If one wants to talk about the free trade agreement between the European Union and United States, one is faced with the position of speculating about the contents of a black box. The negotiators seem to have desired this situation, maybe to have even deliberately brought it about. The negotiation mandate of the EU, finally published on Oct. 9, 2014 under public pressure, is formidable and does not change the lack of information regarding the state of negotiations.
"World" commentator Dorothea Siems argues, albeit vehemently, for the free trade agreement. She accuses critics and opponents of hypocrisy, misinformation and anti-Americanism. Her basic argument is that the anti-globalization campaigners, such as Attack, consumer and environmental organizations, and unions would exacerbate fears that voters would eventually share, as well as the Social Democratic Party and the Union.
She thereby insinuates that dangerous demagogues would somehow persuade underage voters. However, she does not pose the question of what position these fears have in life. She claims instead that those who operate by means of "targeted misinformation" understand nothing of economics and are ideologues.
The objective of the free trade agreement is elimination of trade and investment barriers and the creation of a market. That sounds great, but don't these "barriers" also have an obvious rationale? Are there not legitimate objections against fracking? Would the elimination of "barriers" not substantially change society? Are we required to be "American?"
The Would-be End of Democracy
Proponents who conceal the passion with which the free trade agreement has been argued come about as a result of our not talking about any random economic issue, but the social, political, cultural and democratic implications that may arise and could alter the system as a result of this agreement. Should it not be debated, democracy would be at its end, and every critical inquiry would be vilified as anti-American, especially since the free trade agreement has as much in common with anti-Americanism as coffee grounds do with playgrounds — namely nothing.
Even without free trade agreements, it is possible to enforce labor standards for Amazon — which are open to criticism — within the Federal Republic of Germany. It is likely that the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership free trade agreement would set new standards that wouldn't be employee-friendly. Anyone who wants an example of what a free trade agreement means for workers' rights needs to take a look at Amazon.
The American economist Shoshana Zuboff, whom one can hardly accuse of anti-Americanism, warns of the monitoring of capitalism that companies like Facebook and Google have set in motion. People will ultimately be reduced to "data emissions" that Facebook and Google exploit in order to maximize profits. Workers' rights and the protection of privacy rights can be undermined in two ways: first, by means of "low-cost supply," which is only low-cost because part of the cost is saddled to the state, social funds and taxpayers; and second, by so-called investment protection.
Dorothea Sims claims that neither environmental regulations nor consumer protection can be relaxed as regards investment protection. This distracts us from at least one dramatic consequence. First, no company lawyer will sue environmental protection rules, but will instead take another direction entirely and not de jure override, but de facto override environmental and consumer protection by means of competition law, non-discrimination law, patent protection, or the principle of equality, for example.
Vattenfall Wants to Be Compensated
On the other hand, Vattenfall will be gilding its supposed profits by means of environmental regulation. Vattenfall is suing German taxpayers because the company wants to enforce a claim for compensation for alleged loss of profits in its German nuclear power plants in the wake of the energy revolution. This is already possible up to now with existing investment protection, but could be brought to a whole new level with the advent of the TTIP. It is incendiary that Vattenfall is allowed to sue relative to a foreign concern that does not represent German concerns.
What proponents of the free trade agreement don't take into account is that these complaints come not before a German or EU court, nor within the separation of powers allocated by a democratic institution, but rather before arbitrary tribunals, whose existence and composition is not sufficiently democratically legitimized. Furthermore, incidentally, the negotiations for the free trade agreement take place behind closed doors.
The lack of transparency makes bringing the fundamental principles of democracy in accordance difficult, and seems to have far outstretched the principle of representation at this point. In addition, a member of an arbitration tribunal, German lawyer Klaus Sachs, said in an interview that only enterprises of states, and not state enterprises can sue. Furthermore, there is "no possibility to challenge the decision of the court." He concludes, "We need more equality of arms between the state and corporations."
The biggest problem at the moment in the debate on the free trade agreement is that the public is not yet informed about the content and rules of the TTIP. It begs the assumption that we don't want a public discussion of the content of this society-altering agreement. The publication of the EU's negotiation mandate would only be a step toward transparency when current and complete information about the course of negotiations should itself follow.
Why don't we want to dare to be more democratic? Why not make the draft of the agreement subject to referendum in EU countries? Let's ask the citizens whether they want this "free trade area!" Dorothea Siems is not wrong in assuming that the TTIP will create prosperity, but the question is: prosperity for whom and at whose expense? That is the pivotal question. She isn't ideological, rather completely practical. Those who don't ask this question are the real hypocrites.
The author is a writer and a historian. His latest publication is the biography "Martin Luther: Prophet of Freedom."