My name is Armanda. I am 25 years old and a student of Economics at the University of Bologna, Italy.
On 11 October 2014 thousands of people took to the streets all over Europe in order to express their opposition to TTIP(Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)-TAFTA(Transatlantic Free Trade Area). In a nutshell, TTIP is a free trade and investment treaty and TAFTA is a proposal to create a trans-Atlantic free trade area covering Europe and North America. They are currently being discussed in a silent and obscure negotiation process among the authorities involved and documents are only partially and incompletely accessible to the public.
In order to better understand the most important critical aspects of TTIP, we interviewed Alberto Zoratti, president of Fairwatch and one of the national coordinators of the Italian campaign against TTIP. Behind a well shaped marketing based on the slogans “more benefits for all” and “the needed economic stimulus for Europe,” as Zoratti explained, hides a wider project that does not simply aim to reduce tariffs, which are already low (the average is 3-5%), but strives to achieve further deregulation and consequently causes a decline in the protection of consumers and workers’ right.
In fact, one of the major goals of TTIP, Zoratti emphasised, is to remove the “non tariff barriers to trade” which concerns a broad range of components, such as the quality of products, the definition of standards (like minimum wage), the production process, environmental protection and consumers’ health and safety.
It is important to point out that until now EU and USA have followed a significantly different approach towards products, with only the European approach based on the precautionary principle. Therefore, if the purpose is to “harmonise standards”, this will probably lead to a “race to the bottom” of European regulation with serious consequences, especially as far as public services are concerned.
Another very controversial aspect in the Treaty is the “Investor state dispute settlement” (ISDS), which recognises the right of corporations to sue sovereign governments through arbitration tribunals in case (according to them) specific laws or government policies damage their profits. This mechanism is already in action in USA. Through this provision, Europe will grant major corporations impressive powers and will subject States to the pressure of private company interests, which are often in contrast to social interests. Zoratti mentioned the example of the Veolia group (a French corporation) that decided in 2012 to file an ICSID¹ claim against the Egypt government because of the increase of the monthly minimum wage from 400 to 700 Egyptian pounds ($56 to $99) in 2011.
Another example is the arbitrate between VattelFall and the city of Hamburg, with the company complaining about the violation of an international agreement (The Energy Charter Treaty) by imposing a more stringent standard in the final construction permit, and the City of Hamburg replying that the conditions stipulated were necessary under European law. This case is useful since it gives us a glimpse of how things will change after the ratification of TTIP: less conflict between European and international (US) regulations and more power for corporations. As professor Paul O’Connell of SOAS explains here, a “new constitutionalism” is emerging, consisting of a new global level of constitution defined by capital, for capital and of capital. All these elements are now under discussion in a silent and hidden procedure that vehemently contradicts the pretentious European rhetoric on transparency and civil participation. An active involvement of European citizens is extremely difficult since even the Members of the European Parliament only recently had the chance to read the document behind closed doors in Brussels with explicit prohibition of taking pictures or of making copies of some pages of the long draft presented to them, as was denounced by Stop TTIP committees.
The attempt of keeping people unaware of this crucial change is indefensible given the highly relevant social interest of the issue, and it clearly reflects the fear of a civil opposition against TTIP-TAFTA. What the campaigns and local committees all over Europe want to achieve is exactly this: a deep awareness and an active participation of people. According to Zoratti, we should persist in the diffusion of material among as many people as possible, especially in countries like Italy where media have only started recently to focus on this issue. Moreover, the Italian committee is working on the presentation of formal motions against TTIP directly promoted by public bodies, pushing public administrations to take a clear position.
Obviously, the reinforcement of the European network is essential in order to coordinate future actions, after the successful day of European mobilisation on 11th of October. There is still time, but not plenty of it: the EU and USA plan to reach an agreement in 2015 or 2016.
“Every day that passes is a lost day”, Italian Premier Renzi recently said during a conference on TTIP. We agree but with a slightly opposite interpretation: any day should be used to collect and diffuse materials, organise and act against TTIP, starting with demanding a complete and democratic disclosure of the legal provisions under formulation.
¹The International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, is a member of the World Bank and is funded by it.