EU-US trade deal: Europe to Americanize its social model?

Karel De Gucht, Member of the European Commission in charge of Trade, travelled to Washington to meet with Michael Froman, US Trade Representative, in order to discuss progress in EU/US trade talks, and guide their Chief Negotiators on next steps. Stocktaking meetings on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement, Washington, 17-18/02/2014. (EC Audiovisual Services)

Karel De Gucht, Member of the European Commission in charge of Trade (on the left), travelled to Washington to meet with Michael Froman, US Trade Representative, in order to discuss progress in EU/US trade talks, and guide their Chief Negotiators on next steps. Stocktaking meetings on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement, Washington, 17-18/02/2014. (EC Audiovisual Services)

It can’t be both. Either the EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht hadn’t recovered from the transatlantic trip hangover, while speaking in Washington on Tuesday, or he thinks we are all morons. He said: “I invite all Europeans to also discuss their concerns about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (free trade deal)… Because I am sure that the European Parliament will not in the end approve a trade deal that undermines our European values or the social standards we have built over so many years. By the way, I would not approve such a deal either. I simply would not make it”. Has he lost the sense of reality? This is like talking to six years old kids.

How could we ever think that a Commissioner would ever make a deal with the Americans, which “undermines our European values or the social standards”? Or, could we think that he would? Probably fearing that we could, he said he wouldn’t. In any case, the European Parliament has warned him that the TTIP deal will not be approved by the legislative…”unless data protection rules should be excluded from the trade talks and (be) negotiated separately with the US ”. De Gucht said nothing concrete on that.

Talking to children

However, when trying to argue in support of the currently under negotiation TTIP free trade deal with the US, always in a childish way he said “no standards in Europe will be lowered because of this trade deal; not on food, not on the environment, not on social protection, not on data protection”. If this statement is to be taken seriously, the logical conclusion is that the Belgian Commissioner has already accepted that data protection is included in the TTIP negotiations with the Americans. Exactly what the Parliament told him not to do.

The European Parliament has more to say on this issue. The Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday 12 February approved a report which condemns the “vast, systemic, blanket collection of personal data of innocent people, often comprising intimate personal information”. The legislators added that “the fight against terrorism can never be a justification for untargeted, secret or even illegal mass surveillance programmes”.

On that occasion, the MEPs also called for the “immediate suspension” of the Safe Harbour privacy principles (voluntary data protection standards for non-EU companies transferring EU citizens’ personal data to the US). These principles “do not provide adequate protection for EU citizens” the MEPs said and urged the US to propose new personal data transfer rules, that meet EU data protection requirements.

Strong reactions

According to a Press release by the Parliament, the MEPs asked that “The Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) deal should also be suspended until allegations that US authorities have access to EU citizens’ bank data outside the agreement are clarified… The EU-US data protection framework agreement to be struck in spring 2014 must ensure proper judicial redress for EU citizens whose personal data are transferred to the US”. The full Parliament will vote on this resolution on 12 March in Strasbourg.

The legislative touches the data protection and the food security issues, whenever there is a discussion about the TTIP free trade deal with the Americans. This was also the case when the Greek Vice-Minister for Development and Competitiveness Notis Mitarakis presented n the European Parliament the priorities of the Greek Council Presidency in relation to the EU’s negotiating strategy in bilateral trade talks, particularly with the USA (TTIP). Trade Committee chair Vital Moreira (S&D, PT) asked the Greek minister how the “Council would respond to increasing scepticism, fuelled by data protection or food security issues, about the TTIP”. MEPs also questioned the feasibility of concluding TTIP talks before the end of 2014, as initially foreseen.

Looking for similarities

Commissioner De Gucht is well aware of all that. Nevertheless he doesn’t seem to take good account of what the Parliament keeps saying about safeguarding the EU standards on consumer health, data protection and social values and protection. In reality he tries to test the grounds with statements like this one. He said “As to the regulatory part of the agreement, we’ve always said that this would probably be the toughest nut to crack… Our standards on consumer protection, on the environment, on data protection and on food are not up for negotiation. There is no “give and take” on standards in TTIP”. Yet he went on and added….” where safety levels are similar, double testing and double inspections can be avoided in future to save companies money”.

This phrase “where safety levels are similar”, may hide an entire herd of bovines full of hormones and a whole cloud with stolen data. For one thing the term ‘similar’, when it comes to any kind of standards can be stretch to include everything, especially when the evaluation of ‘similarity’ is left to Americans. Already, the US for years systematically violates the agreement on ‘Safe Harbour privacy principles’. The US also uses the ‘The Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme’ for systematic industrial espionage targeting EU companies. Despite all that, De Gucht wants the European Parliament to allow the Americans to be the judges of ‘similarity’ of standards. Understandably, whenever ‘similarity’ is observed and the product has the US seal, the Commissioner proposes to import it to the EU without further border controls, ‘to save the costs’. This is obviously fishing for reactions.

Americanizing Europe?

It seems that the TTIP negotiations are entering the difficult part of consumer protection standards, work conditions, social protection and other hot issues like that, where large differences exist between the EU and the US. In any case, it will be very difficult for De Gucht and this Commission, through the conclusion of the TTIP, to attempt an indirect watering down of the EU consumer and data protection standards and a dissolution of our European social model in general.

 

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