22nd Oct 2019


No summer break for anti-free trade opposition

  • Malmstroem has been battling to keep the TTIP negotiations on track (Photo: European Commission)

“TTIP doesn’t keep me up at night”, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem recently said of the on-going EU-US trade talks.

Yet, as the summer break approaches, negotiators on giant trade and investment pacts such as the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP) ought to feel more restless.

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Despite immense effort, the trade conundrum is nowhere close to being solved. Public opposition to secret free-trade pacts is growing by the day and has spilled over into fierce political infighting on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Brussels, TTIP’s odds of success are looking lower than ever. The negotiators’ continuous refusal to take into account public concerns about protection standards and the secrecy around the negotiations has brought crowds onto the streets.

More than 2 million people have signed a self-organised European Citizens’ Initiative calling for an end to the negotiations. To the European Commission’s surprise, this opposition has spread to the European Parliament debate about its resolution on TTIP - its main input in the negotiations.

While the general pro-TTIP position of the centre-right and centre-left parties was expected to result in a green light for the controversial negotiations, the resolution has been in deadlock for weeks.

Dissenting opinions within parties have led to an embarrassing postponement of the vote, illustrating not only that there is no popular support for TTIP, but that a supporting majority in political circles is also missing.

Last week saw the European Parliament’s resolution on TTIP go through the wringer for a second time in the trade committee. On Thursday, the presidents of the parliament's groups decided the resolution should go back to plenary for debate and vote today and tomorrow.

Around Europe, pessimism about TTIP’s fate has multiplied over the last few weeks. Germany’s powerful economic minister Sigmar Gabriel recently declared that he is “far from certain that there will be an agreement in the end”, but rather “it may well be that in the end it fails”.

Meanwhile, Luxembourg’s foreign minister joked darkly that he is “not prepared to die for TTIP”.

Across the Atlantic, it took significant political manoeuvring for the US executive to be granted so-called fast-track authority to negotiate TTIP and TPP.

President Barack Obama went against his own party line and was accused of using dirty procedural tricks to pull this off. This comes as a serious embarrassment for the US government and free-trade supporters in the US, exposing the growing political turmoil about the harmful impacts of free-trade agreements.

If we take a step back, the picture is very clear.

Popular resistance against harmful trade agreements is reaching unprecedented levels.

The US and European publics have spotted these trade deals for the Trojan horses that they are. Now politicians are having second thoughts about opening the gates to let them inside.

Natacha Cingotti is a trade campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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