Claude Turmes, a Green MEP from Luxembourg, speaks during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 15 December 2015. Photo: European Parliament
European support for a free trade accord with the United States is decreasing rapidly, amid growing concern that the final deal could prove harmful to EU citizens.
The French minister for foreign trade, Matthias Fekl, said in a radio interview on 3 May that “It is an agreement which, as it would be today, would be a bad deal.” Fekl is not alone. Luxembourg’s ministries for foreign affairs and environment have both sent letters to the European Commission, raising fears that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could harm consumer protections and democracy as a whole.
A recent survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation also showed that only 17% of Germans are in favour of the TTIP initiative, down from 55 percent in 2014.
Despite the backlash, the EU and the US are pushing on with talks, in a race to find a deal before US president Barack Obama leaves the Oval Office in January 2017. “I would like for us to conclude this year and I do think that it can be done,” the EU’s trade chief, Cecilia Malmström, wrote in a blog on 27 April. “However, much work remains and as I’ve underlined before, substance is more important than speed.”
Cecilia Malmström, the European trade commissioner, speaks during an event in Hannover on 25 April 2016. Photo: European Commission
Progress has been slow, as negotiators target an ambitious accord that moves beyond free trade. The deal would increase regulatory cooperation between the EU and the US, and allow companies on both sides of the Atlantic to participate in public calls for tender. Washington is disinclined to open its public markets to European firms. EU countries, meanwhile, are reluctant to provide US access to agricultural markets.
TTIP would also provide investor-state dispute settlement procedures (ISDS), which allow companies to take governments to court to settle investor disputes. Lawmakers, citizens and consumer groups argue that the ISDS procedure should be omitted from the deal. MEP Claude Turmes told Delano that an ISDS could strip powers away from European governments, when it comes to corporate deals. “TTIP is a battle between citizens and multinational corporations,” the Luxembourg Green said. “If we have this deal, citizens will end up with less protection.” He added: “TTIP is very, very dangerous.”
The Trans-Atlantic Business Council, an industry group, disagrees. In a statement, the association said that ISDS would not limit the rights of governments to pursue laws and policies. The procedure would only offer investors the chance to claim compensation in a fair and neutral way, the statement said.
Malmström tried to reassure governments by proposing new measures in September 2014, to make the ISDS procedure more accountable and transparent. Yet sceptics remain undeterred, leaving the trade commissioner with an uphill battle to win the hearts and minds of European citizens and governments alike, before the end of the year. On a blog post on 2 May, Malmström said, “no EU trade agreement will ever lower our level of protection of consumers, or food safety, or of the environment”.