There was an important vote in Europe this week but it wasn’t about Greece so you probably won’t have heard about it. Its implications, however, could be more sinister and more damaging for democracy than a Grexit.
The European Parliament voted by a majority of 436 to 241 to pass a resolution on the secret EU-US trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). By voting yes MEPs effectively gave their stamp of approval for the deal to go ahead, in spite of repeated and widespread protest from their own constituents. Protests which have repeatedly been ignored.
A European Citizens’ Initiative against TTIP currently stands at over 2,300,000 signatures, a number which should have triggered a response from the European Commission, the unelected body negotiating the deal. Instead the EC dismissed it out of hand as illegitimate. The EC’s own public consultation on one of the most controversial parts of TTIP received a resounding no from a staggering 97 per cent of respondents – again, ignored.
People are right to be concerned. TTIP isn’t about reducing tariffs on imports between the EU and US, it is about reducing and removing regulations that hamper trade. The trouble is many of those regulations are in place to protect the public and the environment. GM foods, growth hormones in beef linked to cancer, banned chemicals in cosmetics and endocrine disruptors in pesticides – these are just some of the dangers that TTIP could usher into Europe.
And whatever proponents of the deal say – and they say it often – there is nothing in writing stopping public services, including national health services coming under threat from increasing privatisation. The most controversial part of the deal is the Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). These provisions essentially allow private corporations to sue national governments in secret courts over policies that cause loss of profits, even when those policies are for the public good. Such cases include banning fracking, phasing out nuclear power and limiting cigarette advertising – all real cases in which companies have used ISDS to sue national governments
In part the vote was MEP’s response to so much public concern and was an attempt to introduce some amendments to the negotiating process. But it was lame to start with and further hampered by some pretty dodgy political manoeuvrings. The vote was originally scheduled for early June but it was delayed at the last moment by parliamentary president, Martin Schulz, citing the high number of amendments involved.
But most critics believe the real reason was a stalling tactic because of the very real possibility of a no vote. Instead it was held on Wednesday, during a week in which Greece was always going to dominate the news. If you were of a conspiratorial frame of mind, you would be looking at the timing with a very keen, if twitchy, eye.
And the vote itself was controversial. An amendment rejecting ISDS entirely, which the European public has repeatedly called for, wasn’t even voted upon thanks to some creative procedural changes from President Schulz. Instead a watered-down version of ISDS was passed which doesn’t tackle the fundamental issues and which has been described as “ISDS lite”.
What yesterday’s vote shows above all is that the corrupt heart of Europe – where there are roughly 40 lobbyists to every MEP - will always put big business over citizens’ rights, profits over democracy and corporate freedom over the public good. This vote was a rare chance for the democratic voice of Europe to make itself heard. Instead it was stalled, disrupted and ultimately drowned out.
The TTIP negotiations will roll on. It’s back to business as usual in Europe.