A Commons perspective on TTIP & Europe

July 7th European Parliament: Intervention Sophie Bloemen on TTIP, CETA & Commons – Committee meeting Intergroup on Public Services & Common Goods. 

Although everyone here is obviously very aware of it, I cannot emphasize enough the deep crisis of the EU and the lack of confidence of its citizens in the European project. And as such I would like to emphasize the need for EU policies and its visions for the future to acknowledge people’s real and legitimate concerns, fears and grievances.

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A broken model

TTIP (and CETA) does the opposite. The pursuit of TTIP is not leading to a stronger Europe as some may claim, on the contrary it will and is contributing to the unravelling of Europe. The possible benefits – that there may well be – are far outweighed by the costs. The pursuit of this agreement is part of a broken model and vision, that of trade, corporate interests and competitiveness above all else. People do not need more consumer choice, they need security, meaningful activity and a feeling of ownership & voice in their societies.

Commons

The discourse of the commons in important in this respect. The commons refer to shared resources, the social practice of and way of managing those resources. And maybe most importantly, an ethical perspective.

When we recognize certain goods as common goods, important for everyone‘s wellbeing and flourishing, such as healthcare, medicines, education, water and renewable energy, they should be managed as such. These goods or resources should be managed in a way that promotes ecological & social sustainability, participation and equitable access.

People are more then individual consumers, they are citizens, part of communities and social practices while embedded in their environment. The commons perspective recognizes the need and importance for people to have a say, to co create their environment. It poses confidence in the capacity of people to manage common resources in a sustainable and fair way.

Going local

We see an increased interest and trend in local governance with more responsibilities for local governments, cities, etc across Europe. We see a strong surge in local citizens initiatives where people take joint responsibility for their direct environment. And we see  resistance to the commodification of everything, such as our public services, our online behaviour or public spaces. At the same time there is an embracement of ecological sustainability especially with the younger generations, which can be noticed in they way people consume, shop, choice of transport and design.

Against the trend

TTIP , and CETA go in the opposite direction of all these trends. It’s political suicide for the EU on so many levels.

Firstly: it’s a form of in-transparent centralized decision making, with quite some corporate and US influence. And ttip will end up giving more voice to corporate entities in member states affairs (especially with an investor to state arbitration mechanism either ISDS or ICS, but also without through regulatory cooperation! )

This gives people the feeling they have no say. Instead of giving more say to corporate and US actors, the EU should be thinking – really hard- about creative institutions for participatory democracy.

Secondly, increase of transatlantic trade will come at cost of inter-European trade. Is this desirable? Certainly not from ecological point of view.

The reality is we should be thinking about how to be efficient with energy resource and favor regional trade when possible.

Thirdly-it contributes to commodification of common goods. TTIP will enshrine if not increase the liberalisation of our public services. It will likely make the ‘re-communalisation’ of public services that have been privatised impossible. Across Europe many are unhappy with past privatisations and undoing them is the trend. Why lock in them in? 

ttip-lobby-sectorsImage:Corporate Europe Observatory 2016.

Intellectual Property

Another concrete example of this locking in of enclosure practices is the foreseen chapter on Intellectual Property- of which we have a pretty good idea due to EU positions, former EU trade agreements, US positions in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, and industry wishes.

Useful knowledge is so important for our wellbeing, the dissemination of knowledge has a huge effect on equality! Thomas Piketty names this as the key factor in his book Capital in the 21st Century.

Knowledge sharing

Instead of promoting sharing of knowledge, collaboration, co-creation, and recognizing that IP based monopolies are not the only incentive to give us knowledge goods;

Instead of exploring the creation of knowledge as public goods, which frankly the world is doing, think of OPEN ACCESS embraced by DG research, and the NIH, and the recent EU council conclusions on health, which talk about public funding to result in public goods. Think of Tesla which shares its patents, and Wikimedia where a huge knowledge resource is jointly created and co-governed, and the capacity of digital technology and the internet overall;

Instead of all that, TTIP follows the old logic of expansive IP policy, more protection, more monopolies, the logic of enclosure. It will enshrine current standards by the EU and the US and possibly expand protections here and there. Second thoughts on current practices are not an option.

Medicines for all?

ttip-lobby-pharmaImage:Corporate Europe Observatory 2016.

This becomes particularly urgent in times of an access to medicines crisis in the EU . A time when affordability is such an issue in for example Spain, Greece, France and  the Netherlands. Hepatitis C and Cancer treatment prices have created outrage and discussion on sustainability. The Dutch presidency has just initiated a study into the impact of patents and additional protections on affordability& access, which the Commission will undertake by 2017. It is not a time to enshrine the current flawed standards on IPRs in theses trade agreements through secret negotiations. And let’s not forget the recently passed Trade Secrets directive that also further expands the realms of data not to be shared with the public and was driven by TTIP.

The EU should refrain from locking in and expanding IP protections, out of respect for its citizens, sheer decency, and because it embraces a fruitful and constructive vision of the future beyond competitiveness, corporate interests and IP as only indicator of the success of a knowledge economy. We have to remember that intellectual property creates scarcity, not abundance.

Creating global public goods

Finally, I would say we need positive public interests proposals for TTIP: what could TTIP be when it does serve the common good ? How can the EU and the US commit each other to invest in the creation of global public goods ? Sure a trade agreement with the US could in principle be a good thing, but what is in it and how we go about it, matters. 

Thank you.

Posted in democracy, Europe, IP, TTIP
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  • “It is he who erects fences around his property who destroys civilization; the natural civilization of Man”

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau