The big news this week is an important leak detailing what the European Commission will offer the US in the fields of services and investment. It’s super fresh: the document is currently being circulated to the governments of the EU’s Member States, and comments remain open until 30 June, so we are gaining important insights into real-time discussions that have hitherto been completely hidden from us.
That makes this leak doubly important: not just for its content, but also for the fact that it took place at all. It shows that despite the European Commission’s attempt to keep key negotiating documents out of the public debate, the Brave New World of leaking whistleblowers means that we will get to see some of them anyway. The only difference is that the Commission looks arrogant and high-handed by refusing to release them officially.
The leak takes the form of three PDF files – unfortunately they are scans, not searchable documents. They were leaked to the European Federation of Public Service Unions, which apparently represents some 265 unions and 8 million public service workers. Here’s what it has to say about the content:
There is no general exclusion of public services and waste water services are committed for market opening. “Such an EU liberalisation agenda should be publicly debated at national and EU level, including the guarantees and rights that would accompany this agenda. Any discussion on water and sanitation services should include the realisation of the UN human right for water and sanitation in legislation, as demanded by the first successful European Citizens’ Initiative Right2Water and in which 1.9 million Europeans said no to inclusion of water and sanitation services in trade agreements. It is not clear if the national parliaments have agreed. The EP has not agreed the offers which apparently are also discussed with Canada and with other OECD countries (TISA)”.
As that points out, services like water and sanitation are not excluded, and that’s deeply problematic given the growing recognition that it makes no sense to privatise these natural monopolies. That’s because such critical monopolies allow companies to charge pretty much any price they like, since (a) we can’t do without their services (b) we can’t go simply turn to some rival provider. That’s led to a number of moves to put water services back into public hands, running them as the commons they obviously are. The refusal of TAFTA/TTIP to recognise this issue is another reason why it is a poor fit for the realities of 21st-century European life.
The other important point to note from the comment quoted above is the mention of a mysterious TISA. To my shame, I only heard about this about a month ago, and yet it has been around for a year. The reason for the discrepancy is that TISA – which stands for “Trade in Services Agreement” - is yet another set of secret negotiations that are being conducted in our name, but about which we are not allowed to know anything important.
It turns out that TISA forms a kind of unholy trinity together with TTIP and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). Between the three of them, they aim to define the terms for world trade for the coming years: TTIP covers transatlantic trade and investment, TPP the transpacific trade, and TISA global trade in services. TISA involves around 50 countries including the European Union. What TTIP, TPP and TISA have in common is the US, which seeks to use these three treaties to cement its position as they key player in trade and services. The idea is obviously to set the terms for those before China takes over as the world’s biggest economy.
If you’re interested in finding out more about TISA – and you definitely should be – I’ve put together what little we know about it in a post elsewhere. The newly-leaked documents are important not least for the following statement:
As far as services are concerned, the attached draft offer mirrors the offer submitted by the EU in TiSA negotiations in November 2013 both in terms of format and substance
That confirms the extremely close relationship between TTIP and TISA, to the extent that TISA is pretty much being mirrored in TTIP. Although we don’t know a great deal about TISA, and the levels of secrecy surrounding it are even greater than for TTIP, I expect that to change as more people wake up to what is going on, and whistleblowers start coming forward here too.
I’d like to finish this update with a couple of separate developments, which though small in themselves, give a sense of the growing problems for TTIP. First, in France, where the French bank BNP is accused by the US authorities of breaking sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba, and therefore liable to a huge fine - £6 billion is being mentioned. Here’s the TTIP angle:
Michel Barnier, the EU’s internal markets commissioner, said any penalty on the giant French bank must be “fair and objective”.
There are reports that the US may hit BNP with a fine of $10bn (£6bn) for allegedly violating sanctions rules.
France has expressed alarm at the fine, warning that it could hurt trade talks.
That makes sense, because the benefit that France will obtain each year from TTIP is likely to be far smaller than £6 billion, even under the most optimistic forecasts. That means that fighting this fine is a far better use of its politicians' time than bothering with a trade agreement that may or may not bring any long-term benefits.
The other TTIP story comes from Germany, where the US Embassy in Berlin tweeted about a revealing little project it is running. The original tweet is in German, and roughly translated reads thus:
Are you for #TTIP and annoyed over the negative coverage? Send us your idea and we will support you.
Here’s the kind of idea and support the US Embassy has in mind:
The U.S. Mission to Germany Public Affairs Section (PAS) is soliciting proposals from not-for-profit, non-governmental organizations, think tanks, and academic institutions that focus on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). The goal is to keep our publics informed about the negotiations and offer meaningful opportunities to shape the respective negotiating objectives.
What are the facts behind T-TIP, and how will it impact you? What are some of the concerns in the European Union and the United States? What are some of the benefits? What impact will T-TIP have everyday life? Facts and figures are needed, and we look forward to working with partner institutions to develop a final product which informs about the agreement and which combats misinformation.
The activities funded with a Federal Assistance Award (Grant) ranging from $5000 to $20,000
Given its tweet calling for those “annoyed over the negative coverage” to get in touch, and the pointed requirement that the “final product...combats misinformation,” I don’t somehow think the US Embassy will be funding anyone with serious doubts about TTIP. In other words, this is a desperate attempt to buy some “independent” support for a treaty that nobody is willing to support because they genuinely believe in it.