Letter: In defence of TTIP, and my role as EU Trade Commissioner

A key part of my mandate is to protect public services and maintain consumer protection, and the European Commission would have no interest in a deal that undermined those things

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The Independent Online

John Hilary's article makes claims about the trade negotiations between the EU and the US - TTIP - and about my approach. Needless to say, Mr Hilary is entitled to his view. But his piece completely misrepresents mine.

As EU Commissioner, I take my mandate from the elected European Parliament. The formal “negotiating mandate”, meanwhile - the document with instructions on which we base our TTIP talks - is by law given to us by all EU member states’ governments.

I welcome the current broad and open debate because trade is important for the UK and for Europe. I want a deal that will lower trade barriers and facilitate transatlantic trade, so we can export more. Almost 4 million jobs in the UK are supported by exports outside the EU. TTIP could help us increase that figure.

I have never dismissed the democratic rights of the European public. That would be unthinkable for me.

The final decision on any trade deal we reach will always rest with the directly elected European Parliament and with those national governments, which are accountable to their own parliaments and electorates.

A key part of the mandate member states have given me is to protect public services and maintain consumer protection.

The European Commission would have no interest in a deal that undermined those things.

And it would be anathema to citizens and to governments across the political spectrum, meaning it would never pass.

When I became trade commissioner, I wanted a fresh start on TTIP. So I met – and continue to meet and to listen – to all interested groups, including TTIP's staunchest critics. I meet with everyone from environmental groups, consumer bodies and trade unions, as well as small business owners trying to export to the US. Only this week, I met with human rights organisations in Tunisia to discuss trade, and next week I’m discussing our policies with a wide range of civil society representatives from all over Europe. In the same spirit, I met Mr Hilary in February in Brussels and at various events.

So Mr Hilary's accusation that the Commission “takes its steer from industry lobbies” is disproved by my record.

TTIP will not undermine the NHS. The NHS itself has said: “Providing that the wording... is sufficiently watertight, nothing envisaged in TTIP should change the current situation in the NHS regarding commissioning of publicly-funded health services.”

We have a long experience in protecting public services in our past agreements. As I explained to the British parliament, we will use the same safeguards for TTIP.

We have learned from the debate. For instance, following the criticism of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system used for most earlier trade deals, I proposed to drop it and create a new and transparent Investment Court System.

Mr Hilary's suggestion that EU governments are in the dark about the negotiations is simply untrue. First, we are following their mandate in the first place. Second, I talk almost daily to national Ministers to update them. Third, we work with the governments as a team to prepare every single negotiation position.

And while revealing our entire negotiating hand to our American partners in advance of negotiations would be folly - and hardly in the interests of European people - I have worked to make these the most open trade negotiations ever. This week, we are proposing to make all our trade negotiations as transparent, with position papers and draft texts available online.

What TTIP will do is remove a whole range of barriers to European companies exporting to the US. That is why so many small businesses - those who cannot afford the armies of lawyers bigger companies can employ to smooth the path - have made clear they are right behind the deal.

Again, Mr Hilary is absolutely entitled to continue to pressurise the European Commission to ensure that TTIP does not disadvantage the people War on Want seeks to represent.

He is quite right that the field must not be left clear to business interests alone - I have made sure that has not happened. He is one of many who have helped, by making their views known.

I want the TTIP debate to be based on facts.

So I hope Mr Hilary will take forward the debate in a constructive fashion.

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