Can Europe Make It?

TTIP and the first rule of Fight Club

Marzena Sadowska
23 May 2014

No one talks about it. There is a lot I don’t like about Polish politics in general and these pre-election campaigns in particular, but this is one of the things that worry me the most. No one (save for the Greens) mentions TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) in their campaigns.

Why is it important? Because TTIP, when agreed on and ratified, will change our lives and not in a positive way. It’s a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. It is negotiated behind closed doors and most information we, mere citizens, have, is leaked. The European Union launched a public consultation on some of the clauses only after the draft was leaked.

This leaked memorandum included a proposal enabling corporations to bring governments into court arbitration for the breach of their rights. There is already a known practice, investor-state dispute settlement, that allows companies to sue governments and to win millions if not billions of dollars over what should be democratic decisions to keep citizens informed about risks related to smoking or nuclear power.

On what basis can companies sue governments? On the basis of said decisions interfering with that corporation’s profits. Court proceedings are confidential, arbiters are lawyers, but not necessarily judges – most often they are corporate lawyers. There is no possibility of appeal.

Governments end up paying huge amounts of money out of tax payers’ pockets, for daring to protect the environment or their citizens’ health. This tool allows corporations to sue over a rise to the minimal wage (because bigger costs mean smaller profits, and that is obviously unacceptable) and over pretty much everything else that is not in their best interest. This will cripple the democratic system.

There is also this huge secrecy around the whole thing. Do we know which topics are discussed? No, we do not. Do we know who takes which stance? We can try to guess. Are we, citizens of the EU and the US, included in the process? Not really, out of about 30 working groups involved in a negotiation process in the US, 90% are composed of industry representatives. The remaining 10% is for representatives of civil society: trade, environmental, health.  It cannot be more clear cut who is treated as priority here.

Doesn’t it all sound suspiciously similar to the ACTA negotiation process? Yes, it does. Does it also include agreement on personal data protection? We don’t know. Officially, no, but unofficially: who knows? This agreement is about removing obstacles for trade and economic cooperation. Data protection in the EU, holding in this regard much higher standards than the US, can be seen as such.

TTIP will open European markets wide to GMO products. Currently they are banned in EU and thriving in the US – in the future producers will not be obligated to inform consumers whether food sold by them is or comes from genetically modified plants. It will also allow them to sell meat from cloned animals for consumption.

TTIP is expected to help the countries involved in raising their GDP by 0.5-1% but that would happen not sooner than in 2027. According to Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, savings thanks to TTIP would equal less than 40 euros per family. And that is not counting in additional costs that would rise from lowering standards in environment protection, health care or liberalisation in the financial sector. TTIP is also supposed to bring more jobs to Europe. However, it is unclear how and where exactly these new jobs would appear.

This is a bigger issue than ACTA was. ACTA protests were a kind of historical event in Poland – we don’t have strong civil society, but this one time people everywhere around Poland went out to protest against these political decisions. We are terribly apathetic, but this time we weren’t.

Another important thing: during the wave of protests, without any sort of public consultations, representatives of the Polish government signed ACTA. It was terribly disappointing to learn that our political representatives did not care about our interests and opinions because they obviously knew better. They didn’t, some of them knew about the topic less than I did, and I’m not a lawyer, a computer scientist or a specialist on data protection. It was bad then and now it feels even worse.

None of the big players in these elections care enough to raise a discussion about it: it’s like they hope that ACTA protests were just an accident, that this time they can sweep the problem under the carpet and be done with it. I am opposed to that.

I’m not saying that we should flood the streets again, not yet. What I’m saying is: pay attention. And go vote for the people who care about our rights. 

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Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

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Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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