TTIP: EU must be strategic in determining priorities

Written by Marietje Schaake on 20 May 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

Parliament has secured a number of victories in the TTIP negotiations, but many key issues are still to be discussed, writes Marietje Schaake.

We are two years into the negotiations for the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), which aims to remove unnecessary barriers between the world's two largest economic blocs, the EU and the US. If successful, this would strengthen our position in the world as we could determine standards together. 

Despite differences and imperfections on each side, we remain the drivers of rules-based trade and respect for the environment, our labour standards, food safety or other consumer protection is stronger than in most places in the world.

At the start of the negotiations, some gave the impression we would have been almost done by now, but there is a long road still ahead. There is no text yet for TTIP, and many of the most controversial issues still need to be discussed. 


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Once the treaty has been drafted by negotiators, it will be put to the European parliament and member states' governments. If there are areas of national competence, national parliaments will likely also vote.

In the public debate, some fear the finalisation of TTIP is near. Given the fact that we are still in the middle of shaping the negotiation outcomes, we should be asking what a good TTIP for Europeans would look like and how we can achieve it. 

We need to map where the priorities lie for Europe and its citizens. Many non-controversial topics, such as market access and an end to American protectionist measures, are hardly part of the public debate. This is a shame, as opening US markets to EU-based companies would have important benefits. 

Additionally, it is still unclear whether the US will include financial services - as per the EU's wishes - or whether it will decide to export energy to Europe.

A comprehensive deal requires a comprehensive debate. The member states have made the negotiating mandate public. This text forms a guideline for the negotiators, and was unanimously adopted. 

The European commission has also made a large number of documents public, and increased access to classified texts for parliamentarians, in order to clearly indicate what the intentions are in different sectors. Aside from the more technical texts, there are also many factsheets and documents which contain simpler language and terminology.

Sadly, only a small portion of the information is actually read, as online statistics show. Those who call for transparency do not seem to read what information is available. 

An article from the Frankfürter Algemeine Zeitung has described how few views the documents that have been made public get: the most viewed document is clicked 55 times a day on average. While many NGOs have been vocal, few businesses have made their wishes and worries known. And member states' governments have also been fairly silent, even though they are well-placed to engage their citizens.

Parliament has been steering the negotiators in the right direction. Before and after every negotiating round, we meet with the EU's chief negotiator, which gives us the opportunity to raise concerns and put important issues on the table. 

We have already secured a number of commitments - chlorine will not be entering the EU because of TTIP, and neither will hormone beef or genetically modified chickens. Public services such as education, healthcare and water supplies have been removed from the agreement's mandate. 

However, other important issues have not been addressed at all. How can we make the jump across the Atlantic easier for SMEs? How can we make sure European dredgers, shipbuilders and air companies finally get access to the American market? How can we make Europe less dependent on Russian gas and Saudi Arabian oil? How can we work with the US to set global standards on environment, labour and animal welfare, as well as combat child labour and improve product safety of goods imported from China? 

These are important questions which cannot be answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no'. They require an informed debate and careful consideration of the options that are available to us. 

Only then can we reap the economic and geopolitical rewards of increased cooperation with the US, while safeguarding our way and quality of life.

 

About the author

Marietje Schaake (NL) is parliament's ALDE group shadow rapporteur on recommendations to the European commission on the negotiations for the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP)

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