24 March 2014

Obama's on his way to Brussels to negotiate a 'Polluters Pact'

TTIP a genuine threat to our environment, and our democracy. It's time to stop this polluters' pact in its tracks, before it's too late.

Keith Taylor MEP, European Green/EFA Group

Across Europe, anti-fracking campaigns have been picking up momentum. Yet this movement could soon be spectacularly crushed.

From Romania to Poland to the UK, local uprisings amongst affected communities have quickly escalated into wider protests.

In the European Parliament, attempts by the Greens and other groups to bring in proper regulations on fracking have been blocked largely by the pro-industry lobby. We came close to ensuring a minimum level of protection through environmental impact assessments, but this was squashed at the last moment by countries (such as the UK) desperate to exploit another fossil fuel. And so the push by Green MEPS for adequate laws continues. 

It appears that in some countries, the fight against fracking is being won, at least for now. 9 European countries have implemented either regional bans or national moratoriums(Luxembourg, France, Bulgaria, Czech Rep, Austria, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Denmark). In a world where people increasingly feel powerless, we have seen the peoples of these countries gain local, regional and sometimes Governmental support in their fight against major fossil fuel companies. However these moratoriums are temporary, and we see at international level that these same countries do not always defend their national bans. 

These triumphs, and the successes we're hoping to achieve in the future are fragile, and could soon be abruptly reversed. Barack Obama's arrival in Brussels on Wednesday for a EU-US summit will see further negotiations of an EU US trade deal that's being labelled as the 'polluters pact'.

The deal aims to ramp up trade relations by removing protections such as tariffs and regulations, and by 'harmonizing' EU and US laws. It could well impinge on our food, environmental and social standards, in order to enhance trade between the countries.

For citizens calling for an end to fracking in Europe, this deal could destroy all progress made so far. This is because if the deal goes ahead, the harmonization of EU and US laws could force the EU to reduce protections which regulate energy extraction including shale gas.

Companies have been able to drill all over the US because of a lack of regulation, basically doing as they please with little regard for human health and environmental protection. 

A new EU US trade deal could make Europe compromise on safety and regulation even further, at the expense of its citizens. Such an agreement could sabotage the important steps made so far by so many campaigners, activists, Greens and other environmental groups.

The deal could also force countries such as France to lift their bans on fracking. This is due to a particular part of the current deal which would enable countries to sue national governments when they believe their investment opportunities are restricted by a given law. It's possible that fracking companies wanting to frack in a country with a ban could then take that country to court for restricting its investment opportunities.

In the UK, the Government is, all too often, a servant to the profiteers. So unsurprisingly, it backs the companies who are determined to frack our countryside. To provide a glimpse of this support: the UK Government are offering financial incentives to the companies themselves, and to local Councils who allow fracking in their areas. 

Test drilling has already taken place in three British Counties, and the Government's paving the way for more. It's now eyeing up more than 60% of the country to licensing for the shale gas industry, mistakenly assured of the economic benefits it could have. So it's no surprise then that the UK government is backing the new EU US trade deal which could make things even easier for fracking firms.

This trade deal, which is being negotiated by top officials behind closed doors, is a genuine threat to our environment, and our democracy. It's time to stop this polluters' pact in its tracks, before it's too late.

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