Lend Me Your Ear

TTIP opposition Christian Mang Campact
Stop TTIP, say citizens worried about new rules, or lack of them.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    There has been widespread opposition to the transatlantic trade agreement and politicians in different European countries are starting to heed people’s concerns; the trouble is, concerns differ from country to country.

  • Facts


    • TTIP is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States which could be finalized by the end of this year.
    • Proponents say it will lead to multilateral economic growth, while critics fear deteriorating standards.
    • For the first time, leading politicians in the European Commission and Germany are showing a willingness to consider some of the issues raised.
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There has been plenty of criticism of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, but for a long time, Europe’s politicians didn’t want to know. Now, it seems, they are starting to listen.

“We have to make sure that the people are on board and that TTIP becomes more transparent,” said Cecilia Malström, the incoming European Commissioner for trade. Ms. Malström, a Swedish citizen, was speaking to the European Parliament about TTIP before MEPs decided whether or not to confirm her nomination to the European Commission. That is most likely why Ms. Malström decided to signal that she would take a different course to her predecessor, Karel De Gucht, a fervent supporter of TTIP who often failed to explain what it was all about to public.

Ms. Malström is not the only one to suddenly change her tune.

The leader of the Social Democrats and the deputy chancellor in the German coalition government, Sigmar Gabriel, recently asked for adjustments to the Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement (CETA), another trade agreement that the European Union is about to sign with Canada. Mr. Gabriel does not approve of parts of the agreement which would allow investors to sue Germany via international arbitration trials instead of German courts.

Both of these politicians show they have now started to listen to what citizen groups, environmentalists and consumer advocates have long been lobbying for.

Those groups have often warned that the U.S.-European trade agreement may hide some dangerous and difficult issues. Some are concerned about a lack of transparency, arguing that laws will be passed without sufficient public debate.

In the past such concerns were dismissed as scaremongering by many high-ranking politicians. Now, it seems that Brussels and Berlin are starting to take them more seriously.

They also seem to have realized that it will be impossible to sign off on the agreement without public consent. Even if it passes at the European level, it still has to go through each national government in the European Union.

Furthermore, Ms. Malström’s and Mr. Gabriel’s statements signal that revisions of TTIP are more likely.

That will not necessarily be easy. If Ms. Malström genuinely wants to inform people about how talks around the agreement are developing, she will have to start by restructuring the bureaucratic mechanisms in her own department. The trade commission is notorious for its secrecy and rarely is there public debate on strategy or civic involvement.

This would be a new approach and nobody can predict how it will play out.

This would be a new approach and nobody can predict how it will play out.

Plus, there are different concerns in each of the 28 member states about what matters when it comes to transatlantic trade.

Eastern European countries want to include better protection plans for investors, because in previous transatlantic trade agreements, it seemed as though U.S. firms were dictating the rules – something Germany also wants to avoid. In Sweden, this is not the main concern; instead people fear the erosion of environmental standards.

If Ms. Malström wants to facilitate trade with the United States, she needs to do more than just cut customs duties, which are already low. She needs to adopt standards and change the law; she needs to consult with environmentalists and trade unionists and decide which regulations would be best and most effective for all.

“Rules help to avoid nightmares when you sleep,” said Pascal Lamy, the former European Union trade commissioner. He is a supporter of free trade and believes that reducing rules is not the answer to convince people of liberalization. He argued that rules symbolize the success of developed societies. According to Mr. Lamy, success is when people don’t have nightmares about food safety, for example. That is why he opposes lowering standards to please industries. He is convinced that TTIP could be become more popular if higher standards are adopted by all who want to participate in trade.

In the meantime, Ms. Malström is watching El Salvador which is currently facing charges brought by a Canadian mining company, Pacific Rim Mining Corp. The company which is suing the country in an international arbitration trial for €249 million ($301 million). Apparently, environmental standards in the country are threatening the company’s investments.


This article first appeared in Die Zeit. To contact the author:

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