Watching the farcical proceedings of the European Parliament over negotiations about the Trans-Atlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a bit like watching an advertisement for euroscepticism. Virtually every criticism hurled at the EU crops up in one form or another: a complete disregard for democracy, an embracement of bureaucracy, and a reluctance to hear criticism of the omniscient European Union. The only British party standing up for the interests of the British people and British democracy is UKIP. Shamefully, Labour (and the Conservatives) are nowhere to be seen.
TTIP is a free-trade agreement between the European Union and the United States that was drawn up by the European Commission. In theory, the agreement is supposed to break down protectionist trade barriers between the EU and the US, while encouraging economic growth and prosperity. The reality is that TTIP has a lot of nasty details hidden in the fine print. There are two that are particularly scary. The first is that it grants corporations the ability to sue governments if they think that national laws are getting in the way of profits, through a mechanism called ‘investor-State dispute settlement mechanism’. In Australia, a similar law allowed Philip Morris, a tobacco company, to sue the Australian government when the country banned logos on cigarette packaging. In Canada, a pesticide company sued the Canadian government when the state’s regulatory body tried to ban the use of certain harmful pesticides. The second scary implication of TTIP is that it allows American companies to become involved in the privatisation of the NHS, even though the public has been vocal on the fact that they oppose the privatisation of the Health Service. TTIP could also make it impossible for future British governments to reverse any privatisation of the National Health Service that has already happened; not a nice thought for those who would want a future Labour government to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012, as they said they would do in their manifesto for the 2015 General Election.
The purported purpose of the European Parliament is to act as the democratic wing of the European Union. It is (sadly) the only institution of the European Union that is directly elected, and it has consistently been handed more power with each Treaty of the European Union. Yet, the way the Parliament has treated negotiations surrounding TTIP have exposed the undemocratic way in which it operates – Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, has suspended debates over TTIP. Schulz claims that this is ‘to give more time to the International Trade Committee to further reflect on the outstanding issues and to reduce as much as possible the large number of amendments tabled’. However, there have been some claims that the postponement was to avoid debate over TTIP and criticism of the European Union. Yannick Jadot, deputy of the Greens, asked ‘Why is the parliament afraid of its citizens?’.
The European’s Citizens Initiative (ECI) was designed as a means of the European Electorate directly voicing their concerns over EU legislation to the European Union. It is very similar to the e-petitions system used in the UK by which citizens can propose issues to be debated in Parliament. The ECI petition against TTIP received over 2 million signatures – the European Commission dismissed it immediately.
Labour have acted with cowardice when it comes to criticising the European Union or the Trans-Atlantic Trade Investment Partnership. Although Labour’s official statement is, ‘We will hold the European Commission to account on issues of concern, including the impact on public services and the Investor to State Dispute Settlement Mechanism. And we will ensure the NHS is protected from the TTIP treaty’, MEPs from the Party were nowhere to be seen when it came to standing against Schulz’s decision to shut down the debate. The Party has also said that it will support TTIP if there is a vote on it in the Parliament. Sadly, UKIP have been the only British Party to criticise the European Union on both TTIP and the way in which the European Parliament has handled the negotiations surrounding TTIP. Nigel Farage said, “In my 17 years as an MEP I've never received so much communication from the public on a proposed piece of legislation. The TTIP has concerned millions of people across the European Union. They have bombarded their MEPs with phone calls, letters and emails and in response to this the EU is now running scared”. He also criticised the ‘global corporatism’ that TTIP promotes.
UKIP are not a party I often commend, but their actions in the European Parliament are something that can only be commended. Nigel Farage has stood up for the people of Britain and the people of Europe, whilst the Labour Party has all but ignored the huge problems that TTIP poses. 2 million people signed a petition against TTIP, and 2 million voices have fallen on deaf ears. The European Parliament has shown the ugly, undemocratic side of the European Union, and while I doubt that Cameron will be able to get much in the way of concessions from the EU, the European Union has proved that reform is more necessary than ever.