Reflections on the Transatlantic Treaty (TTIP)

”The Young European Socialists adopted a resolution on the Transatlantic Treaty last March during the Thessaloniki Bureau Meeting, asking for a transparent, democratic, social and ecological alternative to the currently negotiated treaty. This meeting in Washington gave us the opportunity to make our voice heard and to build bridges between progressives from both sides of the Atlantic.”

A second highlight was the meeting of the PES delegation, American Democrats and representative of the civil society at the House of Sweden in Washington to discuss the US-UE partnership, especially the transatlantic treaty. The goal of this meeting was to reach a common ground between progressives in Europe and in the US on the TTIP. What should our position be? Can we agree?

After an introduction by the Swedish Ambassador in the USA, Massimo D’Alema introduced the debates, recognizing the fears this treaty could create, but also underlining the hopes others could have in order to reach high standards for future trade cooperation. D’Alema insisted on the fact that it was crucial not to define this treaty as a western alliance against the rest of the world or a way to abolish a multilateral approach in international relations.

According to d’Alema , neoliberals and conservatives would see free trade as a “better reallocation of means, cheaper exports and an optimal readaptation of economic actors”, “totally neglecting the reality on what globalization truly is and on the lack of mobility of workers”. If for them trade agreements should only be a market conforming deregulation –tax competition, cost reduction, dismantling of welfare state, labor market flexibility and the decrease of rigidities-, for us, trade had to embody sustainable growth and harmonization to the top. The progressives’ role would be to make it possible. In no way should corporate interests come first, especially when intellectual property, financial regulation, health, environment or social norms are at stake.

On US side, Robert Kuttner from the progressive newspaper “the American Prospect” described TTIP as a choice between two options: it could be a “new deal and implement financial regulation” or “accelerate the neoliberal agenda”. He argued that, after having been an alternative to neoliberalism, the European Union (and first the European Community) became herself an agent of this neoliberalism, weakening national States while keeping the European federal level weak, following Hayek’s description of the EU. Budgetary austerity as we see it today in Europe embodies this choice: creating massive unemployment, having social consequences and letting the political legitimacy crumble. In all this, he said, social-democrats have a great part of responsibility by following and creating this political consensus, being part of big collations. This makes it difficult for the citizens to see them as a trustful opposition or alternative to the current policies. “By accompanying the dismantling of welfare state, Social-democrats have weakened themselves”.

Therefore, the question is: how can TTIP bring the alternative we want? “Will TTIP embody an alternative towards social-democracy? Or will it be an intensification of neoliberalism?

So tactically, should we oppose this treaty or change it from within?“

David Martin, S&D MEP, underlined the fact that the S&D would be the decisive group in Parliament on this vote: the radical left, the greens and the far right being against, the conservatives and liberals wouldn’t be able to pass the text without the social-democratic votes. As for him, the TTIP would never be an alternative to neoliberalism, but it could at least give the opportunity of a regulatory convergence, of an increasing financial regulation and open public contracts in the US to European firms. He seemed to lean more in the direction of a support to TTIP, if social and environmental norms wouldn’t be weakened and only if the ISDS mechanism (mechanism that would be created to solve disputes between states and firms, for instance in the case of a legislative norm that could harm the private interests of a firm). In that case, he stated, social-democrats shouldn’t feel responsible for the failure of this treaty.

Last speaker to introduce the discussion, Kevin Gallagher (US, Professor in Boston) balanced the potential economic outcomes evoked by the European Commission and the negotiators. He also opposed the ISDS mechanism being a risk both for the US and the EU (“what if EU firms had opposed this mechanism against the US choice to support American banks during the crisis?”) and seemed far more reluctant on the treaty, whose interpretation afterwards could open the floor to new disputes (on the definition of “non tariff barriers” etc).

For the Young European Socialists, Daniel Cornalba made reference to the debates among YES and the resolution adopted last March on TTIP, ( TIPP An Alternative is possible )affirming that the free trade agreement currently negotiated was not acceptable. Not only because of the ISDS mechanism and the risks it represents, but also in a democratic, social and environmental perspective. The current mobilization against TTIP in Europe, but also in the USA, can’t be ignored: “negotiating a treaty without the people is the best way to have them against it”. YES defends an alternative treaty, negotiated transparently and including the democratic institutions and proposing binding environmental goals and higher social norms. This treaty shouldn’t be a 2nd ACTA treaty and should preserve and reinforce financial regulation. “To Robert Kuttner’s introductory question, if TTIP would be able to embody an alternative to the neoliberal consensus, the answer is clear: no. Considering the previous trade agreements negotiated by the European Union or the USA in the last years, it is unlikely to take this path”.

In general the discussion showed the many criticisms progressives could have on this treaty: the participants seemed to unanimously reject the ISDS mechanism or the inclusion of health and cultural issues in the treaty. The perspective of Canadian progressives and of American and European Trade Unions strengthened this critical aspect, by balancing the risks and the hypothetical opportunities and showing skepticism towards TTIP. The need for increased social and environmental norms was reiterated several times in the debates.
From then on, 2 tendencies can be noticed:

  • Yes to a minimalist agreement at least, based on very technical issues (regulatory norms…) and excluding the ISDS mechanism. In that case, the question is: do we actually expect anything from this kind of treaty? isn’t it a hidden way for corporate interests to let antisocial and anti-environmental aspects pass? What about the need for transparency in the negotiations?
  • No to any treaty based on the ISDS Mechanism or presenting any risk of weakening social, ecological or democratic standards in the EU or in the US/ YES to an ambitious fair trade agreement going in the direction of a harmonization to the top. The question here is: do we believe the European Commission and the current negotiators would be willing to go in that progressive direction?

Through these discussions, several points or proposals were made by the participants:

  • Without progressives, this treaty can’t pass (we should use it for our own agenda or to refuse TTIP);
  • Be at the offensive in this debate and not in a “take it or leave it”-defensive position (make our own proposals of what a good treaty would be);
  • Oppose the ISDS mechanism;
  • be able to develop our own expertise on the true jobs potentials such a treaty would create (that should probably balance the numbers given by the negotiators);
  • illustrate clearly the risks and what could be at stake by accepting this treaty (“we shouldn’t take the responsibility of signing a treaty whose consequences are unknown”);
  • in Europe: ask for a new mandate for negotiators, the majority in the EU Parliament having changed;
  • fix the “red lines” progressives cannot accept and try to be united in our positions on both sides of the Atlantic;