The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known as TTIP, has always been largely criticized, and this is not news. However, the demonstrations that took place across Europe on Saturday, with large numbers of events in 22 countries across Europe, might tell that the time of huge protests against the agreement is here.
Tens of thousands people flooded the streets of cities all over Europe in over 1,000 locations in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic and Scandinavian countries. And this could be just the beginning of a very hot winter season.
The demonstrations were big and they have been organised by many social movements, which gathered a high number of individuals through the social networks. The main aim of the wave of protests was “to reclaim democracy”, as stated by some of the organizers to the media.
Campaigners have harshly criticised the conduct of the talks itself as contentious, having secretive negotiations secretive and being held in an undemocratic way, they argue. This has been a very hot point since the beginning, but it seems that now the matter has reached a critical point.
The European Commission, which strongly rejects those criticisms, made the right move: last week the negotiating directive for EU-US talks was published, after a formal declassification of the TTIP agenda itself. It’s important to know that until last Thursday basically the TTIP negotiation document was classified as “EU Restricted”, meaning that it contained “information whose unauthorised disclosure could be disadvantageous to the interest of the EU or of one or more of its Member States”.
The first comment after this important move came from the European Commission, with EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht saying he is “delighted” by the choice of the EU governments to make TTIP negotiating mandate public; also because he has been “encouraging them to do for a long time”. “[This choice] further underlines our commitment to transparency as we pursue the negotiations”, he said. “It allows everyone to see precisely how the EU wants this deal to work, so it contributes to economic growth and jobs’ creation across Europe while keeping our commitment to maintain high level of protection for the environment, health, safety, consumers, data privacy, or any other public policy goal”.
The EU is clearly trying to prove it has nothing to hide, but this might not be enough. Given the nature of last weekend rallies and the deep worries the TTIP is generating in the environmentalists and consumer groups areas, it’s also clear that protests won’t cease after the latest move by the EU.
Protesters are convinced that the huge promises* contained in this agreement are too precious for the EU and the US, and that it will see the light anyway, carrying many “dangerous” clauses. Critics argue that the completion of the TTIP agreement and also of the EU-Canada deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), would give more power to multi-national corporations, taking it away from the citizens.
The protesters argue that both TTIP and CETA will bring the same threat to the EU’s current policy, with the disputed “ISDS clause”. The provision would allow multinationals and private investors to sue governments if they feel their investments are weakened by local laws, on food safety and environment, for example. The Commission in turn underlines that these concerns are misplaced.
However, it is undeniable that the mandate made public last Thursday sets out de-facto a plan to include Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions. For sure the document clearly says that the inclusion of an ISDS clause will depend on “whether a satisfactory solution, meeting the EU interests” concerning the issues covered by the following paragraph, but the road map is there, found in pages 9, 10 and 11.
The TTIP talks started in July 2013 and seven rounds of negotiations have been completed so far. Dozens of hours of negotiations, hundreds of pages written about the meetings in Brussels and Washington, and still an agreement seems not very close. Also, as clear as it appears after last weekend, the “welcome committee” in the streets of the European cities, from Manchester to Berlin, is not so warm.
It is true that not many people are well informed about the agreement – especially in the US, where politicians, traders and consultants are the first to say that American citizens don’t really care about it. It is also true though that many of those who are up-to-date are basically adverse to it.
And this, whatever the approach is, pro or contra major trade agreements, should not be ignored.
*According to a European Commission estimate, TTIP could boost the EU economy by € 120 billion and the US economy by € 95 billion (respectively equal to 0.5% and 0.4% of GDP)