Amid the glass, steel and concrete towers at the heart of the euroquarter in Brussels several hundred people chanted, sang and danced before an enormous inflatable Trojan horse last Wednesday. They were protesting against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. The wide scope of the deal has united an extraordinary range of causes across Europe. Amid the chatter and the soft upbeat guitar melodies, representatives of diverse movements, from environmental NGOs and local trade unions to the Women for Scottish Independence campaign united to chant “Junker, Junker you should know, TTIP has got to go!”
The opposition to the deal is building, yet there is still a huge public awareness problem. Two young British university students who had stumbled across the demonstration were baffled: “I mean we are European Studies students, we read the press and understand how Brussels works and we’d not even heard about TTIP”. Last month, the European Ombudsman demanded “more transparency and a greater effort to pro-actively inform public debate.”
The lack of awareness is particularly problematic as the deal, if passed, will be extremely hard to revoke. For many campaigners the biggest problem with this deal is not just the immediate effect but the long term damages to future generations. “Trade agreements are about locking in existing societal – property relations for the future,” says Pia Eberhardt of the Corporate Europe Observatory, “Any change to that will be so difficult.”
“For us it’s not a traditional trade treaty but a de-regulation agenda,” says John Hilary, the Executive Director of War on Want, one of the organisations leading the anti-TTIP charge in the UK. “It essentially subordinates our higher European standards to lower US ones. It would mean we rollback standards such as food safety, animal testing or GMOs for example.”
“National policy makers are starting to sense the political toxicity of TTIP”
One of the more controversial aspects is the proposed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which would allow companies to sue states for damages where they believe a country’s legislation has hindered their profit. Pia explains: “If you look at water privatisation, for many communities the services are unaffordable and more investment is too expensive. If the community wants to take ownership of that water service they won’t be able to and they can be taken to court under ISDS.”
With the election of Syriza in Greece, tying European nations into existing property relations looks even more unjust and improbable. As an anti-austerity party, Syriza’s economic programme includes the re-nationalisation of key industries, rolling back the fire sale of public assets into private hands and an emphasis on cooperative models. Such a plan would prove impossible to implement under TTIP, so it’s no wonder that the new Greek Deputy Minister for Administrative Reform, Georgios Katrougkalos, has said that they would never ratify the deal: “And this will be a big gift not only to the Greek people but to all the European people, ” he added.
Syriza knows that other European countries may turn against TTIP before negotiations are due to finish next year. Both Spain and Ireland are set to have elections this year, with the anti-austerity party Podemos now top of the polls in Spain and the left-wing nationalist party Sinn Fein on the rise.
John Hilary sees blocking the deal as a job for the grass roots: “The key challenge now is to turn this issue into a mass movement of people power and to hold our representatives to account,” he says. But thus far, the rising opposition in European countries hasn’t changed the position of the European Commission. Over 150 Brits spread across three Eurostar carriages made the journey sous la Manche to voice their opinion in Brussels last week. Yet despite the largest protests coming from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, these are still the governments most actively lobbying for the deal.
“…the biggest problem with this deal is not just the immediate effect but the long term damages to future generations.”
Outside of NGOs and the new politics of anti-austerity parties, the more traditional larger European countries may still shift their position. There is still a year or more before the deal will go before member states’ parliaments and it may not end up in it’s current proposed form. National policy makers are starting to sense the political toxicity of TTIP and could water down the deal to encourage support. The French Senate last Tuesday called for the ISDS clause to be dropped from the deal.
“It’s difficult to stop TTIP in an undemocratic system such as the EU. But we’ve stopped things in the past, the European Parliament blocked ACTA [the EU -US anti-counterfeiting agreement] in 2012. This time we have an almost united front from civil society.” says Pia Eberhardt. With the combined force of pressure groups, popular mobilisation and the changing political landscape in Europe TTIP is likely to struggle or at the very least be stripped down. At a time when trust in the European project is at an all time low, the lesson policy makers can take away from TTIP is that business as usual is not possible, Europe is changing. People and politics across Europe are waking up to the need for openness, accountability and transparency.