EU lawmakers air fears on US trade deal, demand openness, caution

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GUE/NGL action against TTIP in the European Parliament on 15-7-2014 (Photos: Olivier Hansen/GUENGL on Flickr)

Europe Online | 15.07.2014

EU lawmakers air fears on US trade deal, demand openness, caution

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online

Strasbourg, France (dpa) — A mammoth free trade deal being hammered out by the European Union and the United States came under attack Tuesday, as EU lawmakers said "opaque" negotiations would lead to an erosion of standards and undue protection for investors.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht joined the parliamentary debate, which coincided with this week‘s sixth round of negotiations on the pact, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

"The criticism from the population at the TTIP negotiations is becoming ever stronger," EU lawmaker Helmut Scholz of the far-left GUE/NGL party told the commissioner, calling on him to pause the talks and reconsider.

GUE/NGL deputies held up placards demanding "Transparency now!" and the defence of data protection and social rights.

Talks have been ongoing for a year to establish what would be the world‘s largest free trade area. Backers hope it will spur growth and create jobs.

But opponents on both sides of the Atlantic fear a watering down of consumer protection laws - despite repeated assurances by negotiators that they would not compromise on such standards.

"From the start, the Green group has denounced these negotiations because we believe that societal choices are in the process of being negotiated," said EU lawmaker Yannick Jadot, adding that this was happening in "complete opacity."

EU lawmaker Tiziana Beghin, of Italy‘s Five Star movement, said TTIP sought to remove "barriers to free trade" such as hard-won workers‘ rights, environmental laws, food safety rules and the protection of personal data.

But liberal EU lawmaker Olli Rehn - who until recently was the bloc‘s economy commissoner - said TTIP is a "central part of the European growth and employment programme." At the same time, he said citizens need "credible answers."

"It is time to take these concerns and fears seriously," added EU lawmaker Bernd Lange of the Socialists and Democrats, the second-largest group in parliament. He called it "intolerable" that EU governments are not publishing their negotiating position.

De Gucht said some aspects of the talks had to take place behind closed doors. "If you want to build confidence, you also need a certain degree of confidentiality," the commissioner said.

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GUE/NGL action against TTIP in the European Parliament on 15-7-2014 (Photos: Olivier Hansen/GUENGL on Flickr)

But he said he was "deeply convinced" that the EU‘s negotiation directives should be made public, as these could "reassure citizens that there is nothing dangerous in TTIP."

"In May, I called on [EU governments] to declassify them. And today I hereby call on them again to publish the negotiating directives," De Gucht said. He said US restrictions on access to documents was also hampering the Europeans‘ ability to share information.

De Gucht also sought to allay fears raised over a much-disputed mechanism to settle disputes between foreign investors and national governments. EU and US consumer groups fear that this could be abused by corporations.

The EU has put the so-called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses on hold while it carries out a public consultation.

De Gucht stressed that the mechanism would only apply to "very clear violations of very fundamental principles of investor protection."

"Contrary to what is alleged by some scaremongers, a US multinational will not be able to successfully sue for damages ... just because a parliament introduces a new law with the legitimate aim of protecting the environment or public health," he added.

Also Tuesday, a citizens‘ initiative entitled STOP TTIP got under way, with the backing of 148 organizations from 18 EU member states. The campaign must collect 1 million signatures from seven EU countries to be considered by the European Commission, the bloc‘s executive.

source: Europe Online