19 November 2015

The many faces of TTIP in Romania

A well-informed group of campaigners is working hard to expose TTIP, despite the odds and opposition

Diana Iftodi, "Romania Without Them" Campaign

In Romania, The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is still an obscure subject with very little appeal in the media, or with political representatives, who are busy tied up in the race for audience, votes and public support. It’s once again up to small active groups and NGOs to raise awareness on the subject and mobilize people to stand up for their rights and catch a glimpse of the hidden facts behind the official way in which TTIP is presented, on those rare occasions.

The grassroots movement

The grassroots movement started out timidly but eventually came into shape as a strong campaign, on a road paved by previous awareness campaigns and protests fighting against fracking in Romania and against the cyanide gold mining project in Rosia Montana. The latter now might serve as an example of what the TTIP would mean with regard to a justice system favoring private companies and punishing states for respecting the law and will of the people to the detriment of companies.

Compared to the former two causes, the Stop TTIP campaign struggles with communicating the intricate and multifaceted issue on the whole, which makes it harder to get through to people and mobilize them. However, in September, Romania managed to raise its quota of 24,000 signatures in support for the self-organised European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) against TTIP, a true accomplishment and a foundation for future actions and greater impact.

Stop TTIP Romania is a coalition of 23 NGOs and groups of activists, backed by the 24,000 Romanian citizens who have signed the ECI along with over 3 million Europeans. The unofficial ECI was handed over to the Commission at the beginning of October. Despite it breaking records as having the most signatures, the Commission’s representative wouldn’t even promise that is will be reviewed, or in other words, something is rotten in the state of the EU…

The STOP TTIP campaign in Romania has managed to gain the support of several unions, though the union representatives have yet to truly and vocally stand up publicly against TTIP. The campaign also facilitated debates on the subject including with guests from other countries and also with officials, alongside local campaigns for raising awareness, so that the movement against TTIP might take serious proportions if the subject will gain momentum.

Unfortunately, business lobbying, which often peddles great influence in Romania, is done behind closed doors, which feeds on the lack of information and awareness in the general public to ensure official support remains intact. Often enough, it also starts from the assumption that Romanian politicians and very easy to influence and corrupt. 

Government stands proud in ignorance

It wouldn’t be careless to say that no dissenting voices will come from the side of those currently in power, or those close to it, perhaps only from politicians standing on the sidelines. However, this claim is hard to prove as there is no official, political discourse on the TTIP, except for isolated cases, in which it is regarded simply as a trade agreement between the US and the EU, and what can be wrong with that? How could they, mere Romanian politicians oppose an initiative developed at that level and why would they even research and question the matter in this case? In a twisted way, Romanian politicians mostly base their chances of winning not on popular support or lack thereof, but on the support of European leaders, or US officials and owners of private capital.

For example, in November 2014, Klaus Iohannis was elected the president of Romania, seen by many as a beacon of change in how politics is done. In March 2015, the president declared to be a supporter of the TTIP, for the main reason that it plays an important role in maintaining our strategic agreement with the USA. Not too long ago, former president Traian Basescu, declared to be in favor of the exploitation of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing for the very same reason.  None of them have ever consulted the citizens on these subjects and, moreso, have ignored protests and concerns expressed by citizens. This complete lack of responsibility and accountability in supporting such large scale projects and strategies without fully understanding their impact and without publicly consulting the people, serves to show how undemocratic Romanian politics really is. It seems that the fact that democracy means more than a vote every four years has also not been fully comprehended by our representatives.

The first open, public consultation of civil society representatives in the matter was done at the initiative of the British Embassy.

Even those representing Romanians in the European Parliament (EP) fail to have a true grasp of the subject. On the 8th of July, the European Parliament voted a resolution developed by the International Trade committee together with 13 other committees, evaluating the progress of the TTIP negotiations and presenting the EP’s position on aspects concerning specific fields including ones with a direct impact over citizens. The majority of the Romanian MEPs voted for the general resolution, in itself a weak one, but rejected almost all of the amendments brought including that of dropping the ISDS clause.

The vote was rather consistent with all but two of the MEPs (who didn’t vote) rejecting the main amendments that served to enforce the better interest of the people in sectors such as public health, agriculture and environment  but voting in favor for the amendment that referred to serving the interest of investors (117).

A curious case is that of MEP Sorin Moisa. He is among the two Romanian MEPs that abstained from voting the TTIP resolution in July. However, later in October, he organized a conference to promote the TTIP mostly among representatives of the private sector. Activists were not allowed of course. Perhaps his abstaining attracted so much lobbying that he felt the needed to organise the first high profile event for promoting TTIP in Romania. The event even had a special appearance by Cecilia Malmstrom – European Commissioner for Trade. The event was ironically called “Romania’s Voice” and claimed to conclude an extensive process of consultation of the public in the matter of TTIP, a claim of grotesque manipulative dimensions. With participants such as our minister of Foreign Affairs and USA’s ambassador, the event predictably framed the TTIP in the struggle for energy independence from Russia.

To civil society’s greater concern, the leader of a main union in Romania, The National Union Block, also switched sides during the event, admitting to some vaguely presented benefits for Romania as a result of TTIP and even claiming that if the ISDS is used against the state this would imply that the state is weak and it must pay. But we are left wondering: when did the state become a separate entity from the people?

Meanwhile, a group of protesters recorded a message for her in front of the very fancy hotel hosting the event: Cecilia, you’re forgetting the people,/You’re just making companies happy./Oh Cecilia, we’re many like bees,/And we’re asking you now: DROP TTIP!

Despite a nucleus of very well informed citizens, which have taken it upon themselves to share this information with others, politicians and the media continue to undermine the many serious issues posed by TTIP. At this stage no issue has gained a place on the public agenda. To add to this, the support by our president, as well as of other analysts and politicians for TTIP, is not backed up by any impact study or any study whatsoever about TTIP’s impact on Romania. Romanian citizens are left wondering, in the dark. Those of us campaigning to bring the issue into the light, can do nothing but continue to fight.

Stop TTIP Romania is a coalition of 23 NGOs and groups of activists, backed by the 24,000 Romanian citizens who have signed the ECI along with over 3 million Europeans.

Photo credit: Radu Ghiorma

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