On Monday, a couple of things happened in the world of TTIP, both in Berlin. More importantly, the main TTIP circus flew into town: that means not just Karel De Gucht, the European Commissioner with responsibility on the European side, but also Michael Froman, the US Trade Representative (USTR), and thus the leader of the US negotiations. The occasion was "The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Dialogue Forum", hosted by the German Minister for Economic Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, who also spoke alongside the two negotiators.
Gabriel was the most interesting speaker, not least because he was originally sceptical about TTIP – until he became Germany’s Vice Chancellor of Germany, when he was presumably told to toe the government line. In particular, what was really striking about his speech was his constant call for transparency: indeed, he went so far as to say that negotiatoins without transparency are simply not acceptable in a democracy. That sounds great, but I doubt it will have much effect. When Froman was asked about providing more transparency, he basically said “no”, without offering any credible justification for that stance. Even De Gucht seemed to want more transparency, which shows that it is mainly the US side that is blocking things.
Overall, the event was pretty tedious. Nothing dramatically new was said, and all the tired old platitudes – and FUD - were trotted out. What was most significant was that it took place at all. As was admitted at the beginning of the event, the reason for the unprecedented wheeling out of the political heavyweights is that TTIP is in big trouble, and nowhere more so than Germany. Just as Germany led the successful revolt against ACTA, so it is in the vanguard of resistance to TTIP. The hope – albeit a rather desperate one – was that bringing on the main players, the German public would suddenly be won over. I don’t think so, somehow, and one of the indications that the politicians are wasting their time is that a petition against TTIP, organised by the German organisation Campact, has already garnered over 470,000 signatures at the time of writing.
This fact led to a very telling exchange at the conference. De Gucht said to Campact’s Maritta Strasser that she might have 500,000 signatures, but he represented 500 million Europeans, and that she had a long way to go before she could match his legitimacy. Of course, it seems to have slipped his mind that nobody actually voted for him: he was just given his post as part of the weird European Union apportionment of power. The idea that he “represents” the 500 million people who pay his salary, let alone that this legitimises his secret discussions on TTIP shows how contemptuous he is of ordinary citizens who want to follow what is going on and to give their input.
It explains precisely why the German people, among others, are so sceptical about the value of TTIP to them and their families, and is the primary reason why De Gucht and Froman had to be flown in to perform this desperate bit of firefighting to “save” the agreement before it is too late. It also explains why that propaganda stunt failed completely: because the politicians pushing TTIP simply do not understand – or probably even care – what ordinary people think about the negotiations.
The other thing that happened in Berlin on Monday to do with TTIP – rather less important – was that I gave a talk on the subject at re:publica 14, arguably the best tech conference around at the moment. I’ve embedded my slides below.
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Regular readers of this column won’t find anything particularly new, but the presentation has the virtue of being relatively short (only about 20 minutes), and thus I hope it could be quite useful as an introduction for people who don’t know much or anything about this important agreement. It’s followed by a longer panel discussion where various aspects are explored, including questions from the audience. It can be watched here:
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