TTIP: A deal to bolster the power of non-elected bodies
The February-March issue of the Government Gazette features a balanced and evidence-based overview of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, with opinion and analysis from both sides of the debate. Here, Jean Lambert MEP (Green, London) argues that TTIP transfers regulatory power away from elected bodies into unaccountable corporate hands.
The proposed trade agreement currently under negotiation between the EU and the US is proving highly controversial. We have seen the Commission forced to respond to public concern by increasing transparency and holding a public consultation on the Investor-State-Dispute -Settlement (ISDS) mechanism. So, what’s different about the trade deal getting increasing headline space at the moment – TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)?
For one thing, the sheer scale of it: the EU and USA have about 40% of global GDP, so what is agreed in the deal will have a global effect.
The scope of the deal is also why TTIP is coming under greater analysis now. Unlike most trade deals, it is designed to go beyond tariff barriers to other areas seen as potential ‘barriers’ to trade. This will make a difference to regulations that include the protection of social, labour, environmental and animal welfare standards. There are also questions about its effect on procurement and the provision of health and other public services. Opposition to TTIP has risen commensurate with increased levels of public awareness. Some key areas coming under increasing scrutiny are:
- Impact on jobs
- Food safety, animal protection and environmental legislation
- Access to generic medicines
- Digital rights, and our rights to privacy
These are far-reaching concerns centring on what we eat, what we are treated with and who watches what we do. Facebook and Google for example, are presently able to sign up to a Safe Harbour agreement, effectively a self-certification system to ensure that their data protection standards are at least the same as those required by European law.
However, then came the Snowden episode. After he revealed that US agencies were conducting surveillance on European citizens using US-held data, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Member States to suspend the US Safe Harbour agreement until such secret surveillance is at an end. The European Parliament has long-standing concerns with EU-US data co-operation and there could be problems with the TTIP e-commerce chapter, for example, if EU data protection standards are undermined via TTIP. For the US negotiators, data protection is a potential trade barrier but for the EU protecting personal data is a fundamental right.
Generally, TTIP wants to harmonise standards in many areas via a Joint-Regulatory Board, or possibly go for mutual recognition: this probably means lowering standards where previously they had been higher for one side. It is also not yet clear how national elected bodies would be able to challenge such Board decisions.
The legislative ability of parliaments on both sides of the Atlantic to make laws on behalf of their citizenry is no longer a given. The crux is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), allowing corporations to actually sue governments in front of an arbitration panel made up of corporate lawyers, rather than using the Courts. Resulting decisions are not subject to legal challenge.
So when it’s all added up, the picture is sinister. We could have trade deals completed without proper scrutiny, effectively in secret, whittling away European citizens’ hard-fought-for rights. Within this, we also have a mechanism that allows corporate lawyers free reign to make major decisions in secret.
There has been a lot of focus on ISDS but this comes with a warning: ISDS is only one problematic element. We can tinker with ISDS, improve it – even succeed in removing it, but the larger problem of TTIP moving power from elected to non-elected bodies will persist.
The Greens in the European Parliament oppose TTIP. Other MEPs from other parties claim it will bring growth and jobs, but ultimately at what cost?
Jean Lambert is a member of the Greens/European Free Alliance political group in the European Parliament and a Green representative for London.