Creating Trust through Transparency
TTIP may have the potential to stimulate trade and growth, but it also necessitates attention and revision on issues such as the lack of information that has been publicly released during the negotiation process, the potential shift of power from governments to businesses, and its disregard of consumer concerns thus far. Negotiators must address these concerns for proceedings to be constructive and effective in creating a final product that satisfies businesses, governments, and citizens.
The first theme week focused on TTIP's potential to shift power from governments to corporations, as well as concerns regarding consumer and environmental safety. The largest overarching concern that we saw through the first five articles, however, is the lack of transparency in the negotiation process thus far.
Word cloud resulting from the text of the first five articles in the theme week
Consumer Standards and Regulatory Framework
Proponents of TTIP say that a trade treaty between the US and EU could increase economic growth and investment, while strengthening transatlantic values. These promises "ignore the fact that similar expectations for other trade agreements like the NAFTA have turned out to be wishful thinking," according to Jürgen Knirsch. Furthermore, critics are concerned by the potential power shift from governments to international corporations, which may lower environmental and consumer standards in the pursuit of profit.
Europeans believe that their standards are altogether higher than those of the United States and that they have more to lose in terms of regulatory power. Certain American standards, however, are higher than those in the EU. For example, American airbags are bigger and inflate more forcefully than their European counterparts. These nuances are not an excuse to shy away from agreed regulatory standard, but it is for this very reason that international standards must be agreed upon.
According to Barbara Unmüßig and Bärbel Höhn, if left untouched, TTIP "could result in a small group of businessmen making decisions that affect 800 million transatlantic consumers." Michael Hilbert and Christian Eichardt, however, point out that "myths in this group seem to fall under the assumption that the regulatory outcomes of the negotiations are known." TTIP's secrecy has forced critics and proponents alike to make their own conclusions on the negotiation. As negotiations continue, public skepticism could be reduced by an increase in transparency.
As cited by Sean Flynn, ACTA, a plurilateral treaty negotiation between the US, EU, Japan, and seven other countries between 2006 and 2010, was rejected by all but Japan because transparency in the negotiations came too late. By then, the proceedings had already been "marred by the (accurate) public perception that the treaty was setting new international legal rules restricting domestic intellectual property laws through an unprecedentedly secret process," and hundreds of thousands of European citizens had marched against it.
Critics believe that TTIP would not be ratified by parliaments if it would hurt their public image to do so. However, the proceedings and secrecy of TTIP thus far resemble that of ACTA. This week, the European Union finally published the negotiation mandate, as requested by many transparency advocates. It may be too little too late, however, since a large number of people have already made up their mind on the proposed negotiation.
Holger Janusch points out that "the EU Commission is concerned that opening the negotiation process at an international level could increase the complexity of the TTIP negotiations and could make it impossible to find an agreement." More public involvement in the negotiation process will potentially "tie the hands of negotiators and reduce the latitude to negotiate." Furthermore, most citizens would not understand the extremely technical facets of the negotiation.
Increased transparency in the negotiations is positive not only for the "democratic principles and the probability of a later ratification but also for the self-image of the EU," according to Janusch. Total transparency would delay the process and risks a breakdown of negotiations, but in its current state, TTIP's lack of transparency will deter citizens from looking at it with anything but skepticism. Negotiators could take a first step towards mitigating this by opening the door for involvement of national parliaments and stakeholders.
This article is part of the first of three theme weeks for our project "TTIP: Myths vs Reality". You can read our other conclusions for the first theme week here, and find introductions with links for the other weeks on the TTIP Forum.
- Atlantic-Community.org in Transition
- Towards a More Inclusive Transatlantic Partnership: Update on the 2nd Atlantic Expedition
- Topic of the Month: The Future of Health Care
- Do We Need Data Donations?
- eHealth - Tele-Monitoring and Tele-Medicine - Digital Innovation in the Life Science Sector in Germany