Myths and Assumptions about TTIP: A Rebuttal
Public discussions surrounding the negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are heavily flawed by premature conclusions and widely held assumptions about the alleged outcomes of the agreement. We would like to dispel a few of the most common TTIP-myths that impede a sincere debate about opportunities and risks of TTIP.
Myth One: Decisions Will be Made in Secret
The most obviously problematic aspect of the debate concerns the characterization of the negotiation process as secret. Although it is true that documents are not accessible to the public and participants meet behind closed doors, this is hardly exceptional behavior when it comes to treaty making. Starting from here, many critics have also arrived at the conclusion that decisions are made over people's heads. This amounts to a perception of the facts, which defy political realities. Rather, TTIP, as well as other treaties, has to be approved by the European Parliament and, if it turns out to be a ‘mixed agreement', the EU member states. Furthermore, in the case of an extensive agreement such as TTIP, the latter has to be unanimously approved.
Myth Two: The Outcome is Certain and Involves Deregulation
Linked to the misunderstanding of the process are myths about the actual content of the Agreement. Most of the myths in this group seem to fall under the assumption that the outcomes of the negotiations are known, and that the result will inevitably be deregulation in disguise as harmonization. Consequently, European standards will be lowered, i.e. sacrificed for allegedly inferior American safety levels. This view ignores that standards are not necessarily rationally designed and nevertheless can resist reform over time. Moreover, it relies on the assumption that different standards necessarily imply different levels of consumer safety. Reality tends to be more complex than that. American airbags, for example, are bigger and inflate more forcefully than their European counterparts. The fact that the European standard is based on belted crash test dummies and the American is not shows that gaps in consumer safety are not insurmountable, rather than showing that they are qualitatively different.
Myth Three: ISDS is an Assault on the Rule of Law
A more specific part of the negotiations that has attracted particularly fierce criticism is the issue of international courts. International arbitrating bodies are depicted as an assault on the rule of law. However, they are already in place to monitor a vast array of treaties, and arbitration is hardly a revolutionary concept in the realm of international diplomacy. While it is true that mechanisms have often reflected the asymmetry of relations between first and third world countries, TTIP offers the chance to reform the tools of arbitration in a way that balances national sovereignty with investors' rights.
Myth Four: TTIP is just for Big Business to Escape Regulations
Part of all those misconceptions and fears is the claim that TTIP is only for big business. Accordingly, it is thought that international companies will use the treaty as another means to escape national regulation and maximize profits. Although this sentiment touches on existing problems, it still misses the point. As a result of ever-increasing globalization, nation states have indeed lost much of their power to regulate, but it is for this very reason that international standards must be agreed upon. Also, one has to acknowledge that small and medium enterprises have far more to gain from harmonized standards in international trade than companies which can afford to branch out internationally. Volkswagen, one of Germany's most prominent companies, produces cars in Chattanooga, TN. A small or medium-sized supplier of Volkswagen, might not be able to customize to several different standards or even produce abroad, and is therefore unable to participate in Volkwagen's production for the American market.
Myth Five: Everything under Discussion Will be Included
Certainty of success, finally, is another prospect that has to be put in context. No matter how much effort is spent, we will have to agree to disagree on certain issues because cultural patterns and national sensitivities are deeply rooted. Privacy rights and national security for instance are not met with same degrees of concern on both sides of the pond.
The Culture of the Debate
Sadly, there is no debate, at least no meaningful debate. European and national institutions have failed to communicate the process and critics uncompromisingly reject any efforts to negotiate. It would be worth the effort to discuss the issues. Not solely as a matter of wealth and prosperity but also to secure our place in a global society for decades to come.
Michael Hilbert and Christian Eichardt are members of the Initiative junger Transatlantiker / Young Transatlantic Initiative (YTI). The YTI is a politically independent, non-profit organization committed to improve German-American relations and to foster transatlantic understanding. It connects more than 300 members in 7 countries, dedicated to renew the transatlantic partnership in the young generations on both sides of the Atlantic.
This article was published in the first of three theme weeks for our project "TTIP: Myths vs Reality". An introduction of the articles for the week can be found here, and introductions of the other two weeks can be found at the top of the TTIP Forum.