The British “nonsense”, the relaxed Commissioner and the TTIP “chiaroscuro” at this week’s Council

Hi 5 Donald! Jean-Claude Juncker seems very happy to meet his new pal. From left to right, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald TUSK, President of the European Council at the 18-19 December EU Council in Brussels (European Council Audiovisual Services, 18/12/2014)

Hi 5 Donald! Jean-Claude Juncker seems very happy to meet his new pal. From left to right, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald TUSK, President of the European Council at the 18-19 December EU Council in Brussels (European Council Audiovisual Services, 18/12/2014)

“The EU and the US should make all efforts to conclude negotiations on an ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial TTIP by the end of 2015”, was the first conclusion of the first day of the 18-19 December EU Council. That our EU leaders are in an unprecedented rush to conclude the “notorious” trade deal with the US we knew. What we did not know though is that our most important EU politicians do not seem to care about their voters, at least when they come to the Council.

The Council’s intimacy

It is by default the harsh role of the European Council to “call on the Parliament” or to “call on the Commission” to do things faster. The elite of the Prime Ministers or Ministers of the member states usually make the most important EU decisions between coffee breaks at the Council’s building in Schuman square, at the heart of Brussels. And on this occasion, since the leaders of the most powerful nations/economies of the bloc, like Germany or UK, vote for TTIP, the rest of the EU “mappets” follow.

This is what happened at the first day of this Council and what has been always taking place pretty much in such summits. You see, the Council is just a meeting of the elite, official as regards its procedures only. The main feature is that our good leaders  leave on a plane to Brussels with limited political risk. How many local media will analyse the cover note with the conclusions of the first day? More so, how many national media will localise and comment on them? Will Italian media analyse Mr Renzi’s heavy support of TTIP? Rather not.

The importance of the Council conclusions for the European citizen lies on what the national media broadcast from it, and that is what the local camera shoots and the local journalist tapes on the leader’s way from the black BMW 7 to the entrance of the Council. So, in a scene with rather limited political risk, as the majority of the voters is not watching, the first day of the Council found the champions of TTIP, Mr Cameron and Mrs Merkel, followed by Mr Renzi this time, trying to boost the gigantic EU-US deal.

The British “nonsense”

“We need to bust some of the myths that are being put around,” Cameron said, “There are not the risks that some people are putting forward”, he added. Mr Cameron here is probably referring also to the “TTIP threats to NHS (National Health System)” that back in the UK the public opinion is afraid of. To be noted here that the UK Premier described those fears last month as “nonsense“. At the same day, as it happens more than often in the Council’s summits, a letter signed by Europe’s employers was published in the Financial Times that is stating the value that TTIP will bring to the European economy.

Further, while in Brussels the Council was pointing the finger to the Commission and the Parliament to move on in the speed of light with the TTIP thing, the EU Commissioner for trade was found uninformed once more. Mrs Cecilia Malmstrom, new Commissioner and key EU negotiator in TTIP, made some statements yesterday from Geneva that surely did not please neither Mr Juncker nor the rest of the fellows in the Council.

The Relaxed Commissioner

While everyone was stressing out to convince even the coffee boys that TTIP needs to be concluded by the end of 2015, Mrs Malmstrom said something to the press that surely made her phone ring many times afterwards: “I think that having a full deal ready to put to member states by the end of 2015 is probably not realistic”…“Hopefully if everything moves as soon as possible and we all make the necessary moves, we can start to see a framework of a decision by the end of next year.” Moreover, Cecilia continues the lack of alignment party with Brussels maintaining: “…and this strong feeling of support can survive the 2016 election campaign. So 2016 is not, in this case as we see it now, a lost year for agreements”.

This is unfortunately the second time in her first month of service that Mrs Malmstrom commits the major political mistake of non-alignment with Brussels, be it Juncker’s Commission or Council’s proceedings or even the Parliament’s voice that surprisingly fails to reach our good trade Commissioner. The people that tabled the fellows meeting in the Council know very well that 2016 is a 100% electoral campaign year in the US, where the American voter will need to see some proofs to vote for the next President of the USA. They also know that TTIP will not be part of the campaigns of the greatest US candidates, just because TTIP and cue-tip sound the same to the American voter. But our trade Commissioner says we do have time still?

The TTIP chiaroscuro

All in all, besides the intriguing political semantics coming from this Council, there is not at all progress in the biggest spike of TTIP, its unpopularity. TTIP will not pass to the European citizen in between coffee breaks at the Council. Well, not this time. It seems that sadly no political leader is informed about the 2 million citizen-worth “NO TTIP” petitions that were signed in just 4 months’ time. No political leader that came to Brussels to socialise in the Council is aware of the anti-TTIP protests in Europe, that had a very large scale and organised form.

If the Commission does not open the negotiation file to public consultation, this trade agreement will possibly never work, regardless of the major economic boost it could give to the European economy. The TTIP fears or “myths”, as Mr Cameron calls them, are not “nonsense”, as he dares to openly call them. Instead, this is democracy.

If Brussels does not put effort to open up the matter and convince us about all aspects of TTIP, then they commit a big political mistake that they will surely pay for in the next elections. Time is not an issue in this matter, as they believe, but democracy is.

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