The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Students go to Brussels to fight against TTIP

TTIP has been described as one of the most controversial legislations that the European Commission has tried to bring about, yet it is not as well known as would be expected. Roberta Rofman talks to Natasha Brooks about her thoughts on TTIP, her campaign in Brussels and US politics

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University of Manchester students and Green Party members Hannah McCarthy, Khinezar Tint and Natasha Brooks travelled to Brussels on the 3rd February 2015 as part of a 100-person delegation for the next round of negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a controversial free trade deal between the EU and USA.

It has been described as one of the most controversial pieces of legislation that the European Commission have tried to implement.

The Independent highlighted some fear of damage that TTIP may create. Damage to the NHS is a main concern as the TTIP legislation wants to make Europe’s public health, education and water services available to US companies. This makes the privatisation of the NHS more probable. Many have argued that such a privatisation would make the services of the NHS worse and increase its price.

The Independent also highlighted that TTIP is a big threat to democracy as the legislation wants to introduce Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) which allow companies to sue the government if the policies of the government harm the profits of said company. However, Peter Chase of the US Chambers of Commerce stated that companies would only be able to take the government to court in specific cases such as where there is discrimination, so there was no real reason to worry.

EU standards of food safety and environment would also be brought closer to those of the US. The problem with this is that US regulations are less strict meaning more dangerous chemicals may not filter out of regulation. Furthermore, the US adopt a policy of using a substance until it shows negative impacts, unlike the EU who impose a policy of not using a substance until negative impacts are shown not to be there.

The US have also adopted tight restrictions on bankers to avoid financial crises such as the one of 2007/08. There is fear that TTIP will remove these restrictions and give power back to bankers.

TTIP may also cause individuals’ privacy to be compromised as there is fear that it will bring back internet service provider requirements of monitoring online activity, The Independent reports.

Finally, the EU has also admitted that TTIP will likely cause unemployment as jobs switch to the US, which just fuels the already existing unemployment issue. In addition, labour standards and union rights are lower than EU, bringing down EU union rights and standards.

In January 2015, it was noted that 97 per cent of the public opposed TTIP.

The #noTTIP Eurostar to Brussels has been organised by Global Justice Now, a London-based campaigning organisation that is in coalition with non-governmental organisations, trade unions and activist groups, all who oppose TTIP. The cause is also supported by War on Want, 38 Degrees and Unison.

Natasha Brooks, co-chair of Manchester Young Greens and member of Stop TTIP MCR, said:

“TTIP is a trade deal that’s been negotiated behind closed doors between the EU and the USA. If it’s passed it would have enormous consequences on so many aspects of our lives, from the food we eat to our public health services. Ordinary people from across the UK are travelling to Brussels to make their voices heard. Democracy is about what’s best for everyone, not what’s best for the world’s richest and most powerful corporations. The TTIP deal is a hijack of democracy, and we need to stop it.”

Guy Taylor, the trade justice campaigner for Global Justice Now and the organiser of the #NoTTIP train, also stated:

“It’s unheard of to see so many people travelling to Brussels to lobby their MEPs like this, and that’s testament to just how hugely controversial and unpopular TTIP has become. David Cameron waxes lyrical about national sovereignty, but in pushing for this deal he is wilfully handing sovereignty to big business. The deal is not really about trade, it’s about entrenching the position of the one percent. It should be abandoned.”

John Hilary, executive director of War on Want and author of TTIP: A Charter for Deregulation, an Attack on Jobs and End to Democracy said:

“Our politicians need to wake up and recognise the levels of anger coming from ordinary people on TTIP. The public is outraged when they learn the level of threat this agreement poses to our common futures. MPs and MEPs alike must to reflect public opposition to TTIP, not simply pander to the big business lobby.”

I talked with Natasha Brooks about her thoughts on TTIP, US politics and her time in Brussels.

What is your biggest fear of the TTIP, what can it change?

TTIP would fundamentally change our economic system and in doing so it would have detrimental effects on our democracy. Ultimately, TTIP would distort the balance in favour of corporate interest; those corporations who hold power that would weaken the influence of the public. The investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) element of the treaty would allow private court cases against the government with no right of appeal—a dangerous setting.

Having an active ISDS mechanism in place would effectively undermine the reach of parliamentary power. In theory, law could be changed, but in reality, the prospect of being sued for millions would act as a heavy weight on government decisions, but the scary thing about TTIP is it’s scope. It will affect workers’ rights, public services, food standards, banking regulations, the environment; the scope for change really is huge.

Is there any way it can be salvageable or good for us? Are there any benefits?

There is a lot of talk from Labour MEP’s of a good TTIP, it’s something that David Martin (Labour Party politician) mentioned while we were at the European Parliament but it seems to be a fictional image. The main advantages suggested as a result of TTIP are jobs and growth but research has shown that it will in fact lead to job losses, estimates range from around 1.3 billion for the EU and 700000 for the US. I do not believe there is such a thing as the ‘good TTIP’ that has been discussed. John Hilary, the executive director of War on Want has also said that he considers the idea comparable to child friendly landmines.

If not, why do you think that politicians are trying to bring it about?

During the trip to Brussels the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) provided a tour of corporate villains to highlight who is involved in the lobbying process for the development of an agreement such as TTIP. It is crucial that we realise that TTIP has not stemmed from politicians, MEP’s have not been consulted, and when the day arrives that they are, they will have a simple yes or no vote.

Similarly, our national politicians in the UK have not been consulted, and there will not be an opportunity for either MP’s or MEP’s to suggest amendments to the agreement. The corporate lobbyists have been instrumental in developing TTIP, the CEO estimate was around 92 per cent of the influence is from private sector lobbyists and only 4 per cent from public interest groups so it is clear who the beneficiaries are.

What would happen if it got passed?

We have reached our conclusions on the extent of the threat of TTIP from leaks and there is a lot that we don’t yet know. CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) has been finalised and it is now possible to view the one thousand six hundred page document online so we can draw some judgement both from that and from previous trade agreements. If we look at the effect of NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement), we see huge job losses and negative implications for the parties involved, we expect similar repercussions as a result of TTIP.

A world with TTIP would be a world in which one sits down for dinner to find chicken washed in Chlorine on their plate. Much to the dismay of local farmers, facing business closure as they struggle to compete with cheap US beef fuelled by GM hormone growth.

A world in which one finds their demand for a raise in minimum wage ignored because the country cannot afford to cover the cost of ISDS cases. The NHS would be irreversibly privatised and opened up to the US market. All of this alongside a race to the bottom on the standards and regulations that we have developed as the European Union.

Those same standards that have seen us ban twelve thousand chemicals that pose a risk to our health compared to the significantly lower standards of the US that have banned only twelve. In this world our politicians would be, even more, the puppets of corporate power, held accountable to them through the use of private courts—the outcome of which would not have to be publicised.

Do you think there are any aspects of US politics and way of living that should be desired and brought into the UK?

The US currently has more stringent banking regulations to prevent the speculative banking that occurred prior the economic crash of 2008. Whilst such regulations are not in effect in Europe or the UK, we continue to reap the benefits of them.

TTIP would make way for the harmonisation of regulations but this does not mean that our regulations would increase to meet the current US standards. As with food and chemical standards, there would be a race to the bottom. So whilst it is possible to argue that this is an area in which the US is excelling, TTIP would decrease it to our lower standards – again posing a detrimental risk to the stability of our economy.

What did you do in Brussels; do you think you were able to make some sort of impact?!

Brussels has allowed us to make invaluable connections with fellow campaigners from all over the UK, so for both myself, and other Stop TTIP MCR campaigners, it has been of great benefit. The protest was lots of fun and hopefully the demonstration will raise awareness of the issue to members of the public and reinforce our strong opposition of TTIP to those involved.

It was the first time that negotiators had been confronted face to face so I believe that the group was very effective in reaching them and reminding them that we will continue our battle.

However, the main purpose of our visit to Brussels was to meet with local MEPs in the European Parliament. Initially, we had lengthy discussions with Green MEPs Jean Lambert, Molly Scott Cato, and Keith Taylor, which we found encouraging and productive.

Unfortunately, the Labour MEPs were not as accommodating, David Martin shocked the group when he slammed his fist on the desk in temper and exclaimed, “if you aren’t going to listen, you can piss off!” He was asked to apologise by the chair but the overreaction set the tone for the remainder of the meeting. Theresa Griffin then spoke directly to the group of North West activists but seemed disillusioned and did little to satisfy our concern which was incredibly disappointing.

Nevertheless, we left Brussels energised and positive. Stop TTIP MCR have a meeting, together with 38 degrees, with Julie Ward and Afzal Khan, the two other North West Labour MEPs, coming up on the 13th of March in Manchester and further action planned for the EU action day on the 18th of April.”

How can people, particularly students, go about preventing this? Is TTIP known about enough?

“The momentum of the campaign is really picking up speed now so in the coming months we will focus on developing our connections with other Stop TTIP groups and ensuring that TTIP is discussed in the run up to the general election. The most important thing at the moment is to make people aware of the issue, it is important that we relate the TTIP campaign to wider issues, particularly the secrecy that surrounds trade deals more generally and the lack of democracy that occurs as a result of it.

I would encourage people to discuss TTIP, unfortunately it continues to be an issue that the public are not widely aware of and it really is something that will affect everyone, whether you are a minimum wage employee, the owner of a small business, or a worker within the NHS.

Do you think students participate in politics enough these days? You are a member of the Green Party, what about it appeals to you?

As an active member of Young Greens within the University of Manchester I am surrounded by politically active students. It would be great to see larger numbers involved but I think it is understandable that young people feel disillusioned from mainstream politics and it’s great to see so many students at the university being politically expressive in an alternative way.

The Green Party appeals to me as a party that connects with people, Labour MEP David Martin’s absurd demonstration of frustration during our trip to the European Parliament highlighted how far Labour has come from reality and ‘real people’. Our politics emanate from an interest in creating a fair society for the benefit of all, and crucially, a sustainable society, no other party appears to have long term concerns in the way that the Green Party does and to me, that sets it apart.

 

TTIP is continuing to go through discussions at the moment and it seems the best thing people can do is continue talking about it so knowledge about it is known to more people.