29 April 2014

Italy: new coalition joins growing opposition to TTIP across the EU

Interview with Monica Di Sisto, coordinator with Campagna Stop TTIP Italia

Marta Nathansohn

Monica Di Sisto is an Italian journalist and university lecturer, vice president of FAIR Watch and a coordinator for the Italian campaign against TTIP:

The Italian campaign against TTIP (Campagna Stop TTIP Italia) started in February 2014 with the aim of coordinating organizations, networks and local associations in their battle against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The main purpose of the initiative is to oppose a political plan that has as its main goal the commercialisation of rights and the protection of trade interests. Rising up against a treaty that favours the logic of unlimited profit over the protection of inalienable rights, as those stated in European and international conventions, means being responsible for producing a change that will benefit all and not just the usual few.

Why has this coalition formed against TTIP?

We decided to join forces with associations, trade unions, environmental organizations, campaigns, grassroots groups and local districts to share our points of view and draw public attention to all the aspects of our daily lives that will be affected by TTIP. Every Italian government that have been involved in the negotiations so far has supported the initiative with great enthusiasm. No one has stopped to consider and evaluate the impact that such a broad deregulation and liberalisation program could have on an economy as devastated as ours.  For these reasons we felt it was necessary to tell the truth, through all possible means, in order to safeguard citizens’ rights and the common good.

What are your main concerns regarding this trade deal?

First and foremost, we are concerned about the deep wound to democracy and citizen participation to the EU’s decision-making process that this negotiation is generating. We believe it is unacceptable that duties and tariffs as well as standards of quality, safety, environmental and social sustainability affected by TTIP and potentially harmful towards millions of people, are being addressed only in light of their commercial compatibility. Let’s not forget the experience suffered by our textile industry after the end of Multi Fibre Arrangement of 2005, which eliminated entire industries and manufacturing districts.

TTIP is being negotiated by a handful of technicians locked up in Brussels and Washington that nobody elected, overcoming years of parliamentary and social battles.

Proponents say it could bring millions of new jobs to the EU. What do you say to such an argument?

We are used to these kinds of promises in Italy: for the past twenty years we’ve heard them at every round of elections. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe and the highest youth unemployment rate among all Member States. For years national economic and trade policies have tried to impose the idea that “more international trade = more welfare”.  This has proven disastrous. Our exporting firms make up only a small part of our national economy. According to ICE – Istituto per il Commercio con l’Estero (the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade - a public institution, not a dangerous ideologue) up to 80% of our export belongs to the top ten domestic enterprises. In its latest report, the Institute clarifies that the companies which have increased their exports, managed to regain competitiveness by reducing prices through outsourcing. It will be useless to further enrich their profits with TTIP at the expense of our rights. We have been doing this for years and we only end up impoverished, unemployed and with no prospects for the future.

Negotiators say they would like to have finished the talks by the end of the year. What are you plans for the months ahead during these negotiation rounds?

First of all, we don’t believe this is possible. During our latest talks with the Italian government, the negotiators themselves seemed doubtful about the deadline of 2015. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given that key countries such as France and Germany have expressed their scepticism, the upcoming elections have an uncertain turnout, and also thanks to the information campaigns carried out, albeit with great difficulty, by civil society on both sides of the Atlantic.  Starting from July 2014, Italy will hold the Presidency of the European Union and our campaign aims to take advantage of the visibility of our government’s actions on European issues to raise our objections and make our voice heard. We have already carried out a series of initiatives: we held a demonstration in front of the European and US delegations on the occasion of President Obama’s visit to Rome; we organized a training and information seminar with the support of the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, as well as more than two dozen local meetings in which members of the campaign presented our point of view and our proposals. We have understood there is a great demand from local municipalities to understand and examine these issues in depth and we plan to continue with similar initiatives, as well as organizing high-level seminars with a bottom-up approach towards trade literacy.

The European Elections in May will elect a new Parliament, who will ultimately have to say yes or no to any final TTIP agreement. Do you have a message to Italians regarding TTIP and their vote in May?

We have addressed a letter, which we will make public as soon as possible, to all European election candidates to ask for their commitment to stop TTIP. In addition, a few political forces have already submitted parliamentary questions and motions to make the Italian government account for its enthusiasm and to confront it with the reasons of common sense that, as a campaign, we aim to promote. In the past, Italy has shown to have a strong focus and the ability to generate great public participation towards issues of economic solidarity – farmers’ markets, urban gardens, fair trade, recovered factories, occupation of public spaces for sustainable production and ecological and social reconversion – and towards the defence of common goods, as shown by the result of the 2011 referendum rejecting private water management. We know how to vote with our wallets, we know how to persevere and fight for change. We know that if we don’t do things for ourselves, no one will do them for us. If we choose not to react, institutions will simply continue to look away while people loose their jobs and die of pollution. As a campaign we rely on the fact that in a country as battered as ours awareness will grow thanks to communities’ self-determination and ability to self-organize. We must endure in order to exercise our right to choose what to produce, how and for whom, what to buy, from whom and – above all – why. As a growing movement we have the knowledge and the skills to make an impact. 

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