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The EU/US trade deal is a threat to democracy, but even MEPs don't know what's going on

The Transatlantic trade deal will get rid of vital protections for people in Europe and allow corporations to sue parliaments for passing laws they don't like. Yet even the European Parliament barely knows what's being discussed behind closed doors.

Keith Taylor
11 March 2014
Keith Taylor in the European Parliament

This week, officials from the USA and Europe are sitting down to discuss a trade deal that could change our country forever.

This deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership ('TTIP'), threatens our very democracy.

But here’s the thing: you probably didn’t even know these negotiations were taking place. As the negotiations move into their fourth round, the mainstream media, save for a few dedicated columnists, is hardly talking about TTIP and it’s barely registering on most politicians’ radar.

The main reason that most of us don’t know about this deal, despite it being the biggest trade deal the world has ever seen, is that the talks are taking place almost entirely in secret. Even my MEP colleagues on the European Parliament’s Trade Committee (whose job it is to scrutinise deals like this) are only given very limited access to relevant documents. And the reason for secrecy is that the officials involved in the discussions know that you won’t support what’s going on.

If you ask the European Commission, or indeed our own Prime Minister, about this deal, they’ll tell you that it’s about opening up Europe’s market(s) to the USA and vice versa. It will create jobs, they say. What they don’t say is that their assertions on job creation were found by a University of Manchester study to be ‘vastly overblown’

They also don’t like to talk about the fact that TTIP is more than just a trade deal. Indeed, this Trojan Horse of a treaty threatens our very democracy.

The stated main aim of TTIP is both simple and scary: To remove ‘impediments to deepening transatlantic trade’ like ‘domestic regulation’. I’ve published a report this week which looks into what the ‘harmonization’ of regulation could mean for the people in my constituency.

For a start, we’d be likely to see a lowering of our food safety standards which, on balance, are far better than in the US (where injecting beef with hormones linked to cancer and disinfecting chicken with bleach is common practice). It could also mean that our rights at work are downgraded whilst public services, such as the NHS, could be opened up to the markets like never before.

The most potent threat from TTIP is something called the ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS). It might sound like (another) innocuous acronym but this part of the deal gives investors the right to sue governments who pass laws they don’t like. This might sound like fiction, but these kind of lawsuits are already happening. The Swedish energy company ‘Vattenfall’, for example, is currently suing the German government for its decision to phase out nuclear power in a lawsuit expected to amount to €700 million. If TTIP is adopted, we can expect many corporations to take legal actions against democracies.

Not everyone will feel threatened by this deregulation charter. I’m sure that many corporations, including the fracking firms eyeing up the countryside in my constituency, will be thrilled by the prospect of using lawsuits against democratically elected governments. It’s hardly surprising that the deal is so attractive to big business when their representatives made up 93% of those involved in ‘stakeholder’ meetings ahead of these negotiations.

As a Green MEP, I’ve sadly seen plenty of legislation go through the European Parliament that threatens our environment. In some cases, I’ve been on the losing side on important votes on environmental laws. But at least I’ve had the chance to vote, and a proper chance to scrutinise new laws on behalf of my constituents.

This trade deal will be presented to the parliament just once, as a fait accompli. We MEPs, who are elected to give people a voice in the EU, are effectively being sidelined.

Make no mistake about it, our democracy is under attack. The good news is that the European Commission, which was given its negotiating mandate by Governments from across the continent, is worried about a public backlash. And the ISDS is so controversial in some places that a ‘public consultation’ is to be launched to allow people to have a say.

But a public consultation isn’t enough. We need to stop this Trojan Horse before it’s in our midst. I’ll be doing all I can to prise open these trade talks and hold the business lobby that’s driving the deal to account. I hope you’ll join me in defending our democracy.

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