by Don Quijones
Two game-changing trade agreements — the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and its sister pact, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) — are perilously close to completion. Their basic aims are three-fold: to elevate the rights of “investors,” that is of corporations, above the rights of citizens; to transfer sovereignty from the seats of national government to the corporate HQs of the world’s largest multinationals; and to cement Western domination of the global economy for the foreseeable future.
Naturally, few voters are likely to support such a radical program. Hence the acute need for secrecy, obfuscation and lies throughout the negotiation process. Eventually, even they are not enough. The lies start showing through and the flimsy facade begins to slip. In the later stages — roughly where we are now — the only way to finish the job is to incrementally, almost imperceptibly snuff out the institution of representative democracy itself. To do that, one must still keep the illusion of democracy alive, at least until the ink on its death warrant (i.e. a fully signed trade agreement) is dry.
This explains the European Commission’s constant empty promises of increased transparency, accountability and public consultation. The latest installment in this ridiculous charade came not from Brussels but from the US government, which announced that it will open up reading rooms in its embassies across the EU, so that national politicians can read secret documents related to TTIP.
Here’s more from Euractiv:
[The U.S. government] is now set to announce an expansion of the reading rooms beyond the European Parliament to all EU countries and selected national representatives. The representatives allowed to see the papers will be chosen by their governments.EurActiv understands that the move is to ensure politicians in EU countries are better informed of the process, and don’t have to travel to Brussels to the reading rooms in the European Commission’s offices.
A Dangerous Charade
At first glance, it bears all the hallmarks of a micro-step in the right direction. But then you realize that Europe’s “chosen politicians” will get to see only the EU’s negotiating positions; for the moment, the U.S. refuses to show even a tantalizing glimpse of its hand. And European politicians will come away with just half the picture.
What’s more, the reading conditions are unlikely to be conducive for deep, thoughtful analysis. As the Spanish daily Publico reports, Members of Parliament who have viewed the text in Brussels have had to do so in a secure location, for extremely limited time periods (max: 2 hours) and in the constant presence of a member of the Commission’s staff. If the MEP is caught making copies or sharing the details with the public, he or she could face espionage charges.
Even if reading conditions are improved, the carefully handpicked representatives of Europe’s national governments are unlikely to find much they don’t like among their chosen reading matter. After all, it was Europe’s national governments that granted the Commission authority to negotiate TTIP in the first place.
“It was they (Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande) who insisted that the negotiations take place in secret,” says left-wing MEP George Scholz. As for the governments of less powerful EU Member States, they may curse certain developments from the sidelines but they’re unlikely to use their veto to obstruct the treaty’s passage and risk being blamed for killing what would have been the largest trade agreement of recorded history.
Caving In to Corporatism
The reasons for such strong enthusiasm for TTIP are broad and diverse, says Pierre Defraigne, a former head of cabinet of ex-commissioners Etienne Davignon and Pascal Lamy and one of few senior Eurocrats to have expressed public skepticism about the trade agreement. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he gave to Corporate Europe Observatory.
There has always been strong Atlantic tropism among some member-states, starting with the United Kingdom, and in certain circles of the Commission that think it is the normal vocation of Europe to be a sub-ensemble of the Atlantic ensemble…
Then there is the German idea: some think that, in the absence of strong European demand, you have to develop exports elsewhere and they have detected certain niches for themselves in the United States… This played a big role.
There is also the domino effect of the series of free-trade zones negotiated a few years ago by the United States and by Europe (with other nations). They said to themselves: “Hey, in the end why not do the same between ourselves?” … It is a strange logic: the negotiators desert the strategic ground to concede to an ultimately rather corporatist culture.
The submission of governments to corporate interests is hardly a new phenomenon, but it is accelerating — particularly in Brussels, now home to almost as many lobbying groups as DC. Meanwhile, at Europe’s local level, opposition to TTIP continues to grow, and with good reason: while some parts of some countries might benefit handsomely, others stand to lose out enormously, resulting in widening economic imbalances across Europe’s regions.
Playing With Fire
Not only will TTIP sharpen economic disparities in Europe, it will also pit a politically fragmented Europe against a much more united, more efficient rival (the U.S.). As Defraigne warns, this could end up shattering Europe’s already flimsy political cohesion as well as the broader international geopolitical order:
Negotiations are fundamentally asymmetric. The idea of building a bloc between Europe and the United States versus the rest of the world appears to be an alliance from the past designed to prevent the advent of a new international order that is more balanced…, more multipolar and multilateral. I don’t believe we are going in this direction when we make an alliance with the United States. We are playing with fire, both with Europe and with the world’s geopolitical balance!
None of this seems to matter to the Commission or Europe’s other senior power brokers. Despite intensifying opposition at home, Merkel seems as keen as Obama to wrap up TTIP once and for all. In Spain all major parties are on board the TTIP Train and have even joined forces to block a parliamentary debate on the issue. In the UK all the main parties – even UKIP – seem happy to sell the country’s cherished national sovereignty down the river and across the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, the number of signatures on the STOP TTIP campaign’s petition continues to climb. When I began this article it stood at 1,725,999 signatures, with the vast bulk registered in Germany (over a million) the UK (226,000), France (108,000), Spain (56,000), Austria (65,000) and the Netherlands (55,000). Now, four hours on, over 1,000 Europeans have added their voice to the gathering chorus of protest. Unfortunately, few people in positions of power or responsibility seem to notice or care, while the vast majority of the population remains oblivious to what is even happening under their noses. And that is how democracy dies. By Don Quijones, Raging Bull-Shit.
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