If we want to fight TTIP we need to confront the undemocratic and unaccountable European Union argues Reuben Bard-Rosenberg
Meet Cecilia Malmström. You haven’t heard of her, you didn’t vote for her and you can’t get rid of her. Yet in the near future she might well cost you your job. Because, like it or not, she is the European Commissioner who is in charge of negotiating the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States.
People in Britain and across the continent have started to make a lot of noise about TTIP. Over two million people have signed a petition against the deal which will erode workers rights, increase unemployment, and potentially allow businesses to sue governments for passing laws that limit their profits. Yet, in Britain at least, there has been a strange reticence to broach the bigger question: namely, who negotiates our trade policy and why can’t we get rid of them?
Outside of Europe, trade agreements are typically negotiated by national governments. Leaders may enter into deals that destroy jobs and living standards. Yet ultimately, those who make agreements can be voted out by the people who have to live with their consequences. Unless of course you have the misfortune to live in, say, Saudi Arabia – in which case you can get rid of your king about as easily as we can get rid of Ms. Malmstrom.
Supporters of the European project will point out that any agreement will need to be ratified by the European parliament. Yet this is an incredibly weak democratic check, compared to exists elsewhere. The point is that in a sovereign state, the deal itself would be drawn up and negotiated by an elected executive – by people who can be voted in and voted out. In Europe this role is taken on by the unelected European Commission. And what if we are angry with our MEPs for voting through TTIP? Can we vote out the governing party and vote in the opposition? The answer is that we cannot. Because, in contrast to national parliaments, the European Parliament does not operate with a working majority that is connected to the executive and regarded as accountable for its decisions. Both the major conservative grouping, the EPP, and the major social democratic grouping, the ESP are, in effect the parties of government.
Insofar as TTIP gets discussed in geopolitical terms, it’s almost always in terms of that cliched duality between big bad America on the one hand, and decent Europe on the other. Indeed it is this duality that lead so many left Europeanists to imagine they were building some kind of progressive counterweight to American power. Yet the issue of TTIP illustrates the utter stupidity of this approach. If America wishes to extend its extreme neoliberal norms to our continent, then nothing will help them more than a negotiating partner who is not accountable to those who stand to lose their living standards and livelihoods.
Finally, it is worth remembering that TTIP is not the only trade deal on the table. In April this year, Cecilia Malmström said that she “would very much like to resume” negotiations over a proposed EU India Free Trade Agreement. This will mean workers in Europe face unfettered competition against those earning a dollar a day, and in India it could mean cancer patients losing their lives if, as has been proposed, the Indian government is obliged to clamp down on generic copies of patented drugs as part of the agreement. Once again, we, the people of Europe, have few democratic avenues through which we can oppose it.
So let us fight tooth and nail against, TTIP. But let us also be clear that we are living through the greatest roll back of democracy that Western Europe has experienced since the 1930s. If we are not willing to oppose the latter, then perhaps we should give up on seeking to oppose the former.
Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.