As is widely appreciated by now, TTIP is about regulatory harmonisation rather than about lowering tariffs, since the latter are already extremely low. That raises the central question: how can TTIP harmonise without lowering standards, which the European Commission has stated categorically will not happen with TTIP? An early update, back in 2013, hinted at a resolution of this conundrum. TTIP would not, in itself, lower standards, but it would create a machinery that would progressively lower standards after TTIP had been ratified. That would allow the European Commission to claim - truthfully - that TTIP did not lower standards, while at the same time setting in train a process that would both bring in harmonisation, and lower standards.
In December 2013, we had a leak of a position paper on "regulatory coherence" [.pdf] that hinted at what was to come. And now, thanks to the Greens MEP Michel Reimon, we have our first real TTIP leak on the subject . It even comes with a nice cloak-and-dagger angle, since it has been re-typed from the original leaked document to protect the source.
Specifically, it's the EU's paper on the regulatory co-operation on financial regulation in TTIP [.pdf]. This is one of the many really hotly-contested areas, and one where US regulations are stricter than those in the EU. EU corporations therefore want to use TTIP as a way of undermining US laws (de-regulation is a threat for both the EU and the US.)
Here's the basic aim:
The Parties commit to engage in a process towards convergence of their respective regulatory and supervisory frameworks for financial services.
And here's how they intend to do that:
The Parties hereby establish the Joint EU/US Financial Regulatory Forum ("the Forum").
The Forum is in charge of regulatory co-operation between the Parties in the domain of financial services.
What's troubling is the following:
The Joint EU/US Financial Regulatory Forum shall agree on detailed guidelines on mutual reliance adapted for each specific area of financial regulation no later than one year from the entry into force of this agreement.
It's deeply worrying that European politicians and governments will be asked to sign up to TTIP where one of its most important mechanisms - the Financial Regulatory Forum - is left undefined. As Michel Reimon rightly says in his blog post accompanying the leak (original in German):
Thus a Parliamentary resolution [to accept TTIP] would become a blank cheque: we would create a body whose way of working we don't know, and would only learn a year later, when we would have to implement it. Every MEP that agrees to this proposal is giving up his or her independent mandate.
This is an important leak, because it gives us a first glimpse of how TTIP is likely to impose regulatory co-operation, at least in the financial sector. By an interesting coincidence, another leak in the same area has just appeared on the Corporate Europe Observatory site, which concerns the overall approach to regulation. The document runs to ten pages [.pdf], and is written in fairly opaque terms; I recommend reading the Corporate Europe Observatory's excellent analysis instead. Here are some of the main points.
According to the proposal, as soon as a new regulation is in the pipeline, businesses should be informed through an annual report, and be involved. This is now called “early information on planned acts”, until recently called “early warning”. Already at the planning stage, “the regulating Party” has to offer business lobbyists who have a stake in a piece of legislation or regulation, an opportunity to “provide input”. This input “shall be taken into account” when finalising the proposal (article 6). This means businesses, for instance, at an early stage, can try to block rules intended to prevent the food industry from marketing foodstuffs with toxic substances, laws trying to keep energy companies from destroying the climate, or regulations to combat pollution and protect consumers.
This immediately indicates how the proposed system will act as a brake on democratic decision-making. When proposals are put forward in the EU, say, they will be lobbied against using the new mechanism, making it much harder to bring in bold ideas. It is essentially creating a new, and even more powerful forum for lobbyists to use in order to achieve their paymasters' goals. Here's another way that sovereignty will be reduced:
New regulations should undergo an “impact assessment”, which would be made up of three questions (article 7, reduced from seven in the earlier proposal):
- How does the legislative proposal relate to international instruments?
- How have the planned or existing rules of the other Party been taken into account?
- What impact will the new rule have on trade or investment?
Those questions are primarily tilted towards the interests of business, not citizens. Thanks to the “early information” procedure, businesses can make sure their concerns are included in the report, and should it go against their interests, the report will have to cite a detrimental impact on transatlantic trade.
What's striking here is that everything - without exception - is seen through the optic of business. There is no account taken of social impact, health or environmental issues. Since many measures tackling climate change, for example, will have negative consequences for big business that profit from pollution, it's easy to see the proposal being used to slow down action here even more.
The model presented by the EU negotiators gives big business many tools that will allow them to complain about an “envisaged or planned regulatory act”, and regulations under review (article 9 and 10). In particular, a “regulatory exchange” must take place if a Party is unhappy with the effect of a proposed rule on its trade interests. A dialogue will have to take place, and the Party whose rules are under attack, must co-operate, and must be prepared to answer any given question.
Again, that indicates how corporates will gain a powerful new weapon for delaying new regulations that might adversely affect their profits - a technique already used to great effect by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. Giving them more means to do so is a real slap in the face for the public that will suffer as a result. The latest leak also tells us that the transatlantic body responsible for overseeing this filtering process has a new name:
The Regulatory co-operation Body (RCB) under TTIP – previously known as the Regulatory co-operation Council – will have the overall responsibility for regulatory co-operation and one of its obligations will be to “give careful consideration” to businesses proposals on future and existing regulations (article 13).
The name may have changed, but the overall intent hasn't: to put business firmly in the driving seat when it comes to drawing up EU and US regulations. That cannot be considered purely a trade issue, as tariff adjustment is. Regulations define and shape a society's culture; the regulatory chapter's aim of making all regulations serve business implicitly makes society's wider needs subservient to those of corporates. Of course, the European Commission is fully aware of this implication; and so, at the beginning of this chapter on regulation, we find the usual cant about "public policy objectives":
The provisions of this Chapter do not restrict the right of each Party to adopt and apply measures to achieve legitimate public policy objectives at the level of protection that it considers appropriate, in accordance with its regulatory framework and principles.
But those words are worthless. In theory, that "right" may still exist, but in practice, everything in the leaked document is geared to making it easier for business to obstruct democratic decisions, and to impose a corporate agenda on the entire regulatory process - even down to requiring everything to be judged in purely financial terms.
These two latest leaks are important because they have nothing to do with the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) chapter that has currently dominated the TTIP debate. They remind us that ISDS is far from the only danger to national and EU sovereignty, and that we must not think that removing ISDS from TTIP (and the other trade deals with Canada and Singapore) is the end of the story.
The idea of creating any kind of transatlantic "Regulatory co-operation Body" with powers to subvert or even just impede the framing of laws and regulations is clearly incompatible with the core functions of EU and US legislative institutions, and must be nipped in the bud. That's at least possible thanks to the people who have generously made these leaked documents available, revealing yet more secret machinations by the European Commission to circumvent democracy.