Commission guide: TTIP represents 'a serious response' to EU challenges

Exploiting the potential of trade is crucial to 'getting Europe's economy back on its feet', says Cecilia Malmström.

By James O'Brien

09 Feb 2015

With responsibility for advancing the ongoing transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) talks, Cecilia Malmström finds herself at the helm of a policy that has quickly become one of the most contentious pursued by the EU for many years. The Swedish commissioner acknowledges that TTIP is "the most important issue for the near future" and defends the EU-US joint trade agreement saying, "a successful TTIP would help us build a strong European economy that provides jobs, and help us protect Europe's values in a changing and unpredictable world."

Malmström points out that TTIP is just one of several trade agreements. She highlights that negotiations are "well advanced" with Japan and Vietnam, open talks are underway with the Mercosur countries, India, Malaysia and Morocco, and hopes to enter talks with Jordan and Tunisia. Agreements have also been finalised with Canada and Singapore. Meanwhile, the former commissioner for home affairs says, "we have had a very welcome breakthrough in the world trade organisation negotiations and have high hopes for concluding the Doha development round." She adds, "we are seeing the wind in the sails of the multilateral trade agenda for the first time in quite a while." Malmström says Doha "is crucial to make sure that developing countries are integrated into the global trading system".

"We are seeing the wind in the sails of the multilateral trade agenda for the first time in quite a while"

On the importance of her role as trade commissioner, the former Swedish EU affairs minister says, "I leave it to others to evaluate my work, but on trade policy in general one can note that it is one of the areas where the commission has exclusive competence." Malmström believes greater emphasis on trade could be a route out of the economic crisis. "There are many important trade negotiations ongoing, and maximising the potential of trade is a crucial factor when getting Europe's economy back on its feet." She adds, "trade is a cornerstone of European prosperity and exports already provide jobs for about 30 million Europeans."

On her time as commissioner for home affairs, Malmström said in her experience "there was sometimes a need to handle issues and analyse situations together with, for example, commissioners and directorates-general for foreign affairs, development and neighbourhood policy to be able to better address problems and obstacles in an efficient way". The Swedish commissioner says the composition of the Juncker commission and the new working methods "with vice-presidents coordinating teams is a way to address this – to agree on better legislation and address issues more efficiently". She emphasises that trade cannot be separate from other policy areas as trade agreements "contain chapters on agriculture, environment, fisheries, and other issues". She describes the new working methods as "modern and well suited to the challenges that we are facing".

The commission's relationship with parliament "is one of the three axes of EU trade policy", says Malmström. The second and third are "our respective relationship with the ministers in the foreign affairs council and our relationship with EU citizens". She emphasises that "none of us can do our jobs without the other." Ensuring these relationships work is "a great responsibility because trade policy matters greatly for Europe". She adds, "the commission does the negotiating on trade agreements, but it has to inform and listen to members of the parliament and representatives of member states in the council. The commission can propose that we accept a final deal, but only the parliament and the member states in the council can ratify it." A former MEP herself, Malmström singles out parliament's international trade committee, praising it for "the knowledge, expertise and input I have so far benefited from" in her exchanges.

"A successful TTIP will send a powerful signal that the EU and the US are ready to uphold and promote the values and standards that have shaped our success"

Returning to TTIP which has attracted vociferous opposition, the commissioner says the results of the public consultation, published in January, "represent only a first step and further discussions with the other EU institutions and with stakeholders are necessary". Several aspects of TTIP were identified as areas "where further improvements should be explored". These are: "the protection of the right to regulate, the supervision of arbitration tribunals, and an appellate mechanism". The commission intends "developing specific proposals for the TTIP negotiations". She describes TTIP as "a serious response" to Europe's challenges and "a successful TTIP will send a powerful signal that the EU and the US are ready to uphold and promote the values and standards that have shaped our success". However, the commissioner acknowledges "negotiations of this magnitude have given rise to concerns, and those worries are genuinely held". She is keen to "reassure those who are worried: we would never negotiate a deal that would lower our strict standards on food safety, health or environmental protections, or limit governments' freedom to run public services, such as healthcare or education". Malmström concludes, "TTIP will not solve all our problems, far from it, but it will significantly strengthen Europe's position in the world, so it's a deal worth doing ‒ and worth doing well."

Cecilia Malmström is European trade commissioner

 

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