TTIP's Corporate Protection: Democracy in Peril?
In light of the recent furore over TTIP's investment protection clauses, the European Commission assures us that it is trying to find "a better balance between the right of states to regulate, and the need to protect investors." Yes – rights are being rebalanced. They're being rebalanced in favour of powerful, unelected corporations, and against democratic governments and citizens. Opposing this deal must be central to our efforts to halt the onward march of corporate power.
There's a strong case that we need a whole new set of rights. The right to a living wage? The right not to be put at risk of eviction because there's an unused bedroom in your flat? The right to free healthcare services provided by the NHS rather than profit-making corporations? The right not to be ripped off by energy companies?
Sadly, the UK Government doesn't think any of these rights should exist. It also wants to scrap the Human Rights Act, and through its Gagging Bill, has been trying to erode the right for campaigning organisations to speak out freely in the run-up to an election. It has, however, been championing new EU protections for a highly victimised, powerless, vulnerable group, with no powers to defend itself. I refer, of course, to massive multinational corporations.
When the EU and the US agreed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) earlier this year David Cameron declared: "This is a once-in-a-generation prize and we are determined to seize it." So were corporations, who, as part of the agreement are to be endowed with a range of "investment protection provisions".
The promised economic benefits of TTIP are dubious. History has shown that such treaties haven't delivered the jobs they promised. Bill Clinton promised that NAFTA would bring 200,000 new jobs for Americans – before 680,000 were lost. In this case, both the EU and the US are saturated markets, with little room for additional trade. The impact assessment that was made was largely silent on benefits for labour.
There is much in TTIP to be worried about, and big questions about why we should enter into a transatlantic partnership, supposedly based on mutual trust, given recent revelations of the US secret services surveillance of EU citizens. However it's the planned inclusion of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism that has rightly drawn the most intense criticism. On paper, it's intended to "clarify and improve investment protection rules" but in reality it gives big business licence to sue democratically elected governments whenever they perceive their "rights" to have been violated. Such claims will be considered not by the sovereign courts of those countries, but by a panel of judges, many of them corporate lawyers, deliberating behind closed doors, with the power to overthrow decisions made by democratically elected parliaments, and under no obligation to consider the rights of citizens. Protections that we count on could be wiped out.
In two excellent articles on the subject, George Monbiot has catalogued what ISDSs have meant in practice elsewhere. American lawyers successfully challenging Canadian plans for regulations on pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and patent law. A Swedish energy company bringing a claim against the German Government's decision to phase out nuclear. Philip Morris suing the Australian Government over plain cigarette packaging. So in England, we shouldn't be surprised to see challenges from private healthcare companies to policy decisions aiming for a publicly provided NHS, or from the energy companies on government attempts to freeze fuel prices.
The European Commission (EC) claims that member states' policies won't have to change as a result of cases brought by investors, which begs the question of why we need ISDS at all. Member states have their own sovereignty and their own arbitration systems for companies who feel they are getting a raw deal. Imposing an EU wide system that over-rides national laws is only necessary if you want to water down social and environmental protections that are perceived by businesses as barriers to business.
The EC assures us that it is merely trying to find "a better balance between the right of states to regulate, and the need to protect investors." Yes – rights are being rebalanced. They're being rebalanced in favour of powerful, unaccountable, unelected corporations, and against democratically elected governments, and the citizens who rely on them for protection. TTIP could overturn decades of laws and regulations formed through democratic processes on both sides of the Atlantic.
I've tabled an Early Day Motion calling for the treaty to be frozen immediately, so our democratically elected Parliament can scrutinise it. Opposing this deal is central to our efforts to halt the onward march of corporate power.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party Member of the UK Parliament for Brighton Pavilion. She served as Leader of the Green Party of England & Wales from 2008 to 2012. She is a passionate campaigner on the environment, social justice and human rights. She has received a range of awards for her work.
This article was originally published in the UK's The Red Pepper Magazine
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