French poised to say Non! to TTIP

Following Greenpeace’s unprecedented leak, Europe’s leaders are starting to abandon the deal

Anti-TTIP protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Image. Christian Mang/Mehr Demokratie

Anti-TTIP protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Image. Christian Mang/Mehr Demokratie

The transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed trade treaty between the European Union and the United States, which is designed to liberalise trade between Europe and America. For years, EU leaders have tried to secure an agreement with the U.S. and finally in 2013 negotiations between the Obama administration and the EU began.However, the whole deal is currently hanging by a thread following a large scale leak of the negotiation documents by Greenpeace.

The leak comes in the context of wider grassroots opposition to the TTIP scheme. Indeed, the campaign against TTIP has led to nearly four million people signing a petition against the agreement. Large protests occurred last week in Hanover, Germany to coincide with Obama’s visit. In Britain, The Guardian and The Independent frequently publish articles denouncing TTIP and the Trade Union Congress has declared its opposition.

The Greenpeace leak, according to opponents, confirms their concern that the deal will undermine European food safety standards and lower environmental protections, which are more stringent than the U.S. Furthermore, one particular clause has caused significant concerns among Anti-TTIP campaigners, that TTIP will undermine national sovereignty. The proposed deal suggests that companies will be able to sue national governments in a court of arbitration if their profits are harmed due to government policy. In Britain, this clause has caused alarm because the government could potentially be sued by private companies which operate public services, such as the NHS and transport, if the government decided to return the service to the public sector. Critics insist that this could lead to privatisation via the back-door.

Proponents argue that TTIP will generate a net global economic benefit in the billions based on EU figures

Proponents argue that TTIP will generate a net global economic benefit in the billions based on EU figures

Following these leaks, the French president Francois Hollande, who was previously in favour of the deal, has now come out and said that he is unprepared to sign the deal unless protection is granted for the French agricultural industry. Monsieur Hollande said that he would also oppose the deal because France is not prepared to accept unrestricted free trade. If the French President refuses to ratify the proposed deal then the deal would be dead in the water as all 28 member-states of the European Union have to agree to the treaty. This will effectively gives France a veto over the treaty.

Indeed, despite President Obama’s enthusiasm that a deal could be reached, previously sympathetic governments have moved to disown the policy. Sources inside the German government have moved to distance themselves from the deal while Germany’s economy minister Sigmar Gabriel has been reported to have said the deal is unravelling following the leak.

However, preponents of the deal have argued that at its heart, TTIP seeks to promote free trade between the U.S. and the EU and make the citizens of Europe and the U.S. wealthier. Supporters argue that the proposals aim to reduce the number of trade barriers which exist between the EU and the U.S., making it easier and cheaper for businesses to operate. Furthermore the move towards harmonised regulations and removal of export duties would lead to a third of global trade being liberalised. Indeed, by removing duties, European consumers, under TTIP, would see reduced shop prices on some of the most popular American brands such as Levi jeans and Ralph Lauren.

The European Commission, who are conducting the negotiations on behalf of EU member-states, estimate that TTIP would boost the EU’s economy by €120bn, with a €90bn boost for the U.S. economy. Globally, estimates suggest that the rest of the world would benefit by nearly €100bn. Indeed, the UK government believe the deal will boost the UK economy by £10bn.
However, given the information contained in the leaks, the preponents are going to have a hard time soothing the public’s concerns. As the treaty is still under negotition it may be possible that a comprimise will be found, but from the hostile rhetoric of the French president since the leak, most commentators believe that substantial victories will have to be won by Europe before the deal is signed.

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