The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could be the most destructive, and most secretive, legislation that nobody’s talking about. Cillian Doyle breaks it down for us.
If I was to ask you about the TTIP negotiations, would it ring any bells? Probably not. The legislative process of the European Commission isn’t the sexiest of subjects. But we need to understand what the Commission does, as it’s the only one with the power to introduce legislation and that effectively makes it captain of the good ship ‘Europe’. It gives the orders and we – the crew – are told to get busy.
Now for some time they’ve been quietly working away on a far reaching piece of legislation that could radically change the course of European integration. The big idea, it’s said, is to create a ‘free trade’ area between the EU and the US, a kind of giant customs union. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP)is the very legislation which is supposed to make this happen.
Cheerleaders for TTIP have already started lining up to sell the so called ‘free trade’ deal to the public by claiming it could boost EU-US trade to the tune of billions and drag both economic areas out of their slump.
Enda Kenny was quick to jump on the bandwagon by claiming the deal would mean thousands of jobs for Ireland. David Cameron could barely contain his excitement saying it would ‘fire up our economies and drive growth and prosperity around the world’. Whilst Jose Manuel Barosso, determined not to be outdone, proclaimed ‘these negotiations will be the start of a new era of trade liberalisation’.
While you might think this all sounds great, there’s one major problem – none of it is true.
Don’t Believe the Hype
The truth is that TTIP has little to do with trade (free or otherwise). TTIP has about as much to do with trade as the Iraq War had to do with democracy – but those pushing for TTIP aren’t going to call it a sneaky attempt to hand more power to large corporations and financial institutions so they say ‘trade’ is the aim of the game.
But increasing the power of the multinational sector is precisely what TTIP is all about. The Guardian’s George Monbiot calls it nothing less than a corporate power grab designed to wipe out a range of regulatory protections and give large corporations the right to sue national governments. Yes that’s right, sue national governments!
TTIP seeks to put in place the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), a legal mechanism which allows large corporations to circumvent domestic courts and take out lawsuits against sovereign states. These law suits are then ruled over by secret panels of corporate lawyers, many of whom would have worked for the kinds of companies filing these lawsuits.
So to say that a question mark hangs over the judicial independence of these tribunals would be quite the understatement. This element of TTIP is so serious that it deserves special consideration.
Sue the Bastards
Proponents of TTIP have tried to claim there was nothing particularly threatening about the ISDS saying it was essential for giving ‘quick protection to an investor being cheated by a government breaking its treaty obligations’. But this argument doesn’t cut the mustard because the ISDS system has been shown time and time again to be wide open to abuse.
It allows big business to take out trivial (but very large) lawsuits against national governments who try to introduce legislative protections for citizens and the environment. But once we understand that governments don’t have money – people do – and governments raise money by taxing their people we begin to understand that it’s us who will be the victims of these lawsuits.
Say Ireland was to implement plain packaging on cigarettes – James Reilly’s bill is in motion – tobacco companies could potentially sue the state – us – for hundreds of millions of euro. It’s not too hard to imagine because it’s already happened elsewhere in the world.
Australia implemented plain packaging on cigarettes which allowed the tobacco company Philip Morris to the ISDS mechanism to sue the bejaysus out of them for hundreds of millions of dollars. Likewise Canada has been sued multiple times with the ISDS.
Eli Lilly & Co sued the government for $500 million because it had refused to grant them a couple of pharmaceutical patents, and only recently a large US mining corporation filed a lawsuit because Quebec placed a moratorium on the environmentally destructive process of fracking.
The TTIP will be corporatocracy’s next great bat to beat environmentalism. And for anyone who’s been paying attention to European politics lately democracy often seems like something that’s in short supply.
What Can We Do?
After an outcry by many civil society groups groups the European Commission agreed to suspend the talks on the ISDS for three months whilst it undertook ‘public consultation’. But those three months are up and those involved with the talks have already rubbished them and said the Commission plans to press on with the ISDS regardless.
This means the European Parliament could end up being be the last line of defence against the ISDS and some of the nastiest elements of TTIP. The European Peoples Party (EPP) remain the largest party in Europe. This is the neoliberal party group to which Enda Kenny, Angela Merkel and Jose Manuel Barroso all belong.
They are the ones who have held control over the current parliament, they are the ones who elected Barosso as President of the Commission and it is presumed that they will be the ones who see this law enacted.