(Article published in The Times of Malta, 25/04/2014)
Early in March, Green MEP Sven Giegold published a secret document containing the guidelines of the EU Council of Ministers for the negotiations with the United States on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement.
The scope of this agreement goes beyond the usual run-of-the-mill agreement, regulating tariffs and procedures for international trade. However this treaty is so wide ranging that, if approved, will affect our daily lives from health, to food, to workers’ rights and product safety, to environment and social standards, as well as privacy standards.
This agreement threatens the role of democratic institutions, the institutions and political programmes each citizen votes for, to set regulations and policies in all these fields. It could give multinationals rights to sue countries, governments, parliaments and other public agencies for putting in place rules and regulations which protect citizens, but which in the eyes of these corporations go against, what they define as ‘free trade’. In other words the agreement is an attempt to put the market above all other considerations and most importantly above the right of citizens to choose which policies best reflect their wishes and aspirations.
Alternattiva Demokratika supports the work of the Greens in the European Parliament, who are at the forefront in demanding full transparency in the negotiations being carried out secretly by the European Commission. Democratic institutions, NGOs, trade unions, governments, the EU and national parliaments should be able to influence the negotiations and even challenge the need of such a wide-ranging agreement. Together with our EU partners we oppose the TTIP in its current form – as declared in the Greens’ common manifesto.
A particularly worrying aspect of the TTIP is the mechanism by which foreign investors can bypass domestic courts and to file their complaints directly with international arbitration tribunals, often composed of corporate lawyers. If an arbitration tribunal concludes that democratically determined policies might narrow an investor’s projected profits, it could oblige a government to pay billions in damages. This would disastrously limit the democratic freedom to legislate on environmental, health, financial and other matters. It woud put EU and Maltese companies which opertate with higher standards than their US competitors at a disadvantage, with all the negative implications on workers. It would mean that legislation, be it on environmental or consumer safety, working conditions, agricultural standards and trade standards would first be analysed by US-EU corporate interests, with legislators being forced to justify their intentions to corporations.
Examples of EU standards under threat include in food processing. The US standards are lower than those we benefit from in the EU. What was achieved through the hard work of many NGOs, and politicians, the Greens at the forefront, will be lost in the name of so called ‘free trade’. The regulation of toxic chemicals is also much more stringent in the EU. The US is years behind in the protection of consumers and workers in this regard. The US allows information to be kept confidential and hidden from consumers. Efforts to, very slowly, reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, from the aviation sector, are not matched by the US, who have a history of pandering to corporate lobbies, such as Airlines for America. The examples are endless.
There are even examples where, even without such an agreement corporations have attacked democratically decided policies. Germany’s energy transformation policy has been attacked by fossil fuel corporations claiming €3.7bn compensation, to be paid from taxpayers´ money. Big Tobacco has sued Australia and other countries over health legislation. A US oil company has sued Canada for over $250m because of a fracking moratorium. (Fracking is a controversial environmentally damaging process for extracting oil). Countries have also been sued for introducing a minimum wage.
Democracy, environmental, health and social legislation, and workers’ rights should not be subject to any international agreement, giving corporations so called rights to overturn the democratic process. Citizens already do not have that much influence over institutions – we certainly do not need an even more diluted democracy, whether in Malta, in the European Union or all around the world. It is important that people vote for a European Parliament which opposes such a disastrous agreement for democracy and high social, health and ecological standards in the EU. In Malta this means voting Green.
(Ralph Cassar – email@example.com is AD spokesperson on energy, industry and transport and Secretary General of the party)