PM+: TTIP: A foot in the door in Washington?

Written by Craig Willy on 19 May 2015 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

TTIP will allow Brussels greater influence in Washington, argues Craig Willy.

From the beginning, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has looked like an agreement of unequals.

Washington is the seat of power of the most influential country in the world, a superpower so unrivalled that French writers would occasionally use the term hyperpuissance (hyperpower).

No other country has anywhere near the combination of political, economic, diplomatic, military, technological and even cultural dominance of the United States.

In contrast, Brussels is the capital of a poorly-defined entity that remains half-way between an international organisation and a government, with limited ability to find consensus and enforce good implementation in its 28 member states.


The European Union remains unbalanced; "An economic giant, a political dwarf, and a military worm," a Belgian foreign minister once said.

However, the EU is getting greater traction. The sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine, while not overwhelming, are nothing to be scoffed at.

Big business, especially the banks and the new economy's corporate giants such as Google, have smelled power in the European institutions, multiplying their multi-billion euro lobbying efforts in Brussels.

The planned EU-US free trade agreement could be a further step in strengthening Brussels' influence both in the world and in the eyes of national capitals.

The economic benefits, a 0.5 to 1 per cent GDP boost over many years, will not be overwhelming.

What will be more significant is that TTIP would represent a fundamental shift in the American approach to government away from unilateralism – Washington has never recognised the authority of the International Criminal Court in The Hague or the Kyoto Protocol for example – towards a more European approach of steadily building a body of international rules meant to bind and benefit all.

The US could then be on a different path; towards creating, slowly but steadily, a genuine transatlantic common market with their European allies.

It would take decades, but such an economy, worth a staggering $35 trillion, would be the world's largest for many years, even with the rapid rise of China.

The most important factor would be the European commission's proposal of systematic regulatory cooperation with US federal agencies, possibly leading to an outright Transatlantic Regulatory Council.

Commission and US federal officials would then systematically meet and pledge to seek common positions.

The Europeans would then have a 'foot in the door' when the Americans are taking decisions that have global repercussions, notably issues such as finance and climate.

Undoubtedly, a consensus between Brussels and Washington would often command respect in national capitals in both the EU and the wider world.

Many people around the world would love to have such influence in Washington, which like Brussels is one of the great global lobbying capitals.

Indeed, campaigners fear that such a transatlantic regulator would render law-making more susceptible to business interests, especially without adequate safeguards for transparency and civil society participation.

In any event, EU officials would have a unique opportunity to rub shoulders with their American counterparts.

They do not need to dictate anything, but rather acquire that subtle influence that comes with the familiarity of personal relationships.

Brussels, then, has a unique opportunity to enhance Europe's influence and to inject an element of multilateralism into the world's sole superpower.


For more TTIP and EU-US related content click here.


About the author

Craig Willy is a contributor to the Brussels Writing Bureau and a regular writer on European affairs.

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