March 21, 2014
Negotiating on trade issues must be exciting. Apart from the long hours spend on detailed boring issues; it’s about power, about giving and taking. One needs to be smart and knowledgeable on issues, bluff at times and not give away all your cards. Imagine negotiating on behalf of the European Union, how grand… However, in order to negotiate well, it is pretty important to know on who’s behalf exactly you are negotiating – here EU trade officials seem to be somewhat confused; Is it on behalf of European citizens? European trade interests? European companies? EU Trade officials seem to think that the interests of European citizens are the same as those of big business. Helpfully, some companies are quite good in communicating what those common interests are and are happy to draft the provisions for the agreement. In reality, these interests are not aligned so much at all.
For some reason, the notion that the interests of European citizens overall are not necesarily in line with the most powerful European business interests is really hard to grasp for some. Not only for European trade officials, but also for Member States' Ministers of Trade, and many politicians and policymakers overall. The notion that this will promote 'jobs and growth' (as goal of the Lisbon agenda) and will benefit everyone is very resilient- even though experience and history suggest other outcomes. Europe was supposed to be an entity embracing the values of equality and solidarity, democracy and wellbeing, spreading those across the world with its soft power. Why are we now trading away the interests of the general public, engaging in 'harmonizing regulation with the US’ – what many belief is a race to the bottom- and even further strengthening corporate interests? At a time when people, after a crisis, in a crisis, are truly sick of corporate interests, of footloose capital, of poverty in the face of extreme wealth and rising inequality. It seems an affront to democracy.
A few months ago, I asked a colleague who had been working on TTIP and following the political process from the start on the US side: 'But can not something good come out of this, are there for instance not opportunities for environmental standards, workers rights, the adoption of each others better pro public interest regulations?' He replied, with some exasperation and a slightly heightened voice: ‘But it has not been designed to for that purpose, can’t you see that?' That, was an eye opener.
Another eye opener was reading the wish list Pharmaceutical lobby groups PhARMA (US) and EFPIA (EU) have developed for the negotiations. The sheer ambition of it; the disregard for Member States policies and the general interest are, indeed, exasperating. In our report we have analyzed the at first eye slightly cryptic list of proposals, and laid out what the proposals imply for public health and public policy making. We cannot have these proposals end up in our laws and we cannot have secret negotiations underming democracy any longer.