Another goodbye to democracy if Transatlantic Partnership is passed

Corporate control on both sides of the Atlantic will be solidified should the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership be passed. Any doubt about that was removed when Greenpeace Netherlands released 13 chapters of the TTIP text, although the secrecy of the text and that only corporate representatives have regular access to negotiators had already made intentions clear.

Health, safety, environmental and food laws will all be at risk, with United States negotiators continuing to seek the elimination of European safeguards against genetically modified organisms. But European Union negotiators, although as yet unable to find sufficient common ground with their U.S. counterparts on some issues, are offering plenty of dubious language at the behest of European multi-national corporations.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is very much similar to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and although negotiations over it are apparently far from complete it is firmly in the TPP’s anti-democratic spirit. The Transatlantic Partnership, just like other “free trade” agreements, has little to do with trade and much to do with granting the wish lists of corporate executives and financiers, complete with secret tribunals that can overturn legislation without appeal.

Germans protest against the TTIP in Hannover on April 23 as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama confer (photo by Bernd Schwabe in Hannover)

Germans protest against the TTIP in Hannover on April 23 as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama confer (photo by Bernd Schwabe in Hannover)

As is customary with “free trade” agreements, the devil is in the details. What really lies within the dry, bureaucratic language is text that leaves little, if any, room for democratic control over a wide range of legislative oversight. In part this is because the text uses words like “must” and “shall” for what signatory governments are expected to do on behalf of multi-national corporations but words like “may” and “can” when it comes to the very brief mentions of health, safety, environmental and labor concerns, and in part because of who will be interpret the text, and how.

Under existing “free trade” agreements, the countries with stronger regulations, such as Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement, are routinely ordered to overturn them as “barriers” to trade. Smaller countries are routinely sued by multi-national corporations for attempting to safeguard sensitive environments or regulate tobacco, such as El Salvador’s attempt to protect its largest remaining water source from a gold mine. These suits are not heard in ordinary courts, but rather in secret tribunals in which corporate lawyers who specialize in representing multi-national capital in international disputes switch hats and sit in judgment of similar cases as judges.

Governments must meet corporate expectations

Such one-sided rules are imbedded in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership text. The leaked chapter on dispute settlement contains unmistakeable language. Multi-national corporations will be eligible to sue on the basis that “a benefit the Party could reasonably have expected to accrue to under this Agreement is being nullified or impaired.” A series of rulings handed down by the secret tribunals in similar cases have established that an “investor” is eligible to sue for any potential profits it asserts it would have earned had not a regulation it dislikes been in place.

The chapter goes on to set out the necessary qualifications of arbitrators, stating that they must have “expertise” in the field. These “experts” will almost inevitably be corporate lawyers as they fill the rosters of the secret tribunals. The clause that the judges “shall be independent and serve in their individual capacities” is a joke — these are people who have spent decades serving corporate clients and thoroughly absorb their clients’ perspective. That they have “officially” switched hats is meaningless.

That there will be no appeal against judgements handed down is exemplified three pages later. It is EU negotiators who propose these two sentences: “The ruling/report of the panel shall be unconditionally accepted by the Parties” and “The Party complained against shall take any measure necessary to comply promptly and in good faith with the panel ruling.” What these mean is that there can be no appeal against what tribunal panels consisting of three corporate lawyers decree and that laws must be changed immediately based on the secret tribunal’s ruling.

There is much more there. A reading of the chapter on sanitary and phytosanitary measures, which, inter alia, covers regulations on agriculture, can easily be interpreted to overturn bans on genetically modified organisms. Here is the chapter’s Article 11 as proposed by EU negotiators:

“1. Sanitary and phytosanitary procedures shall be established with the objective of minimizing negative trade effects and simplifying and expediting the approval and clearance process while ensuring the fulfillment of the importing Party’s requirements. 2. The Parties shall ensure that all sanitary and phytosanitary procedures affecting trade between the parties are undertaken and completed without undue delay and that they are not applied in a manner which would constitute an arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination against the other Party.”

Corporations would get last word on regulation

Despite the European Commission’s attempts to paint itself as heroically standing against U.S. insistence on forcing GMOs on European consumers, this EU language could be interpreted to overturn bans on GMOs. That is especially so in the wake of the already agreed-upon language of Article 5, where we read:

“When issuing or submitting any final administrative decision for an SPS regulation, the Party shall make publicly available on the Internet an explanation of: … any alternative identified through public comments, including by a Party, as significantly less restrictive to trade.”

Under this clause, governments must make the case on behalf of complaining corporations that want to eliminate a protective regulation! There is further language demanding that any new regulation be justified, including a requirement that a government explain why it did not adopt any alternatives that would be “less restrictive to trade.” There is precedent here under the North American Free Trade Agreement, in which a tribunal, in ordering that Canada reverse a ban against PCBs, a carcinogen banned under two Canadian treaties, ruled that, when formulating an environmental rule, a government “is obliged to adopt the alternative that is most consistent with open trade.” So much for democracy!

Grand Place, Brussels (photo by Wouter Hagens)

Grand Place, Brussels (photo by Wouter Hagens)

There is also an agriculture chapter, which contains this sentence: “The Parties shall work together to facilitate the successful conclusion of agriculture negotiations in the WTO that substantially improves market access for agricultural goods.” All the activist work that prevented the conclusion of World Trade Organization talks over the past decade would be undone, and provide an additional opening for GMOs and the elimination of other safety rules.

Thus we should take with mounds of salt this public statement by European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, issued on May 2:

“Any EU trade deal can only change regulation by making it stronger. … No trade deal will limit our ability to make new rules to protect our citizens or environment in the future. I am simply not in the business of lowering standards.”

Commissioner Malmström further asserts that “no, the EU industry does not have greater access to EU negotiating positions than other stakeholders.” That statement is on par with someone offering to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and the Eiffel Tower. The public-interest group Corporate Europe Observatory, upon successfully petitioning to receive documents from the European Commission, found that that of 127 closed meetings preparing for the Transatlantic Partnership talks, at least 119 were with large corporations and their lobbyists. Although it is true that EU negotiators are sometimes at odds with their U.S. counterparts, the EU has offered its share of anti-democratic measures, not inconsistent with the lack of accountability Europeans have come to expect from EU institutions.

Watchdog groups sound multiple alarms

In its latest assessment of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Corporate Europe Observatory said the TTIP will negatively impact laws on both sides of the Atlantic, noting that “the new EU proposal on regulatory cooperation in TTIP does nothing, not even little, to address the upcoming democratic threats.” The Observatory says:

“Regulatory cooperation, on the surface a way to ‘harmonise’ rules across the Atlantic, could in practice weaken rules on protecting us against everything from toxic chemicals and unhealthy food, to wild speculation by banks. The European Commission recently published its new positions on this cooperation. The two chapters they released reveal the Commission is willing to change how it makes laws to favour trade and multinationals over all public interest considerations. Under regulatory cooperation trade officials will continue to negotiate our future and existing laws. This pushes contentious issues farther away from public scrutiny to be brokered over the coming years after TTIP is passed, giving big business lobby groups ample opportunities to influence the result of the decision-making.”

Other watchdog groups sound similar warnings. The Sierra Club, noting the words “climate change” never appear in the TTIP text, points out some of its environmentally destructive measures:

“Under the National Treatment terms of the leaked text, the U.S. Department of Energy would be required to automatically approve the export of liquefied natural gas to the EU. … Both the U.S. and the EU have proposed “regulatory cooperation” rules that would undermine climate and environmental protections if they are deemed harmful to trans-Atlantic trade or investment. The U.S. has proposed that governments on both sides of the Atlantic should be required to review proposed regulations before enactment to pursue compliance with ‘international trade and investment obligations.’ The EU has proposed similar language.”

Compliance with “international trade and investment obligations” would mean conforming to the types of secret-tribunal decisions mentioned above.

Friends of the Earth, in its review of the leaked text, provides this warning:

“Sensible regulatory safeguards, such as those related to food safety and toxic chemicals, among many others, would also be stymied. Industry-friendly, cost-benefit analysis would hamstring new environmental initiatives. For example, insecticide safety standards would be lowered if the undervalued ‘benefit’ of new regulations protecting the bees is outweighed by the ‘cost’ to corporate profits, thus threatening the pollinators necessary for our food system.”

Yep, it’s as bad as we thought it would be

The senior policy analyst for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Steve Suppan, in noting that predictions about the TTIP’s impact on agriculture “have been sadly confirmed,” wrote:

“The text shows the U.S. Trade Representative protecting corporate interests by shielding environmental, health and safety data used in TTIP risk assessment as confidential business information, preventing peer scientific review. The end result of the U.S. proposal would be increasing the burden on governments to justify food safety rules while placing no burden on industry to demonstrate that its products—including new kinds of GMOs, food or agri-nanotechnology products—are safe.”

What we have here is the ordinarily and normal course of capitalist logic. There is no real point to seeing something inherently evil in U.S. or EU officials or their having some particular moral failing. These governments reflect the dominant interests within their countries, as is the case in all capitalist countries. Large industrialists and financiers dominate their societies through control of the mass media and a range of other institutions to the point that their preferred policies become, through heavy repetition, the dominant ideas across society and the ideas adopted by political leaders intellectually and financially dependent on them.

Thus the recent revelations of NSA spying in Europe have had no effect on the Transatlantic Partnership negotiations. The talks began, on schedule, with embarrassing discussions of spying relegated to a “parallel” track, separate from what really counts, the main negotiations to dismantle regulations. The TTIP is quite consistent with the project of the EU: European capitalists’ desire to possess the ability to challenge the United States for economic supremacy, but who cannot do so without the combined clout of a united continent.

Working people on both sides of the Atlantic will be the losers if the TTIP passes, and that is underscored by the secrecy surrounding it. Capitalists, despite the competition among them, are united in their drive for complete domination and profits above all other human considerations. We had better be united across borders in the necessary fight to first stop TTIP and other agreements under consideration, and then roll back those already in place.

23 comments on “Another goodbye to democracy if Transatlantic Partnership is passed

  1. […] Pete Dolack Guest Writer, Dandelion Salad Systemic Disorder May 4, […]

  2. Excellent write up, Pete. Thanks again for allowing Dandelion Salad to republish your work!

  3. Here in New Zealand, we’re beginning to mobilize against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which includes China and also contains an Investor State Dispute Settlement clause like TTPA and TTIP:

    • I just read the article to which you linked — the RECP is a serious threat to the availability and affordability of medicines. Interesting that the RECP began as a way of establishing links beyond U.S. interference, but then some of the barriers to medicines, using intellectual property law as a sword, that the U.S. is insisting on in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, are being duplicated.

      That isn’t surprising, as that is not simply a matter of U.S. machinations, even if the U.S. negotiators are the most forceful, given the size of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, but rather a reflection of the corporate and class interests at work in “free trade” agreements. Thanks for bringing this one to our attention. It seems whatever country we are in we have multiple battles to fight.

  4. The main reason I was hoping Sanders would win the nomination and become president as such is there’d be a serious chance to scrap TPP and TTIP, by a “socialist” to boot. Since he’s a total coward who won’t run “third party” and there’s no other challenge to these, I guess we’re fucked, for now anyway.

    • A mass movement is what will stop the TPP, TTIP et al., not who holds political office (which I know you know). Yes, Sanders would have scrapped it if he got in, and nobody I talk to in the anti-TPP movement trusts Clinton.

      Right now, there is a big push among activists to stop any lame-duck congressional session, which the Obama administration has decided is its best bet to ram it through. The good news is that we can defeat the TPP and TTIP (the latter of which is getting considerable push-back from European activists) if we remain organized and active.

      • Well, I somewhat disagree. I don’t think there’s going to be a “mass movement” against the TPP, etc without electoral representation as well. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. I think people like Sanders, despite all my massive criticism of him and his campaign are actually vital to stopping it. I mean, just look at the case of Kshama Sawant, who I imagine you’ve heard of. She’s basically a more hardcore local version of Sanders, but the things she has accomplished she could never do without the mass movement in Seattle behind her, yet they couldn’t have accomplished it without her either. It’s the same with the TPP situation.

        • We are now in a position where the TPP will be decided in Congress, so, yes, we need anti-TPP senators and representatives along with with popular opposition against it. But there are many congressional fence-sitters who need a push, and we had better give them that push. Given the corporate alignment of most Democrats, never mind Republicans, there aren’t enough reliable votes, and thus grassroots pressure is essential, which is why it is essential that everybody write and call their senators and representatives, and then ask their friends and neighbors to do the same.

          Needless to say, people in the other TPP countries must do this as well, and with the snap election just called in Australia, activists there have a chance to elect a more anti-TPP parliament. Let us hope they do.

          • But this would only be a viable strategy in the US if we had a multi-party system, which atm we obviously don’t have, otherwise people like Trump and Sanders wouldn’t bother with the two centrist major parties. Obviously I’m not in favor of a failed, short sighted “elections or nothing” strategy, but when it comes to pressure on electoral bodies, it rarely works to not get your own representatives in to further the pressure, obviously the Kshama Sawant example I gave above is applicable here too, I’m sure she’d agree.

            Sanders campaign can possibly be reoriented toward this goal, but without a president against it, and with the Dems/Repubs mostly in favor, what hope does it have? I hope you can change my mind.

            • Electing our own representatives in, such as Kshama Sawant, would obviously help. But the U.S. has a two-party system; if we want a multi-party system, we’ll have to go to a parliamentary method of governance. We are where we are.

              Richard Nixon pulled the U.S. out of the Vietnam War and created the Environmental Protection Agency. Because he was a secret liberal? Most assuredly not — Nixon was the worst president we had before the Bush II/Cheney régime. However, there were ongoing mass mobilizations across the country, sufficiently strong and persistent than even a Nixon had to make concessions. More recently, despite the Republican control of Congress and a majority of state governments, same-sex marriage and LGBT rights took a big leap forward. Grassroots pressure forced these advances in the teeth of hostility by political office holders.

              The task of defeating the TTP and TTIP would be much easier with Sanders in the White House. But we don’t, and won’t, have that kind of ally who can say “no” with a stroke of a pen. Thus we have no choice but to rely on ourselves. And link hands across borders because these “free trade” deals need to be defeated everywhere. Incidentally, Barack Obama does not have the votes in Congress right now, which is why it hasn’t been taken up there. That’s the product of grassroots mobilizations. But much more work to be done.

              • I’m not sure what you mean by “parliamentary”? The US has an elected, powerful parliament, it’s called Congress, alongside the 50 state legislatures. Or do you mean that the only way to have a “multi-party system” is to duplicate the European model of parliamentary democracy? Not really, all you’d need is proportional representation like single and multi seated IRV (STV), and an end to ballot access restrictions. Most Americans want more parties and more choices at this point. I’m not trying to be condescending, please don’t be offended, but technically speaking, it would not be hard at all for the US to accommodate a multi-party legislature(s). Politically, it’s another question. Obviously this has little to do with immediate concerns regarding the TPP, but I think any movements against such plans will not achieve much of anything without serious electoral reform and representation, unless we have some violent revolution that topples the entire government and society, which is not going to happen.

                You’re only half correct about Nixon. Yes, mobilization on the ground certainly pushed him and DC in general toward more progressive legislation and action, but Nixon actually came from a Keynesian minded Republican Party that was more “progressive” already, he was not a “neoliberal” out to privatize everything (though he did scrap most of NASA’s ambitions to prevent the government from looking too successful, so maybe he was one deep down). Just look at his plans for a basic income for all families, for example. Even his biggest anti war measure (ending the draft) was done for cynical reasons (deradicalization) and in the long term likely contributed to more war and less public resistance to war. That whole era is basically a warning against just focusing and obsessing over “movements” and protests, IMO.

                Most of the victories for lgbt rights have come from legislative decisions from sympathetic politicians and direct ballot initiative wins, and the occasional state and finally federal supreme court rulings, not grassroots protests forcing governments to decree it so. Again, this basically just shows the validity of an “inside/outside” strategy if anything.

                Where’s the evidence Congress is being pressured to stall, or say no? I’m pretty sure they’re stalling to prevent a major effect on the presidential elections, but of course, I’d like to be proven wrong.

              • Sanders btw is kind of a case in point, as he had a very good chance muscling some of the bigger promises of his with his giant grassroots base putting pressure on Congress to confirm to his whims, the biggest chance we’ve had to a social democratic transformation of politics in decades, yet he;s also the worst enemy of it, as he will likely channel all of this into backing a corporate Democrat candidate, or just play neutral and let all this energy die. The point being this kind of energy and action can’t exist without elected officials like Sanders, not in our current system anyway.

              • You can’t have proportional representation in a system in which all seats are from single-seat, winner-take-all districts. You can only have that if the legislative body is elected through proportional representation, in multi-seat districts or in some combination of those. Instant runoffs can’t lead to a multi-party system without PR or multi-seat districts, because everybody will vote for a “lesser evil” as the first or second choice and enough will do so on the first choice that the same two dominant parties will win.

                In the system of the U.S., there is room for two, and only two, parties and people will be forced to continue to vote for the “lesser evil.”

                As to Nixon, if he was a “Republican Keynesian” it was only because the 1960s and early 1970s were a time when establishment politicians had to make major concessions due to movement pressures. The center of the U.S. political struggle was much more leftward than today precisely because of widespread activism. Nixon today would be little different from George W. Bush because he would be free to be fully himself.

                Remember the words of Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

  5. Not to make this a long, drawn out argument over electoral reform, but it’s actually true you cannot have any method of proportional representation in a single seated legislature. Semi proportional representation can be achieved via things like IRV or Cumulative voting. State and local legislatures in the US have a long (but forgotten, big surprise) history of using, IRV, STV and other methods to achieve more proportional and diverse legislatures. However, not even any proportional representation is necessary to achieve a multi party system, I’m surprised you didn’t correct me on that. The UK and Canada have far more diverse legislatures than the US and still use FPTP. Of course when compared to Western Europe and other advanced parliamentary systems, they fall short, but they still achieve a far more diverse legislature than us. And this ignores the fact that executives like mayors, governors and presidents are (for better or worse) considered more important, which cannot be proportional yet can easily be made to accommodate other parties. Anyway, TL;DR version of what I’m trying to say is that any movement worth a damn that doesn’t focus on electoral reform and getting their voice in politics is surely doomed to fail, if US history is correct.

    As for Nixon, again to make this short, it’s actually true he was some progressive president pushed toward such actions via pressure from below which I see some try to state. Yes, he certainly was pressured to pass a progressive law here and there, but the reality is A. his administration was very far to the right and often actually twisted demands into laws and measures that actually weakened such movements and B his Keynesianism actually goes back to Eisenhower and the 50s Republicans, it was simply considered common sense, regardless of whatever movements were on the ground, where were actually pushing for far stronger measures, even the Democrats were significantly to the left back then. Nixon isn’t a good example that all you need is to light a fire under D.C.’s ass.

    • I should add that in many states and localities, such as Oregon and California (the best states in the union btw, lol), direct ballot initiatives to add constitutional amendments and change the system fundamentally are possible, and this is why many of the recent progresisve victories have been ballot initiatives in these states. This makes anything from electoral reform to environmental regulations to even universal health care (check out Colorados plans in November) far more feasible than people think, since they just focus on DC and that’s it, which is a mistake.

  6. Sorry for my obnoxious pessimism. I didn’t mean to spam a tirade on this, I just don’t feel that atm we can mount a very successful campaign against the TPP.

  7. […] Source: Reblogged: Another goodbye to democracy if Transatlantic Partnership is passed […]

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