Prime minister David Cameron loves to portray himself as the defender of British sovereignty in his dealings with the EU. But as the volume of his anti-EU posturing increases, he is busy pushing for a deal that will hand the sovereignty of his country, and others, to multinational companies.
The next round of negotiations on the EU-US trade deal (also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP) begin in Brussels on Tuesday 15 July. Talks started last July, and proponents of the deal seem to have hoped to rush it through with as little scrutiny as possible. They have been disappointed, as opposition to the deal has risen rapidly in both sides of the Atlantic.
In the US, trade unions and Democrat congressmen and women have prevented President Obama from fast-tracking the deal. Campaigners in Germany forced the European Commission to open a public consultation on one of the most controversial proposals in the deal – a plan to set up corporate tribunals with the power to override the decisions of elected governments. Some 100,000 people responded to the consultation – the highest number ever recorded. And Belgian MEPs were among dozens of campaigners arrested for protesting against the deal ahead of the European elections.
On Saturday 12 July, towns and cities across Britain will see health campaigners, environmentalists, anti-poverty groups and trade unionists protesting under ‘No TTIP’ banners.
As the diverse array of people lining up to oppose it suggests, the TTIP deal would affect many different aspects of life. But the common thread connecting objections to the deal is this: if agreed, TTIP would greatly diminish the ability of governments to make decisions for the benefit of their citizens. Democracy itself is under threat.
The part of the deal that has most enraged critics is a plan to set up supra-national corporate courts, in which companies can sue governments over decisions they think might affect their profits – even where governments have clearly acted in the public interest. This may sound like the stuff of fiction, unthinkable to anyone with any faith the democratic progress. In fact, it’s already happening.
Under similar parallel legal systems, tobacco giant Philip Morris is currently suing both the Australian and the Uruguayan governments for, respectively, introducing plain packaging for cigarettes, and daring to print health warnings on packaging. Veolia, the multinational waste and energy company, sued Egypt for introducing the minimum wage. And Argentina was sued for freezing energy prices to protect consumers hit by the country’s financial collapse.
In Britain, campaigners fighting to defend the cherished National Health Service fear that if a future government tried to renationalize the parts of the service that have already been privatized, it would be sued. And the need for companies to even use these courts could melt away – fear of being hit for billions of dollars could prevent governments from implementing policies that might raise the ire of the boardrooms. As well as preventing governments from acting in the public interest in the future, the TTIP deal would also sweep away years of hard-won regulations designed to protect people and the environment. One of the key issues on the table in the Brussels talks will be food standards, which are generally set much higher in Europe than in the United States. US agribusiness wants Europe to drop its ban on hormone-treated beef and pork and chlorine-washed chicken, and the American companies that sell these products have US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on side.
Financial regulation is another major battleground. Following the financial crisis, the US introduced an inadequate smattering of controls on its finance sector in an attempt to prevent another collapse. But the big banks see even this weak regulation as unacceptable, and are pushing for TTIP to knock it on the head.
Over the past few years, more and more of us have started to see our governments as acting in the interests of the rich and powerful. The EU-US trade deal could be seen as something of a test case. If we are to drag governments back to our sides, to be accountable to the people they were elected to represent, the battle to stop the TTIP deal is one we have to win.
Miriam Ross is a campaigner at the World Development Movement.
To join the protests taking place across Britain on 12 July visit nottip.org.uk.
Read New Internationalist’s guide to the two monster US-led trade deals – the TPP and the TTIP.