I am not a big fan of acronyms. Even less when they add an extra layer of complexity to an already jungle-like EU jargon, making it look like a tribal language of bureaucracy incomprehensible and impenetrable to European citizens. Yet, I am a supporter of the new acronym in town – TTIP – the transatlantic trade and investment partnership or, to put it more simply, the project which aims to create a deep and encompassing free trade area between the European Union and the United States.
In the 1950s, the first secretary general of Nato, lord Ismay, had succinctly summarised the purpose of the organisation which he headed: to keep the “Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” To borrow from lord Ismay, I think that the purpose of this new transatlantic project should be to keep protectionists out, investors in and unemployment down.
There has been no shortage of numbers thrown out to illustrate the mutual benefits which would stem from the agreement for the European and American economies. I particularly like the €545 which an average European family could save annually or the creation of about two million jobs in the EU.
In short, TTIP would be a welcome boost for our economies and would come at no price for taxpayers. With tight-fisted European budgets and continued concerns about the sustainability of our public finances, TTIP is no small fry. It would send the world the signal that Europe is a place where business is welcome and it would spark healthy competition which would make European manufacturers, service providers, entrepreneurs and investors better placed to navigate the turbulent waters of our globalised age while at the same time safeguarding our high standards of labour, environmental and health protection.
A couple of weeks ago a colleague of mine in the European parliament gave me a list of reasons to be sceptical about the negotiations on TTIP: the EU and the US cannot negotiate on a par because they are two different things: one is a multinational organisation and the other is a federal state; anti-Americanism and protectionism ride high in Europe, especially after the NSA leaks; and finally, TTIP is intrinsically bad because it counters the EU claim to work in favour of multilateralism. My answer was rather simple: no, no and no.
"The final prize for millions of Americans and Europeans will be a stronger partnership, a larger market, lower prices and more jobs"
First, it is true that the EU is no federal state, but nor it should be to negotiate the free trade agreement with the US. Trade is an exclusive competence of the European Union, and the commission negotiates international agreements on the EU’s behalf. European member states do at times forget this and they will try to put pressure on the negotiating team, but that would amount to shooting ourselves in the foot as we are credible and strong only insofar as we are united, whether our interlocutor is China, the US or Russia. The European parliament will remain vigilant, supporting an agreement that safeguards the interests of the EU as a whole. The parliament must grant its consent to TTIP before it can enter into force.
Second, I hear that the controversy on the ‘exception culturelle’ is an indication of the level of protectionism and anti-Americanism which still characterises Europe. That could not be more false. Europeans are neither protectionists nor anti-American, we simply consider that the TTIP agreement should not risk jeopardising the union’s cultural and linguistic diversity, including in the audiovisual and cultural services sector as culture is a public good which needs to be publicly supported.
We also intend to have a relationship with our allies which is based on mutual trust. The recent revelations on the US surveillance programme on EU citizens and institutions are very serious and risk denting this trust. The European parliament adopted a resolution in July venting its serious concerns over these surveillance programmes and asked the US to provide it with full information on these allegations without further delay. Our civil liberties committee has launched an in-depth inquiry to probe the events. This case underscores the pressing need to pass legislation to protect EU citizens’ personal data, at home and abroad. Protectionism and anti-Americanism have nothing to do with this, fairness and mutual trust do.
Third, TTIP would not be a measure against multilateralism, but rather in its favour. Bilateral agreements are complementary to multilateral rules, since both regional agreements and free trade agreements lead to increasing harmonisation of standards and broader liberalisation favourable to the multilateral trading system. The European Union remains deeply committed to making the opportunities available in the global economy available to all.
The road to a successful result will be steep and winding. EU-US relations might suffer from temporary bumps and emboldened opposition on both sides. But it is worth embarking on this journey. The final prize for millions of Americans and Europeans will be a stronger partnership, a larger market, lower prices and more jobs. This is not the time to drag our feet.