The answers were vast and varied. As CESI’s President Romain Wolff pointed out in his opening remarks, “the answers to many of the questions we ask about the TTIP will differ depending on who is giving the answer.”
The aim of the debate, co-organised with CESI member Union for Unity (U4U) and UNITEE (the Turkish-Europe Business Federation), was to examine the fears that exist surrounding the negotiation process of the trade agreement and the potential social, economic and environmental impact. Following an insightful exchange of views, can we say these fears have been alleviated or heightened?
Representing the EU’s TTIP negotiation team in the European Commission, Jan Schmitz attempted to dispel the arguments which see standards lowered. In particular on labour standards, Mr Schmitz was clear in underlining the importance of setting the minimum bar in terms of labour standards. Refuting claims that the negotiations were not transparent, Mr Schmitz also highlighted the European Commission’s open door policy.
Paul de Clerck from Friends of the Earth Europe was concerned about who exactly was entering the European Commission’s door. Due to the extent of business lobbying, the room for civil society is far too limited in influencing the negotiation process. According to Mr De Clerck, 93% of meetings with external stakeholders were with the business side prior to negotiations.
Romain Pardo, Junior Policy Analyst from the European Policy Centre, and Andreas Galanakis, Policy Director at the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union, both acknowledged the Commission’s efforts to improve transparency by consulting with stakeholders and holding regular briefings. The strong political support, both in the EU by national governments and in the US by a Democrat President and a Republican Congress, gives a degree of credibility to the negotiations not seen before.
Transparency still takes its place among one the most contentious issues, alongside the technical issue of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and the potential impact of regulatory standards in the EU. These issues are being widely discussed in Brussels and beyond.
The moderator of the event, Bernd Hüttemann, Secretary General of European Movement Germany, underlined a big difference with this agreement from previous trade pacts: “This is not just a Brussels bubble issue. The level of debate at the national level has been surprising. People are closely following developments”.
The debate which surrounds TTIP is far from over. The European Commission is currently holding a public consultation on the issue of ISDS. Negotiations resume in May, with the end date unknown. Without a final agreement, without a text to read, many unknowns remain. And with these unknowns lie certain fears.Please follow this link to read a full report on the event.