TTIP Talks

E.U. Must Harness Public Protest Power

Anti-TTIP demonstrations like this one in Berlin are having an effect, Hoffmann argues. Source: AP
Anti-TTIP demonstrations like this one in Berlin are having an effect.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Skepticism about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, particularly whether the U.S. will agree to follow stricter European guidelines, has sparked massive protests. The demonstrations actually give the E.U. more negotiating clout.

  • Facts


    • Mass demonstrations underscore that the treaty is as much about quality of life as it is economic issues.
    • Unions, in particular, are suspicious of the treaty because organized labor has been greatly weakened in the U.S.
    • The E.U. should insist that America adhere to all requirements, or European governments will not approve it.
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An October 10 demonstration in Berlin that drew 250,000 participants underscores just how much passion the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, stirs in people.

It’s clear that trade agreements don’t simply have economic significance, but also an immense social and political dimension. The spectrum of critics is wide-ranging, but the majority seeks a common goal: fair global trade. After the impressive rally, the task now is to present alternatives and pursue the measures they require. The chances of doing this are good.

Participants in the next round of negotiations on Monday in Miami should recognize that the demonstrations, passionate public debates and protests of civil society, are just the beginning and are not limited to Germany. They are occurring throughout Europe as well as in the national parliaments of European Union countries and in the European Parliament. And they have already achieved some undeniable successes.

The European Commission has announced a new trade strategy and conceded it can do more to assure trade policies benefit as many people as possible. This acknowledgment was not entirely voluntary, but a response to the long underestimated pressure from the public and the clear position taken by the European Parliament.

Unions play a special role. For years, they have advocated for a different sort of world trade. They understand the world grows closer through globalization with enormous opportunities for the general welfare and peace. The numerous war zones and trouble spots around the world make it clear that nations who maintain close economic and trade relationships are less inclined to fight.

Millions of jobs in Germany, Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere depend on international trade. Unions are not opposed to international trade or globalization, but they won’t permit things to proceed as they are. Now, there is both pressure and opportunity to better organize trade unions.

Standards for environmental, consumer protection and social welfare must be developed on a global level with no limits imposed. And a European-American trade agreement must conform to basic principles, especially recognition of the core labor standards of the International Labor Organization and protection of public services from liberalization and privatization.

Unions play a special role. For years, they have advocated for a different sort of world trade.

This precludes private investor-state dispute settlements, but promotes transparent negotiations with documents made available to the public. In a joint position paper, the DGB umbrella group of Germany’s unions and the economics ministry created the basic structure. However, more work is necessary.

Acknowledgement by the European Commission that it must offer citizens more underscores that implementation of new rules will be measured by practical actions and additional steps, especially more transparency and renunciation of secret diplomacy. This requires the body to regularly consult not only with hundreds of representatives from the business world, but also members of civil society and labor unions.

An offer by E.U. trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström to create constructive dialogue is welcome, but it is not sufficient to invite TTIP critics to Brussels for ice cream, as she recently suggested. Open discussions, a high level of transparency and, above all, clear goals are required to regain lost trust.

Public protests were also successful in suspending negotiations on the controversial issue of investor protections. Consultations between civil society and tenacious actions by the European Parliament led to the first corrections with Germany’s economics minister, Sigmar Gabriel, also playing an important role. The new European Commission proposals show progress: There will be no private arbitrating bodies in the TTIP agreement.

This was critically important. The number of private arbitrating bodies has grown enormously in recent years while international law firms more and more frequently initiate lawsuits, even when they have no chance to succeed, just to exert political pressure. Legal costs alone are estimated at almost $1.5 billion (€1.3 billion). This must stop. The European Commission proposal leans toward establishment of an international court of trade with professional judges, public proceedings and levels of appeal.

Yet this alone won’t end the debate over arbitrating bodies. The question of whether there is a need for such a court remains questionable, however, considering the long-established constitutional systems in Europe and the U.S. for special jurisdictions regarding private investors. Regardless, standards for labor and social welfare must be enforceable in the same manner. Unions, in particular, won’t budge a millimeter on this issue.

Fair global trade can’t function without strong protection of workers' rights and the recognition of unions.

The necessity of the issue has been demonstrated by the ignorance of the U.S. of the core labor standards of the International Labor Organization, which include the freedom to organize and the right to negotiate wage agreements, but have not been ratified yet. In many American states, it is virtually impossible for workers to achieve the right to representation through organizations such as workers’ councils.

Fair global trade can’t function without strong protection of workers’ rights and the recognition of unions, but resistance isn’t limited to the U.S. German unions agree with their American counterparts that recognition of the ILO standards is a minimum prerequisite for a free trade agreement.

This clearly includes the ability to strike, but this fundamental right has been questioned by employers associations in the ILO. Thus, it’s expected the European Commission will insist on an explicit recognition of a right to strike be included in a TTIP agreement. German unions won’t accept investments in U.S. locations on the basis of weak labor standards and union-free zones. What’s required is a framework guaranteeing equal conditions at the highest levels for labor, social and environmental standards. Only then can negotiations result in a successful conclusion.

We continue to insist that protection of social services is a fundamental concern of society and unions. It must be made unmistakably clear what areas are subject to open markets and which are not, which can only be attained by clearly defining individual areas.

The same is true for principles regarding consumer, health and environment protection. In Europe, there are demanding safety inspections and strict licensing standards for products and procedures. But much of what is forbidden in Europe is allowed in the U.S. and is the subject of lawsuits in the billions. More than ever, the E.U. must strongly press for the principle of precaution. This is not only in the interest of unions, but of companies.

The next round of TTIP negotiations won’t be the last. But with the broad-based movement of critics behind it, the E.U. has the muscle to demand clear rules for humane trade or Europe will not accept the TTIP treaty.

Whatever is true for TTIP will be even truer for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The treaty with Canada must be studied in terms of legal implications and be completely revised. Otherwise, it won’t last long. The European Commission needs to have understood this, too.


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