The controversial trade deal between the US and EU is in trouble. Those pushing it know the game is up, and are trying to rush through as much of the agreement as possible, before it’s too late.

Protesters outside the TTIP negotiations, Brussels, 3 Feb 2105. Photo by Jess Hurd

Protesters outside the TTIP negotiations, Brussels, 3 Feb 2105. Photo by Jess Hurd

ISDS is off the table, and the new Greek government has promised to veto the deal.

So have we won?

Not quite. Firstly, it’s not fair to expect Greece – already under huge pressure – to carry this burden for us. The whole of Europe needs to unite, loudly, against TTIP and CETA. Those of us facing elections need to make TTIP an election issue, and make it clear we won’t be voting for any party that plans to hand our country over to corporations.

Even if TTIP is in trouble, a massaged and spun version could easily still make its way through. And if it doesn’t, TTIP will be back with another and even more boring acronym. It is part of a long term project to re-engineer the world along neoliberal lines, and corporations won’t give up due to a short term setback. They’ll look for the next crisis, the next time we take our eyes off the ball, and bring it back with a vengeance.

We need to be absolutely unequivocal in our rejection of TTIP and CETA, and our assertion that Europe belongs to the people who live here, and that we will decide on appropriate standards.

You can start by signing the initiative at the bottom of this article.

This has been a great campaign, and further evidence that we can win if we fight back.

A great campaign

This was meant to be another elite stitch up, another seamless transfer of wealth and power from people to corporations. Now think tanks like the European Council on Foreign Relations are advising negotiators to cut their losses, abandon the more controversial aspects of the agreement, and rush through a weaker version before opposition rises further.

The most controversial aspect of TTIP was ISDS, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement. This was a secret court that would allow corporations to sue governments for hurting their profits. There are numerous examples from the rest of the world where ISDS has lead to countries being sued for imposing plain cigarette packaging, for instance, or opposing an environmentally destructive mine or fracking operation.

ISDS has now proved so contentious is has been taken off the negotiating table.

Then Greece elected a Syriza government, which has promised to veto TTIP in the European Parliament as a “gift to the European people”. Thanks, Greece.

We won this round, but the fight isn’t over yet.

We can take heart from a great campaign, and build on it to make sure we assign TTIP – and the ideology behind it – to the dustbin of history.

The US unions were the first to highlight the dangers of TPPA and TTIP, because of their experience with NAFTA. Global unions like the IUF have done an excellent job of diseminating information to affiliates, and charities and NGOs have spread the world. Just the fact that people know about it is a victory in itself. This wasn’t supposed to happen – it was all meant to be stitched up behind closed doors.

We have loudly and publicly taken action, and raised public awareness. In Europe, there exists a mechanism designed to improve the democratic functioning of the European Parliament: the European Citizens’ Initiative. It allows one million citizens to propose a law at EU level. An ECI was submitted on TTIP – and the submission was rejected. Democracy is suspended when it is inconvenient for the elite.

So a coalition of campaigners launched a self-organised ECI, without permission, and have gathered almost 1.4 million signatures, representing a massive, grassroots rejection of this deal.

There has also been a growing awareness of the lack of democracy in European public life, and in the importance of public services.

Finally, a recap on what TTIP is, and what’s wrong with it:

What is TTIP?

TTIP – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – is a “trade deal” currently being negotiated between the US and Europe. There are other, similar deals between Canada and Europe (CETA) and the nations of the Pacific (TPPA). We use “trade deal” in inverted commas, because the real purpose of TTIP is to iron out any obstacles to corporate dominance. When they say “harmonise discrepancies in tariff arrangements”, what they really mean is get rid of niggling obstacles like democracy.

What’s the problem?

  1. It’s being negotiated in secret. The agreement will affect millions of people, so why can’t we participate? What are they hiding? We are told that there will be many benefits to TTIP.  If it really was a great deal for everyone, unions and citizens organisations would be invited to participate and endorse it.
  2. It’s ideological. The ideology behind TTIP is that there must be no impediment to market forces. Workers’ rights, environmental protections, the needs of communities and so on are all impediments to the “perfect” functioning of the mythical Invisible Hand of the Market. TTIP’s purpose it to smooth away as many of these obstacles as possible.
  3. It’s part of a process of neoliberal convergence and dominance. TTIP is just the latest attempt to tie the world into a unifed market system dominated by corporations. It’s anti-democratic, and is just the next stage in the neoliberal counter revolution that started in Chile in 1973. The process went into overdrive with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and NAFTA was the first in a long line of trade deals to entrench this dominance.

What will TTIP mean?

We don’t know for sure. Everything is subject to negotiations that we have been excluded from. Although we can see summaries of negotiations, we can’t subject the detail to any proper scrutiny. But its purpose is to smooth the way for corporations, and to “harmonise” standards on everything from workers’ rights to food safety and environmental protection. These are likely to be “harmonised” down to US levels, which are far lower than in Europe. Here are some likely outcomes:

  1. Public services – like the NHS in the UK – will be forced by the terms of the agreement to open themselves to private sector competition
  2. It will become easier to hire and fire workers. Jobs will be moved to wherever production is cheapest
  3. Food safety standards will be lowered, and Europe could be forced to use GMO crops and hormone-treated beef
  4. Digital privacy will be further undermined
  5. Europe might lose geographic protected status for products like champagne, parmesan, parma ham, Scotch whisky and so on.

There is more information here.

NAFTA lead to the emergence of the Zapatista rebel movement, and every subsequent attempt at corporate dominance has given birth to its opposition.

Let’s turn Europe’s rebel movement into a force for good. We can use our opposition to TTIP to unite against austerity and for a world fit for people.

Sign the initiative


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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