Brussels to point the finger to Washington for lack of commitment over TTIP

José Manuel Barroso, President of the EC, participated in a meeting of the Executive Council of the Movement of French Enterprises (Medef) which was held for the first time in Brussels, in the presence of Pierre Gattaz, President of the Medef, and Emma Marcegaglia, President of BusinessEurope. (EC Audiovisual Services)

José Manuel Barroso, President of the EC, participated in a meeting of the Executive Council of the Movement of French Enterprises (Medef) which was held for the first time in Brussels, in the presence of Pierre Gattaz, President of the Medef, and Emma Marcegaglia, President of BusinessEurope. (EC Audiovisual Services)

It was only last Wednesday, 30 April, that the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, together with top representatives from BusinessEurope paid a visit to the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC. The aim of the visit was not only to “reciprocate” the previous American visit in Brussels, but also to point the finger to our American prospect partners on the “stalling” of the negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The discussions for the EU-US Free Trade Agreement began last July and since then TTIP has been one of the hottest topics in Brussels and Washington. This enormous “deal” is estimated to bring in to the EU more than 100 billions of euros turnover annually while it is said to create substantial job opportunities in the Old Continent. Given the size of the economies, since the two countries together possess half of the world’s wealth as stated by Mr Barroso earlier this week, this FTA, covering everything from seeds to gas, has received tremendous attention but also criticism from both sides of the Atlantic. After four long rounds of negotiations, a fifth round of EU-US trade talks (TTIP) will take place in Arlington, Virginia from 19-23 May 2014.

While the critics are growing in Brussels and beyond, it seems that our EU representatives went to DC to further endorse the EU side and interest in concluding the TTIP asap. This meeting, two weeks before the fifth round of negotiations starts at American soil was of profound importance. Mr Barroso was very clear in his speech. The European delegation is not coming to Arlington to visit the Iwo Jima memorial. Instead, they are coming to significantly proceed, if not conclude, the agreement.

The European side understands very well that the US remain idle in the negotiations with the TTIP, possibly because of the obstacles faced and the divided public opinion, and puts a lot more effort in other trade agreements that they pursue, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is another major trade agreement, which is being discussed simultaneously with TTIP, at another part of the world between Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. According to recent polls TPP is gaining momentum against TTIP. The American citizens see currently Tokyo closer than Brussels and consequently the American government is called to please them.

This is exactly what the EU side is seeing and is getting worried. Mr Barroso, at the end of his speech, the place where one can find the major political thoughts and motives in all political speeches, especially at this level, addresses the issue in a clever manner: “A final thought to say that both the EU and US are also engaged in bilateral negotiations with our other partners. Currently the EU is negotiating more than 15 bilateral or regional trade deals around the world. The US is also very committed to the TPP negotiations. I see no contradiction or incompatibility between these endeavours. At the same time in the context of the Trade Promotion Authority discussions, I do hope that each agreement will be assessed on its own merits and differences.” This is nothing but an urge from the European side towards Washington to come immediately back to the negotiation table at the same time as they struggle to translate their positions in Japanese.

Mrs Marcegaglia, President of BusinessEurope, the powerful organisation that represents the interests of European business and industry in Brussels and the world, joined Mr Barroso in this campaign to endorse TTIP earlier this week. The head of European industry last Wednesday was more ‘aggressive’ towards her American counterparts in an attempt to wake them up and call them for action. Particularly, speaking to Financial Times she underlined: “The message we are bringing is that we need to see real progress, real contents. The risk is that in Europe the negative opinion will prevail”…“What we see is everyone sticking to their positions – the Americans more than the Europeans”. 

The powerful Lombard did not stop there. She pointed out the American lack of “commitment” in the vision for the TTIP. She directly accused the Obama administration of ‘preventing’ EU products from being competitive in US public procurement. Moreover, she expressed her dissatisfaction over the fact that despite the Ukrainian crisis, still the US have not shown any preference to the EU for collaboration in the field of energy. “The attitude has not been of great commitment”, she argued. Furthermore, she added that “The moment is difficult on both sides . . . we want to bring a positive narrative,” she said. “We are ready to do our part but we need to see more commitment.”

Despite the ‘complaints’ that the US side also has on the European stance, it seems that DC is more strongly engaged now on the TPP than the TTIP. And this is very unfortunate for Europe as it is for the US and the world, because an-under certain conditions-beneficial economic, cultural and political agreement is being stalled. This trade deal is much more than a economic agreement and this has to be understood by both parties equally. It is necessary that the negotiations move forward while at the same the interest of the citizens in both ‘countries’ is well respected and served. We hope that the fifth round of talks bears fruit and that President’s Barroso and Mrs Marcegaglia’s voices will be heard, together with the voice of the European citizen, in order to find the desired golden cut in Arlington, Virginia in a few weeks time.

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