The Parliament magazine | 16 July 2014
MEPs wary of commission’s approach to TTIP negotiations
Written by Kayleigh Rose Lewis
The European commission’s TTIP proposals could lead Europe "down a regulatory race to the bottom" and there is "a growing sense of unease and concern" surrounding the negotiations, say MEPs.
MEPs have raised concerns in a plenary debate with EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht regarding the nature of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) as the sixth round of negotiations take place.
S&D deputy Nessa Childers said, "We have recently been brought up to date on the commission’s trade dealings through the unfortunately usual means of leaked documents.
"The leaked commission papers show that it is pushing for the mutual recognition of banking and finance rules that would enable market players to do business across the Atlantic under the laws that apply in their own jurisdiction.
"This proposal from the commission will give a competitive advantage to those hailing from the side that applies the lightest touch to finance. This may well lead us down a regulatory race to the bottom," she warned.
The Irish MEP went on, "The US authorities are actually the ones who have so far resisted this idea, as they rightly fear it will make it more difficult to regulate banks and tie regulators hands on future reforms.
"US banks, on the other hand, will happily endorse the commission’s approach, which seems designed to please the European banking sector in the first place," suggested Childers.
"I am very interested in learning how wedded the commission is to pushing for this mutual recognition approach and what it is willing to concede to the US in exchange.
"US multinationals stand to profit from the downgrading of the more stringent labour, environmental and data protection standards in force in the EU.
"Our American counterparts also want to include an investor-state dispute system, which is trade lingo for the ability for big corporations to sue governments in arbitration courts, for multimillion sums in compensation when regulations passed in the public interest eat into their profits," she complained.
"This is simply not acceptable. I expect the newly elected commission president Mr Juncker to stand by his commitment, given to us in writing, not to undermine EU legislation and reject any such invidious parallel mechanisms."
During Tuesday’s plenary session GUE/NGL deputy Helmut Scholz addressed De Gucht, saying, "You carried out a public consultation on the inclusion of an investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause which received over 115,000 responses.
"Citizens don’t want ISDS; neither in TTIP nor in the agreement with Canada," the German deputy argued.
"I urge you again to take the concerns expressed by broad sections of civil society seriously. Do you really think small-scale producers and consumers want further liberalisation of trade in agricultural products? I assure you, this is not the case."
He continued, "In the eyes of our citizens, the US is guilty of espionage and data theft. There is no confidence in these negotiators.
"As long as the Americans do not want to commit to protecting EU citizens’ data and to respect us, there is no basis for a trade agreement," he concluded.
Meanwhile, the Greens/EFA group have backed a citizens’ initiative on TTIP. A joint statement from the group’s trade spokespersons Yannick Jadot and Ska Keller said, "There is a growing sense of unease and concern among European citizens and civil society about the ongoing TTIP negotiations.
"This concern reflects the broad scope of the negotiations and their possible implications on European standards, and is reinforced by the opaque negotiation process," they explained.
"The voices of these citizens must be heard and this European citizen’s initiative is a landmark development to this end."
However, in his speech to parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, De Gucht addressed the three themes which have "been on the forefront of the criticism levied against TTIP: the alleged lack of transparency, the alleged risk of lowering of regulatory standards which underpin our way of life and ISDS".
He told parliamentarians, "You have a very serious responsibility as it will ultimately fall to you to vote on what will have been negotiated. Your thumbs up or down will make or break TTIP.
"Given the wide spectrum of opinion in this parliament, disagreement is unavoidable. But I hope the debate will be based on facts and logic, we cannot afford to let it be controlled by irrational fears or false information."
The Belgian official told the plenary debate that, "We do approach many areas differently than in the US, and sometimes our rules here are stricter than in the US.
"But we share the same objectives of quality and protection and even where we differ, our values and concerns are much more similar than with any other part of the world.
"That is why president Obama flatly stated in Brussels that he would not agree to any deal if it lowered the standards of protection. Neither would the commission," he stressed.
About the author
Kayleigh Rose Lewis is a journalist at the Parliament Magazine