Please Join the European Protests Against the Dangerous Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on October 11, 2014

10.10.14

Please sign the European petition against TTIP here, which has received over 400,000 signatures in just four days.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a dangerous new EU-US trade deal, has been on my radar for some time, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for months, particularly in relation to the NHS.

As the #noTTIP website explains:

Our democracy, public services and environment are under threat. Behind closed doors, the EU and US are drawing up a new trade deal called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). If agreed, TTIP would extend the power of big business over our society to unprecedented levels. Shamefully, the UK government are currently a major supporter. But together, we can defeat this agreement.

Tomorrow, Saturday October 11, 2014, across Europe, there will be protests against TTIP (as well as a handful of protests in the US), and I’ll be at the London protest, which takes place in Parliament Square, beginning at 2pm. There is also a Stop TTIP Facebook page here.

As the organisers explain further on the Facebook page for the London event:

If agreed, the EU-US Trade Deal (TTIP) would grant corporations the power to sue governments, threatening to lock-in the privatisation of our schools and NHS. Rules that protect workers, the environment, food safety, digital rights and privacy would be undermined, with harmful industries like fracking encouraged.

The organisers also provide the following encouragement:

Together we will raise our voices in the heart of Whitehall, transforming a space with art, theatre, workshops and music — and kick-starting a new movement with the power to win.

One of the first times I heard about TTIP was last November, in George Monbiot’s weekly column for the Guardian. Under the heading, “This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy,” which has been shared nearly 60,000 times, Monbiot wrote:

The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. But I left out the most important issue: the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing.

Monbiot proceeded to explain how the mechanism that drives the TTIP — known as investor-state dispute settlement — is “already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet,” and his article continued with the following alarming examples:

The Australian government, after massive debates in and out of parliament, decided that cigarettes should be sold in plain packets, marked only with shocking health warnings. The decision was validated by the Australian supreme court. But, using a trade agreement Australia struck with Hong Kong, the tobacco company Philip Morris has asked an offshore tribunal to award it a vast sum in compensation for the loss of what it calls its intellectual property.

During its financial crisis, and in response to public anger over rocketing charges, Argentina imposed a freeze on people’s energy and water bills (does this sound familiar?). It was sued by the international utility companies whose vast bills had prompted the government to act. For this and other such crimes, it has been forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation. In El Salvador, local communities managed at great cost (three campaigners were murdered) to persuade the government to refuse permission for a vast gold mine which threatened to contaminate their water supplies. A victory for democracy? Not for long, perhaps. The Canadian company which sought to dig the mine is now suing El Salvador for $315m – for the loss of its anticipated future profits.

In Canada, the courts revoked two patents owned by the American drugs firm Eli Lilly, on the grounds that the company had not produced enough evidence that they had the beneficial effects it claimed. Eli Lilly is now suing the Canadian government for $500m, and demanding that Canada’s patent laws are changed.

These companies (along with hundreds of others) are using the investor-state dispute rules embedded in trade treaties signed by the countries they are suing. The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret. The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal on the merits of the case. Yet they can overthrow the sovereignty of parliaments and the rulings of supreme courts.

You don’t believe it? Here’s what one of the judges on these tribunals says about his work. “When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

There are no corresponding rights for citizens. We can’t use these tribunals to demand better protections from corporate greed. As the Democracy Centre says, this is “a privatised justice system for global corporations”.

For the NHS, which is a particular concern of mine, and one I have spent many years campaigning for — first against the Tories’ privatising Health and Social Care Act), and then in the ultimately successful efforts of Lewisham residents (where I live) to save Lewisham Hospital — I recommend this briefing paper by the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, “TIPP-ing Point: The NHS must be exempted from impending Free Trade deals,” and in August the Guardian ran a powerful article showing how “[m]ore than two-thirds of voters in 13 battleground constituencies want to see the NHS safeguarded” from TTIP. As the article explained:

Based on a poll of more than 2,600 voters across 13 marginal Tory-held seats, the survey found 68% opposed the inclusion of the NHS as part of the deal. Opposition was highest among those planning on voting for Labour or Ukip, 78% and 77% respectively, but even among Conservative supporters only 23% backed the inclusion of the NHS in TTIP.

The article also pointed out that critics of the TTIP say that it “threatens to make the outsourcing of health services in Britain irreversible by allowing US multinationals, or any firm with American investors, to sue any future UK government if it attempted to take privatised health services back into public ownership, jeopardising their profits.”

The polling was commissioned by Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, which, as the Guardian described it, “has repeatedly warned about the potential impact on hospitals and GPs if the deal goes through without a specific veto for the NHS.”

Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, said, “The Tories’ health act of 2012 opened our NHS up to profit-making US private firms and a new trade deal threatens to make the selloff permanent.” McCluskey wrote an article about TTIP and the NHS for the Guardian in July, entitled, “The NHS is being taken over by Wall Street. And Cameron won’t stop it,” and in response to the poll, he cast doubts on claims made in July by the EU’s chief negotiator, Ignacio García Bercero, who said he was confident that the NHS would be “fully safeguarded”.

McCluskey dismissed Bercero’s “vague assurances” and, as the Guardian put it, “called on David Cameron to act to safeguard the NHS by guaranteeing it would be exempt from any deal.”

He stated, “We don’t believe the empty promises coming from the bureaucrats in Brussels but Cameron could act today and protect our health service. Cameron’s silence is deafening. He is refusing to answer a very simple question. Are we going to exempt health from the EU-US trade agreement? Unless he acts the NHS will be at the mercy of US companies and Wall Street investors who will be able to sue the government in secret courts if it tries to reverse privatisation.”

I hope you’re able to join the protests tomorrow. A full list of UK events is here, and the European page is here. There is also a campaign being run by 38 Degrees that may be of interest.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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15 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Eleanor Boyd wrote:

    Am going out again tomorrow!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Just in general, Eleanor, or are you going to a protest?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Eleanor Boyd wrote:

    Was giving out leaflets a few weeks ago and doing same tomorrow. Hoping more folk turn up this time – only two of us last time outside the pawnshop in Brandon Parade.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Eleanor Boyd wrote:

    Thanks for the European petition, Andy. Have signed and shared!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Eleanor. Glad to be of assistance. I hope you get more people tomorrow!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Good luck, all! Wish I could join you and, again, I apologize for the stupidity and greed of the US government and it’s trade delegation…

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, it’s not just the US, Jan. We are all burdened by governments who care only about corporate profits, and not about the people. Hopefully it’ll be a big turnout across Europe – but I’m not holding my breath. After all, it’s a Saturday, isn’t it? Lots of shopping for people to do …

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Eleanor Boyd wrote:

    People don’t know about it, Andy. I only knew because of 38 degrees. And no one we spoke to had heard of it. But the signatures on that petition are just amazing. The word will spread.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Maybe it’s time, Eleanor, for people to take notice. Certainly people are rocking the boat in significant numbers – in Scotland for the referendum, and in England via UKIP, which of course is a horrible swing to the far-right, but it does demonstrate serious dissatisfaction with the status quo – the politicians who are on the thrall of big business, and completely out of touch with ordinary people and their problems. Of course it doesn’t help when my fellow citizens decide that the problem is immigrants and the EU rather than banks, corporations, the rich, the super-rich and their parliamentary pimps, but perhaps the dissatisfaction will make some people open to new ideas that don’t involve that twit Nigel Farage and the procession of embarrassing bigots who are his councillors.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Eleanor Boyd wrote:

    Hopefully a left-wing movement will arise in England as is happening in Scotland though I won’t hold my breath. It’s wonderful up here at the moment. A people’s movement for fairness and decency. Glad I am still alive. Scots are seeing through the propaganda!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    I love your comments about the feeling in Scotland, Eleanor. That’s the most positive thing I’ve heard about the big conversation that’s been happening over the last few months. I wish there was a way for that to spread to England, but unfortunately we seem to be stuck with UKIP for now, with all the hideousness that entails. I thought John Harris’ recent article was very powerful, but ultimately depressing in establishing the context – the disappointment with the mainstream – that is driving so much of UKIP’s support, but that is generally so different to that disappointment in Scotland: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/08/clacton-byelection-parties-defiance-coast-strood-ukip

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Eleanor Boyd wrote:

    Andy, UKIP is deceiving working class people into thinking it represents them. It will be exposed in time if they get into power. The LP deserves to die a death and it’s just a pity that it’s a right-wing party that will hasten its demise. The prospect of a Tory/UKIP coalition is nightmarish and may inspire the left to reform and forget trying to elect Labour. LP showed its true colours over last decades. It doesn’t represent the working class and doesn’t deserve its vote. Am so looking forward to the Indy rally in ‘Independence Square’ tomorrow. The dream of a better society is very much alive!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Eleanor. It’s such a shame that the leaders of the Parliamentary Labour Party no longer represent the people. I remember years ago when the veteran party member Walter Wolfgang had been kicked out of a meeting for complaining, and went on to explain how the Labour Party had been temporarily hijacked by a neo-liberal cabal, but that people shouldn’t abandon it. I almost felt like joining up after that, but I have never belonged to a party. What we need is true PR and then the Green Party would become a significant force, as in Germany.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    NEWS FLASH: I will be speaking to Harry Fear for RT at 2pm in Parliament Square. Very glad to be asked to talk! I will particularly focus on the NHS.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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