It was last Monday that Mrs Cecilia Malmstrom, the newly appointed EU Commissioner for Trade, paid a visit to Washington to meet “our American friends”, as she calls them. That is to say, “Mike“, Mr Michael Froman, US Trade Commissioner and his team. To her surprise “our American friends” provided her with a full course lunch rather than just a couple of sandwiches, like she was used to. Moreover, she described this as a “fresh start” in the TTIP negotiations. The reporters on site though questioned the “freshness” and so do we.
The Sting has been following very closely the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the trade pact between the US and the EU. After seven long rounds of negotiations in both sides of the Atlantic the top EU and US trade representatives have well tabled the major points of what is believed to become to biggest trade pact in the world. The crucial mistake though made in these 7 rounds is that the two parts were negotiating like business men and not politicians.
TTIP Vs. Cue Tip
Surprisingly enough for the other side of the Atlantic TTIP as a term means no more than a “cue tip”, as Mr Tim Bennett, CEO of the Transatlantic Business Council interestingly revealed to us in an exclusive interview he gave to Carlo Motta from the European Sting during European Business Summit 2014. Apparently the American citizen is not aware or engaged enough in this trade partnership with the Old Continent. On the other hand, other trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) seem more interesting for them to follow.
The major issue or political mistake made in these 7 negotiation rounds is to ignore the fact that the EU citizen is by far more engaged in the topic and as a matter of fact a huge part of the public opinion is against this trade agreement with the US. During this year, which comes soon to an end, we noticed various organised riots against TTIP in Brussels and beyond, pointing out some major hot points of the TTIP debate, like GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Hence, going to negotiations without a sound understanding and plan about how to tackle this public resentment is like going to start the car without the key. It won’t work!
A not so “Fresh Start”
On Tuesday, right one day after this “fresh start”, accompanied by a full course lunch, that Mrs Malstrom made in Washington, Stop TTIP, a “self-organised European citizens initiative against TTIP and CETA”-CETA is the trade pact with Canada- , whose aim is to do what the name stands for, handed over at the European Commission a special birthday present for President Juncker. It was a powerful petition that has been signed by more than 1 million Europeans who want TTIP negotiations to be halted immediately.
In fact this is the second million ‘worthy’ petition to be sent to the Commission in 5 months time! On 15 July another petition by the same organisation and signed by another million Europeans was also sent to the Commission. Stop TTIP petitions allegedly apply to be a “European Citizens Initiative“. According to the European Commission “the European citizens’ initiative allows one million EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal”.
Let’s go back now to the last hot summer, when the Commission rejected the powerful 1 million petition by Stop TTIP, claiming that a European Citizens Initiative (ECI) may be formulated only positively, working towards the enactment of a legal act, not towards preventing an enactment. Indeed it is understood that is a big majority in Berlaymont is comprised of well skilled lawyers that can find many reasons not to make an ECI valid. Furthermore, Stop TTIP, has launched a formal complaint to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), stressing that the European Citizens’ Initiative (regulation 211/2011) provides citizens with the right “to participate by means of a European Citizens’ Initiative in the democratic life of the Union”. In addition, Stop TTIP says that “there is not a syllable which indicates that only constructive, i.e. positively formulated, ECIs are to be possible”… “The instrument of an ECI is intended to enable lively participation at EU level by citizens – it is available to the citizens as a motive force or as a brake.”
The huge political mistake
Whether Stop TTIP can be granted the official ‘stamp’ “European Citizens Initiative” (ECI) or not, this is neither for this article nor for the Sting to judge. The European Court of Justice now will decide on the matter. No matter what the court’s decision will be, however, neglecting these more than 2 million ‘worthy’ European citizen petitions or acting like they never happened is a terrible and unseen political mistake.
The EU needs to listen to these original outcries from its people and deal with them in a democratic way. No bureaucrat receiving fat, tax free salaries, and enjoying an upper estimate of some 50 working days annual leave, should be able to turn a blind eye to petitions of this size and importance. What is more, it is not relevant that a top EU trade negotiator states: “I need to try to understand the scepticism, the fears,” (Monday press conference on TTIP). As a Trade Commisisoner you don’t try to understand but you understand!
There’s no other way
All in all, given the general resentment of the pubic opinion, there is no sense any more in covering the negotiation terms. People are against it a priori. If this trade partnership is about to help boost our economies in Europe greatly and create many more jobs for Europeans, then the EU needs to convince its citizens and earn their trust. Let’s start with opening the complete negotiation file at the European Parliament. If indeed it is in our best interest to proceed, then our representatives in the EP will see it and approve it.
On TTIP there is no other way to proceed, at least at this side of the Atlantic, but with an open democratic dialogue.