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09 July 2014

New Commission President's claim for a “fair and balanced” TTIP

Greens question Juncker's priorities today at European Parliament hearing today

Yannick Jadot MEP, INTA committee vice-chair, European Parliament

Jean Claude Juncker faces questions from Green MEPs this morning at a hearing aimed at determining his priorities and whether or not we can support his bid for Commission presidency on July 15.

With less than a week before a plenary vote on his position as president, we will highlight our areas of concern, particularly in relation to the ongoing TTIP negotiations and its impact on European standards and regulations.

In a short document released before the European Elections, Mr. Juncker laid out the 5 core priorities for his term, 3 of which encompass aspects of TTIP, including growth, energy and a specific point dedicated to the EU-US trade deal itself. They are as follows:

Growth and Jobs

‘My first priority will be to put policies that create growth and jobs at the centre of the policy agenda of the next Commission.’

While Juncker does not refer to trade or TTIP in this section on internal market, he is about to head up a Commission that continues to preach the growth and employment potential of the deal, claiming it as the answer to all of the EU’s economic woes. This is despite there being no concrete evidence to back up the claim that jobs will indeed be created, and with past examples of US free trade deals, such as NAFTA, resulting in a substantial job losses, not gains. We do not want to see a repeat of this through TTIP.

There is also a notable lack of evidence on the potential economic negatives associated with removing many of the non-tariff-barriers to trade (NTBs) which the Commission hopes to reduce, but which many fear could undermine our hard-won standards and undermine our lawmaking processes.

Energy Union

‘As a second priority, I want to reform and reorganise Europe’s energy policy in a new European Energy Union’ he states, while expressing his wish for Europe to ‘become the world number one in renewable energies.’ While the Greens welcome plans for an Energy Union, and commitments on renewables, a thinly veiled reference to the Ukraine crisis with Russia, raises concerns:

‘I want to keep our European energy market open to our neighbours. However, if the price for energy from the East becomes too expensive, either in commercial or in political terms, Europe should be able to switch very swiftly to other supply channels.’

A recently leaked Commission draft negotiating text on energy provision has revealed efforts by EU negotiators to secure fossil fuel exports from the US under TTIP. Many in the US are working hard to ensure such a measure does not happen, as increased exports are likely to further exacerbate the environmental destruction that fracking has unleashed across America. Likewise, efforts to increase fuel imports from the US, on the back of the Ukraine crisis, has the potential to lock Europe into sustained and increased fossil fuel use for the future, despite scientists warnings that two thirds of all known fossil fuels must stay in the ground for us to avoid climate chaos. We hope Juncker will not allow TTIP to become a blueprint for climate catastrophe.

‘Reasonable and balanced trade agreement’

‘Third, under my presidency, the Commission will negotiate a reasonable and balanced trade agreement with the United States of America. It is anachronistic that, in the 21st century, Europeans and Americans still impose customs duties on each other’s products. These should be swiftly and fully abolished. I also believe that we can go a significant step further in recognising each other’s product standards or working towards transatlantic standards.’

It is unclear what Juncker means by a “reasonable and balanced” agreement, and on whose terms either will be deemed. We know that his reference to the elimination of customs duties is a red herring, as it is widely acknowledged that tariffs are unlikely to play a major role in TTIP, with the exception of a number of key agricultural goods for which high tariffs are indeed necessary for the preservation of our agricultural model, on which Juncker should be knowledgeable. Moreover, going ‘a significant step further’ on mutual recognition is where many of the fears on reduction of standards lie, as many EU and US regulatory processes, such as systems for approving chemicals or food substances, are culturally and technically worlds apart. Yet he also goes on to say:

‘However, as Commission President, I will also be very clear that I will not sacrifice Europe’s safety, health, social and data protection standards on the altar of free trade. Notably, the safety of the food we eat and the protection of Europeans' personal data will be non-negotiable for me as Commission President.’

This is both a clear sign that such genuine worries are indeed legitimate, and that a truly ‘comprehensive’ deal is unlikely to be fully realised if Juncker sticks to these redlines, which we believe is welcome news. At the same time, I’m concerned that the environment is once again absent from his list of standards he hopes to protect. We are entering a critical stage in securing global climate action, and every tool at our disposal needs to be utilised. If TTIP is likely to cause more environmental harm than good, it must be rethought.

Similarly, the intense lobbying that the Commission engaged in last year in order to get the Parliament to approve lactic acid as a pathogen reduction treatment (PRT) on beef carcasses (an request by the US which paved the way for TTIP) was a sorry example of how this trade deal is already negatively impacting EU decision-making. So will Juncker act for public good, or continue this Commission trend of sacrificing such standards on ‘the alter of free trade’?

And let us not forget the most controversial aspect of TTIP to date- Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). A mechanism roundly criticised by some other group leaders in the Parliament, and which the Greens remain entirely opposed to. Is Mr. Juncker silent on this crucial point?

Finally, a last crucial question for our future Commission President: Despite all efforts, the public still has no access to the negotiating texts, and has been left in the dark on this deal. Even now, as the 6th round of talks begin in Brussels on Monday, the select-few MEPs who had some limited access to texts, are now being told it will become even more restricted, through the creation of secure 'Reading Rooms' where joint EU-US proposals can be viewed. We cannot take notes, copies, or even talk to colleagues about what we have read. Will he continue denying MEPs the right to be "fully and immediately" informed on the proceedings of this trade deal?

Writing yesterday in the EUObserver, co-presidents of the Greens/EFA Group Rebecca Harms and Philippe Lamberts wrote:

‘Europe and its citizens need a Commission president that is not afraid to defend our higher standards both towards the outside world and attempts by corporations to undermine them.

This is particularly true of public services, health, food safety and GMOs. The current negotiations on the EU-US trade agreement (TTIP) risk being a Trojan horse in this regard and must be fundamentally reoriented.’

We will be there to ask some questions. We hope he has some good answers. 

Details of the Juncker hearing

When: Wednesday 9 July, 9.00 - 11.30

Where: European Parliament Brussels, Room A1G3 (Altiero Spinelli Building, 1G3)

Ahead of the plenary vote by MEPs on 15 July to elect the next President of the European Commission, Greens/EFA MEPs have invited Commission presidency candidate Jean Claude Juncker to a hearing to present his political priorities. The Greens/EFA group will use this hearing to determine whether or not to support Mr Juncker in his bid for the Commission presidency.

The hearing will be livestreamed at: http://greenmediabox.eu/en/live/juncker 

 

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