As promised in my previous blog on TTIP, here’s some information about how you can respond to the European Commission consultation on TTIP.
European Commission Consultations – what are they for?
I could be cynical about this: the European Commission does lots of consultations. You can see them all (open ones and closed ones) on their webpage called Your Voice in Europe. And the number of these has grown over the years.
Whether they are effective or not depends on your view of what effectiveness is. In general, they get a relatively low number of responses from business and NGOs; some responses come from national, regional and local government affected by the issues. They are often not very well drafted or framed and very often they are multiple choice questions where none of the options really captures what one might want to say.
But it is important to use this vehicle for letting the European Commission know that we are watching them!
Some Comments on this consultation
This consultation was launched by the European Commission’s Directorate General Trade after some significant pressure from NGOs and a few (mainly Green) Members of the European Parliament and some online action groups.
The Commission had realised that there is a groundswell of opinion forming which is intrinsically opposed to the TTIP because of the immense (and I don’t use this word lightly) implications for public policy development and the safeguarding of hard fought for rights and protections across areas such as the environment, public health, employment rights, consumer rights, food and agriculture standards and public services.
The consultation is, however, more of a window dressing exercise than some of the consultations I have seen (and responded to) over the last 10 years.
It has a number of deep flaws:
- It does not address the fundamental question: do we need and/or do we want a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. So, there is no scope within the constraints of the questions asked to actually say: stop, we don’t want this; we don’t need this. The publicly paraded so-called benefits (growth and jobs) are not proven (and can’t be) and even the figures quoted by the European Commission itself are marginal in terms of the benefits they would generate. There are other ways of dealing with the need for social justice and decent jobs for people. Indeed, the TTIP is not at all about social justice and decent jobs; it is about unfettered profits for the already rich and powerful.
- The tone of the consultation document is patronising in the extreme. It sets out what DG Trade apparently thinks of as ‘the concerns of NGOs and citizens’; it sets out what are the flaws of existing Bilateral trade and investment agreements on those issues, it sets out how the EU will make sure these flaws are addressed and corrected in the TTIP and basically, that should be it. Indeed, each question is phrased: ‘Taking into account the above explanation and the text provided in annex as a reference, what is your opinion of the objectives and approach taken in relation to….’ So we are meant to say ‘Oh my God, how could I have been so foolish as to think that DG Trade would not protect public policy interests?’. Well, they aren’t fooling anyone.
- One of the mechanisms they use to convince us that all will be well is to provide a reference text to each question. This is a table which contrasts what they refer to as an Example of provisions commonly found in bilateral investment agreements (BITs) (i.e. things we might think of as problems) with something they refer to as Text developed in the EU-Canada agreement (CETA) (i.e. text that shows how good they are in countering the problems. There are two problems with that: first, the EU-Canada agreement is not yet finalized and agreed; therefore there is really very little reason to suppose that this text is anything more than a current draft; second, the text in this draft agreement does not really address effectively most of the problems.
- In fact, the very use of a draft text in this way, which could make the unwary believe that this was an agreed text and one where the EU had actually made real progress, borders on the dishonest.
So does it make sense to respond?
Absolutely, and unequivocally, it does. First, if there aren’t very many responses, the European Commission can say: ‘we’ve consulted, nobody has voiced any real objections, let’s go back to business as usual’ and we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in opposing this.
Secondly, and because usually such consultations don’t get a massive response, it would be a real wake-up call for the EU if they actually got a few hundred thousand responses from citizens. Wow, that would be something. And it would very likely give Members of the European Parliament something to think about, too.
Is it difficult to respond?
Yes and no. It may seem daunting when you open the online questionnaire and you are confronted with a lot of text that sounds pretty technical and you feel that you really don’t know enough to engage in that discussion.
I feel the same way when I look at these consultations. And then I roll up my sleeves, take a deep breath and tell myself that as a citizen I have a right to say my piece and I’ll be damned if they stop me with technical language. All these things are essentially comprehensible.
And usually (and in this case) consultations are open for three months; so you don’t have to do it quickly.
This consultation has the usual introductory bit where you have to identify yourself and say what your interest in the matter is; that’s all pretty straightforward.
Then you have 13 questions relating to TTIP and the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism which is suggested should be part of TTIP. The required response is free-form. You can write what/how you want and you can respond in any EU language. You have 4000 characters (including spaces) per response and in my response I did not find that constraining.
Different approaches to responding
In my response I tried to engage with the issues in each question. I used the responses to Question 1 and Question 6 to make some general points (Q 1 on TTIP generally, Q 6 on the ISDS mechanism). Question 13 allows you to make some general comments on the whole issue.
You can read my response and you are free to use the text if you would like.
A group called No2ISDS has prepared some model answers and a web tool which allows you to make a response very quickly and easily. This will remain available until the consultation closes on 7 July 2014.
And the Quaker Council for European Affairs also has made it’s response which you can also use to inform your own response if you like.
But you can, of course, also take a shortcut to the response and simply state in response to each question a brief sentence saying that despite the explanations given, you are still opposed to TTIP. You don’t have to give your reasons. But if you do, your response might have more impact, especially when/if you send it to your MEP or to your MP. Because your MP also has some input here. The TTIP – once negotiated – will have to be agree by the European Parliament and by the representatives of the Member States. They, the representatives of the Member States, are setting the agenda for the European Commission negotiating mandate; they are much more powerful in terms of making an impact on the content of the TTIP than the European Parliament. So writing to your MP to ask them to ask the relevant government ministers to take a different approach is also important and potentially powerful.
What I am doing with my response (apart from posting it here) is to send it to my MP now and to send it to the new MEPs for London once they are elected on 22 May 2014. I will ask them specifically to vote against the TTIP in its entirety.
As I said at the end of my response to the consultation: I do not want the TTIP; I do not want unfettered global capitalism, I do not want secret and private processes instead of economic justice and I will ask my elected representatives in the European Parliament to vote against it when it is put before them.