EU-US resume trade negotiations under the spell of NSA surveillance

Karel De Gucht, Member of the EC in charge of Trade, went to Edimburgh to participate in the celebrations organised in preparation for the next Ryder Cup. He also participated in an event on the theme of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which was organised by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), in Scotland. (EC Audiovisual Services).

Karel De Gucht, Member of the EC in charge of Trade, went to Edimburgh to participate in the celebrations organised in preparation for the next Ryder Cup. He also participated in an event on the theme of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which was organised by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), in Scotland. (EC Audiovisual Services).

Finally the second round of the EU-US trade negotiations is to be held this week from Monday to Friday 11 to 15 November in Brussels. The round was originally set for 7th-11th October but it was postponed because the Americans couldn’t travel to Europe due to the partial shutdown of the US administration. Of course a lot of things have changed since the beginning of October.

De Gucht under investigation

For one thing, the EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht responsible for Trade, the man who has led the negotiation on the account of the entire EU and accepted to conclude this agreement with the Americans before the end of the year, is now prosecuted in his home country Belgium, for tax evasion! However the President of the European Commission, Manuel Barroso after meeting with the Commissioner said that there is no question De Gucht quitting his position.

A possible De Gucht resignation would have been the third major obstacle in a row, for the completion of negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), between the EU and the US. The first impediment was the shutdown of the American administration because the American Republican Party refused to vote the increase of the Federal borrowing ceiling. After that, broke out the scandal of NSA alleged surveillance of millions of Europeans plus the tapping of the personal mobile telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In view of all that the European Parliament sent a delegation of MEPs to Washington, under Claude Moraes in a fact finding mission.

Breakdown of trust?

Moraes, after returning to Brussels said, “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”.

This is something that De Gucht cannot overlook. Despite the strong will of the Commission to conclude the negotiations for the TTIP within the year, and the taciturn intention to leave out the factor of data safety, the issue has emerged as a major one. As Moraes said “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”.

Cynically enough one has to accept that very few, if any European leader gives a damn if the Americans tapped the communications of millions of Europeans. However it’s quite different if the NSA spied on European business and state communications. It’s more than certain that no matter how much the Commission may want to leave out this issue from the negotiations’ agenda for the TTIP, the issue will shadow every aspect of those talks.

The EU and the US make up 40% of global economic output and their bilateral economic relationship is already the world’s largest. An independent study by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, London, forecasts that an ambitious and comprehensive deal could see the EU gaining €119 billion a year once fully implemented. EU exports to the US could rise by 28%, earning exporters of goods and services an extra €187 billion annually. Consumers will benefit too with an average family of four living in the EU being €545 better off every year. Nonetheless the issue of data safety cannot be overlooked.

 

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