TTIP: time for action
10 April 2015
John Hilary, Executive Director, War on Want
Despite negligible coverage in the mainstream media, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has become one of the hottest topics in activist circles today. The prospect of sacrificing our most cherished labour, social and environmental rights on the altar of free market fundamentalism has inspired an unprecedented movement of resistance from millions of European citizens, and the UK is in the vanguard. Now, with a global day of action set for 18 April, the movement is preparing to flex its muscles. The political elite would do well to take notice.
Trade unions have become active players in this movement, and the reason isn’t hard to see. To begin with, official estimates calculate that TTIP will lead to the loss of at least one million jobs in the EU and USA combined. Then there is the real threat of public services being traded away to irreversible privatisation in TTIP, making it effectively impossible to bring them back into public hands. The prospect of the further deregulation of media services has drawn stinging criticism from European cultural organisations, while digital rights campaigners have warned that TTIP could spell the end of data privacy as we know it. For these and many other reasons, the NUJ supported the motion of outright opposition to TTIP passed at TUC Congress last September, and tabled its own TTIP motion to the European Federation of Journalists annual meeting in Moscow.
Surprised by the level of public anger towards TTIP, the institutions of the European Union are now on the defensive. I was one of seven European citizens who notified the European Commission last summer that we would be launching an official challenge to TTIP and the parallel EU-Canada deal, CETA, by means of a European Citizens’ Initiative, the sole channel of democratic accountability available to ordinary people within the structures of the EU. For such an initiative to be successful, you need to raise a million signatures in support of your petition in the space of a year, and to meet the national quota in at least seven EU member states.
The European Commission blocked the initiative before it had even started. According to the bureaucrats of Brussels, EU citizens have no right to challenge an ongoing trade deal. So we launched our own self-organised European Citizens’ Initiative regardless, and within the record time of just two months we had passed the one million signature mark. In addition, we had met the national quotas in seven countries: Germany, UK, France, Austria, Finland, Luxembourg and Slovenia. The total number of signatures now stands at over 1.65 million, with national quotas met in 12 countries. We are also appealing against the European Commission’s rejection of the initiative before the European Court of Justice.
The challenge for our movement is to turn people power into political power. British politicians are already complaining that they are being overwhelmed by public opposition to TTIP, even while the government uses all the myths and propaganda at its disposal to reassure people that there is nothing to worry about. We need to make TTIP so toxic that the whole deal becomes politically unthinkable, and not just in relation to specific elements such as its threat to the NHS or the outrageous new investor-state dispute settlement powers that will allow US corporations to sue sovereign states for loss of profits in future.
At the European level, this means putting pressure on our MEPs in the run-up to the preliminary vote on TTIP which the European Parliament is set to take in June 2015. This is well ahead of the final vote that our elected representatives will eventually have on TTIP, either at the European level or in the parliaments of all 28 EU member states, but it is an important milestone in our campaign to block any future ratification of the deal. The European Parliament will also vote on whether to ratify CETA at some point within the next 12 months, and this represents another crucial moment in the fight for trade justice in place of free trade.
The UK has its own general election coming up within the month, and politicians are already aware that TTIP is a key issue for activists. Labour candidates, in particular, must be required to explain why their party is backing a treaty that is condemned by so many of its members and supporters. A number of Labour councillors are already beginning to defy their own party, standing in solidarity with the many councils in other European countries that have already declared themselves TTIP-free zones.
If we get it right, we will defeat TTIP. When the EU tried to introduce similar powers for big business through the infamous Multilateral Agreement on Investment in the 1990s, a mass campaign stopped them in their tracks. When they tried to do the same through the World Trade Organisation in the following decade, we defeated them again.
This time the stakes are even higher. TTIP is explicitly designed to be the blueprint for all future trade and investment agreements the world over, so that the deal cooked up between the EU and USA will be required of all other countries as well. Whatever powers we grant to corporations operating across the Atlantic, you can be sure they will demand just as much, and more, in their dealings with the rest of the world.
The fight over TTIP is truly a fight for our common future. We cannot afford to lose.
A Global Day of Action against all free trade deals around the world has been called for 18 April 2015. Full details of actions taking place in London and elsewhere in the UK are available from waronwant.org
John Hilary is the Executive Director of War on Want