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05 March 2015
I’ve seen the secrets of TTIP, and it is built for corporations not citizens
It appears that, even though I am past 50, my opportunities to become a spy have not expired. This is because, as an MEP, I have now been granted privileged access to the European parliament restricted reading room to explore documents relating to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal. But before I had the right to see such “top secret” documents, which are restricted from the gaze of most EU citizens, I was required to sign a document of some 14 pages, reminding me that “EU institutions are a valuable target” and of the dangers of espionage. Crucially, I had to agree not to share any of the contents with those I represent.
The delightful parliamentary staff required me to leave even the smallest of my personal items in a locked cupboard, as they informed me how tiny cameras can be these days. Like a scene from a James Bond film, they then took me through the security door into a room with secure cabinets from which the documents were retrieved. I was not at any point left alone.
This week hundreds of protesters against TTIP have descended on the European parliament. They are quite rightly concerned about the threat that this treaty poses to the British government’s ability to conduct its affairs in their interests. On a range of issues, from food safety standards and animal welfare to public services and financial regulation, there are deep concerns that the harmonisation of standards across the Atlantic really means a reduction of standards on both sides.
But how are we to know for certain? All discussions about TTIP have been hypothetical, since the negotiations are taking place in secret. In order to read even brief notes of what has been discussed I have to be reminded of my duties not to undertake espionage for foreign powers. Repeated complaints about secrecy from my fellow Green members have resulted in our being admitted to the restricted reading room but we are still not able to share what we discover there with our constituents or with journalists. What we do know is that 92% of those involved in the consultations have been corporate lobbyists. Of the 560 lobby encounters that the commission had, 520 were with business lobbyists and only 26 (4.6%) were with public interest groups. This means that, for every encounter with a trade union or consumer group, there were 20 with companies and industry federations.
What I am able to reveal from my visit to the library is that I left without any sense of reassurance either that the process of negotiating this trade deal is democratic, or that the negotiators are operating on behalf of citizens. The whole process, from the implicit accusation of industrial espionage, to the recognition about who is actually engaged in the negotiations, makes it clear that this is a corporate discussion, not a democratic one. I picture a room full of bureaucrats trying to find ways to facilitate the business of the world’s most powerful companies, many of which have a turnover larger than the economic activity of some EU member states.
So why would anyone want a world that contains a giant trading area stretching from Alaska to the Black Sea? I think the vision arises from a sense of the need to order and control; the sense that uniformity is equivalent to security. But it is also clear that the decisions about what this uniform system of regulation and trade would look like are devised by corporations whose very DNA is the profit motive, and which are legally required to serve shareholders at the expense of all others.
Culturally, as a Green, I would always be opposed to this vision and therefore this treaty. However, looking kindly on the impulse to create such standardisation, I try to imagine that the rules were ones I would be happy to see: high standards of animal welfare, bans on dangerous pesticides, financial regulation designed to achieve stability, to name a few.
The TTIP negotiations are taking up a great deal of time at a moment when the European project seems threatened on numerous fronts: the debt crisis, climate change, and the war in Ukraine, to name but three. I would question this investment of resources at this time in a treaty that seems doomed never to achieve the political support it will require. It is also costing a considerable amount of money. The question of the costs associated with the TTIP deal was an issue I raised with the commission, and something I am at liberty to disclose. Since July 2013, there have been seven rounds of negotiations, alternating between Brussels and Washington. The costs incurred so far range from €60,000 for a round in Brussels to up to €180,000 for a round in Washington.
My visit to the parliamentary library was an interesting reminder of the limitations of democratic accountability in the globalised, corporatised world of 2015, where the citizen is sidelined. Even as a representative of 5 million, my role is mainly to be a consultee; a stakeholder.
We hear much criticism of the “nanny state”, but the world according to TTIP is more like Big Brother Corporation, where individual preferences are swept aside in the onward march of progress and order. It is the disturbing and unsettling worldview that David Korten envisaged in his 1995 book, When Corporations Rule the World. At the time the title seemed rhetorical; outlandish even. It seems considerably less so today.
This piece was originally published in The Guardian on Feb 4 2015.