Top 3 Reasons Why Germany Should Skip TTIP
German critics of the proposed transatlantic free trade agreement between the EU and the US want Berlin to skip TTIP. Whereas industry has promised jobs and growth, many governmental and civil society organizations fear regressive food and safety standards, excessive corporate power in the courts, and compromised privacy will negatively impact the German way of life. Berlin should protect the country's high standards while it still can.
1) Regressive Food and Safety Standards
In German households, fears abound that TTIP will mean chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-treated beef, and genetically modified fruits and vegetables on the dinner table. While Americans have largely accepted these practices as a means of delivering safe, affordable produce, Europeans – and Germans in particular – have little interest in such products. Instead, they have fought aggressively to keep engineered foodstuffs at bay.
Sustainable Pulse, a platform for bringing the "Sustainable Movement" together, goes so far as to suggest these technologies are "complex, failure-prone and associated with uncertainties and risks". In spite of these concerns, laments Christoph Then of Testbiotech, "industry wants to facilitate placing such products on the market via the new free trade agreement (TTIP) between the EU and USA." If this were to happen, the EU may be forced to "weaken [its] precautionary principle" in response to "severe pressure…to lower the level of protection for health and the environment". From this perspective, it is easy to understand why many Germans are wary of TTIP and the food industries pushing for its approval.
Jonathan Benson of Natural News, a "science-based natural health advocacy organization," echoed these sentiments when he wrote that EU regulators
"have been busy fighting off aggressive biotechnology interests that are hell-bent on forcing public acceptance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Under TTIP, so-called 'regulatory barriers' that leaked drafts have dubbed 'unnecessary' would be lifted in order to take advantage of 'the untapped potential of a truly transatlantic market place.' Among these alleged 'barriers' are current EU restrictions on GMOs, which the European public has made very clear it does not want in its food supply."
2) Corporations Undermine Democracy
Easily the most controversial element of TTIP negotiations, the Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement (ISDS) Mechanism has inspired spirited debate throughout Germany. It is widely held that the mechanism will enable greedy corporations to wrest public monies from the state anytime legislation is believed to have curtailed profits. Some even go so far as to argue the mechanism will undermine the rule of law, enabling corporate lawyers to sue states in retaliation for their resistance to environmentally hazardous and morally dubious business activities. In such a legal environment, governmental commitment to the preservation of nature could, according to activists, prove prohibitively expensive.
The Corporate Europe Observatory, "a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making," argues that "excessive corporate protections…serve no social or economic purpose other than to undermine our democratic rights to decide public policy and public interest regulation". This remark "draws from global experience with investor-to-state dispute settlement" in which "recent NAFTA investor lawsuits have challenged a moratorium on shale gas exploration, and two court decisions on the utility of…pharmaceutical patents". Such problems, however, are not just limited to North America. Several EU member states are also "feeling the sting of investor-state disputes, for example by Swedish energy company Vattenfall against Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power". Because this mechanism has already been used to slow Germany's Energiewende, or "energy turnaround," many are worried by the prospect of greater ISDS interference in their domestic politics.
The Vattenfall case is also the cornerstone of the Sierra Club's argument against TTIP. In "The Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement: What's at Stake for Communities and the Environment," a review of TTIP published in June 2013, the organization urges wariness because
"Previous experience with the investor-state system demonstrates that the monetary, social-welfare, and environmental costs of including investor-state dispute settlement provisions in TTIP would be substantial. In fact, the EU is already facing a number of investor-state suits related to its transition to clean energy sources. For example, after Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011, Germany initiated a phase-out of nuclear power and committed to move toward cleaner renewable energy sources. In response, in May 2012, Vattenfall, a Swedish energy firm with investments in German nuclear energy, filed its request for arbitration against Germany at the World Bank's International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Vattenfall used provisions in the Energy Charter Treaty – an EU trade and investment treaty for the energy sector – to bring its case against Germany."
3) Compromised Privacy
Relations between the US and EU were rocked in 2013 by revelations that American clandestine services, namely the National Security Agency (NSA), were collecting massive amounts of data in Europe. The resulting backlash has prompted calls for barriers to data collection by American governmental organizations and corporations. Germans, once targets of the East German secret police (Stasi) and the Nazi Gestapo, are especially unwilling to grant enhanced access to European networks and marketplaces.
The Wall Street Journal article "NSA Flap Strains Ties With Europe" reports that
"the NSA spying dispute in particular is weighing heavily on the already complicated negotiations over a trans-Atlantic trade deal, known officially as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. European leaders initially had high hopes for an agreement, which they believed could breathe life into the region's stagnant economy. But some senior officials now fear that the negotiations, which began last year and are set to resume next month in Brussels, will stall over data privacy and other issues that have come to light as a result of the spying affair."
Noting that "Germans were at the forefront of most European efforts to curtail the appetite of Facebook and Google for more and more consumer data," the Globalist clarifies the country's deep-seated opposition to sweeping data collection. "German data retention laws," reports Globalist author Sabine Muscat, "are even stricter than the EU average". Moreover, "In 2010, the country's supreme court declared the EU Directive that called for a six-month period of retention as unconstitutional".
Malte Spitz, a member of the German Green Party, even went so far as to publish an article in the New York Times entitled "Germans Loved Obama. Now We Don't Trust Him." shortly after the Snowden story first broke. In it he writes,
"In Germany, whenever the government begins to infringe on individual freedom, society stands up. Given our history, we Germans are not willing to trade in our liberty for potentially better security. Germans have experienced firsthand what happens when the government knows too much about someone. In the past 80 years, Germans have felt the betrayal of neighbors who informed for the Gestapo and the fear that best friends might be potential informants for the Stasi. Homes were tapped. Millions were monitored."
The arguments included in this article are among those most often brought forth by activisits, journalists, experts, and Atlantic Community members. They do not, however, represent every criticism levied against TTIP. If you have a different opinion or feel an important point has been left out, we encourage you to share it in the comments section below. As always, a strong debate is welcome.