As it is easily understood, the trade agreement between the EU and the US is now closely interconnected with the American surveillance issue. As Moraes concluded, there should first be a rebuilding of trust between the two sides. Then the “EU-US trade deal is something that of course will happen”. The obvious conclusion is that negotiations for the transatlantic TTIP have been postponed for an unknown date.

This development would cost to both sides thousands of jobs that the trade and investment agreement was supposed to create on both sides, despite its shortcomings. At this point, it must be mentioned, that while the EU legislators were in Washington, a Republican congressman related to Tea Party circles, tried to undermine the talks. He stated that the NSA is doing a good job in taping all those millions of Europeans.

Not to forget that the Americans had insisted that the TTIP agreement would not cover issues related to protection of financial data. Now it will be very difficult for them to support this position. Returning to the doings of the Republican Party, this story has a very strong moral. If the GOP continues to be dragged by its extreme right Tea Party group, it will be not only their country to pay the price in its international relations, but the party itself should forget the possibility of electing the successor of Barack Obama.

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