Political scientist Evgenia Pimenova on why the Transatlantic Partnership negotiations will continue.
A few days ago, two European heavyweights, first Germany and then France, announced that negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership suffered a major blow and will be suspended. Does this mean that Europe has started to resist American dictates? Or are we just talking about a calculated respite?
The U.S. started to prepare for the agreement back in 2013. The notion of creating this sort of partnership generated a heated debate in European society and raised serious concerns. The media christened the TTIP agreement an "economic NATO." There were countless demonstrations in Europe. In 2015 alone, there were over 700 demonstrations in EU countries. The rate of protest did not decrease.
The worry that gripped politicians and experts as well as regular EU citizens is quite understandable; the road map that will lay out the new model of European economic development several decades in advance has been created behind closed doors, with unexplained secrecy.
Now, after many months of lobbying, details have filtered into the media about secretive talks being conducted between the U.S. and EU, and it has caused a scandal. Europeans are upset that they were presented with the fact of the agreement without being consulted or a chance for public opinion. The EU leadership didn't even try to explain the advantages or the potential risks of this transatlantic deal to its citizens.
This undemocratic approach can be partly explained by Barack Obama’s fear that he would not have enough time to sell this project to the EU leadership before the end of his final term, and his rushing of Germany to conclude all of the necessary procedures to reach an agreement. Germany was placed in the role of main lobbyist for America's plans.
That is why Washington behaved so cynically. For instance, to assuage concerned members of the Bundestag, they were invited to the American Embassy in Berlin, where they had exactly two hours to go over the already completed agreement. The materials were presented only in English, and the members were strictly forbidden from taking any notes or making any outlines. This raises several questions. Why this atmosphere of heightened secrecy in making a seemingly innocent trade agreement? Is it because the agreement contains a number of specific points that threaten European consumers and producers?
At first glance, the TTIP is simply an agreement that serves to regulate the principles of transatlantic trade and the conduct of transnational businesses. However, the fact of the matter is, one of the key tasks of the TTIP, maybe even the most important one, is to undermine the European system of regulation of national markets, allowing it to be bought off by global corporations and to provide optimal conditions for U.S. agricultural exports to Europe. That is why this is not only a blow to European agribusiness, but also a direct threat to the people, potential consumers of American goods. What exactly are Europeans wary of?
They are accustomed to high ecological and consumer standards, and demand them of domestic or imported agricultural goods. So people are (justifiably) assuming that when the TTIP comes into effect, the European market will be flooded with products containing GMO and growth hormones, chlorinated and cloned chicken, which are currently banned in Europe, but widely available in America. European society is not inclined to accept that: people are simply not ready to sacrifice their own health for the good of transnational giants. But this also raises another question: have German and French leaders really started listening to their citizens and decided to reject this questionable project, from the point of view of European interests, after three years of negotiations?
There is a measure of truth to this, but only a measure. Let's not forget that both Germany and France are in the beginning of an election cycle: in 2017, both countries will have parliamentary elections and choose their heads of state. Of course politicians cannot simply ignore the issue of the TTIP, which resonates so much among potential voters, and are already starting to use it in their pre-election games.
It is true that the negotiations are, in effect, suspended for the moment. Public opinion is calming down and politicians are scoring their points. But all the same, after the elections, this idea will be implemented in one form or another. Perhaps in some new packaging and under another name, after an internal re-branding. But the crux will remain the same: the Americans will not let go of their idea, since the TTIP is one of the biggest and most ambitious projects to establish total economic control of Europe by the U.S.
This isn't simply economics. This is the next step of creating the Pax Americana, an American flavor of globalization. The levers of influence on Europe exist and are numerous. After all, can European politicians even come up with an alternative?