Richard Peirce reports on the delivery to Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond of a 3 million-strong European petition rejecting the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
The sky was overcast and the autumn light fading as a group of Portsmouth South constituency members assembled outside the city’s Civic Offices on Friday afternoon. Their common purpose? To lobby their member of parliament, Flick Drummond, and present their petition, harnessed through the 38 Degrees campaigns website, calling on the government to oppose TTIP.
We were not all invited into the building but Flick did come outside to meet with us for a few minutes. Unfamiliar acronyms are not helpful, of course but our MP tried to reassure these sceptical petitioners that the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks are widely known about and understood by the general public.
This author is in no doubt that multinational corporations, their lawyers and lobbyists locked behind closed doors with unelected negotiators in the corridors of the European Union (EU) in Brussels are well briefed, but he hasn’t seen much coverage in local or even national media about the potential effects on the electorate of Portsmouth and the rest of the country.
So what are the concerns of more than three million European petitioners?
Here are just four reasons TTIP matters to Portsmouth.
- Along with the rest of Europe, local public health, education and water services will be vulnerable to private US company take-overs. UK Trade Minister Lord Livingston recently admitted that talks about the NHS were still on the table despite Flick telling us on Friday it would not be affected.
- Many believe EU standards on food safety and the environment will be brought closer to those of the US, which are much less strict. This could mean less restriction on pesticides, more genetically modified ingredients in food, and growth hormones in meat; as well as fewer regulations to protect the environment, where current EU regulations are far tougher on potentially toxic substances. For example, the EU currently bans 1,200 substances from use in cosmetics; the US just 12. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta – a sister free trade agreement and forerunner of TTIP), Lone Pie launched a $250 million law suit against the state of Quebec, Canada after it introduced a moratorium on fracking.
- Research from the Global Development and Environment Institute in 2014 estimated that TTIP could lead to approximately 600,000 job losses across Europe, lower pay levels and higher financial instability. Our government’s plan to tackle this seems to be to even things up with the biggest crackdown on union/workers rights in thirty years, leading to worsening pay and working conditions, including health and safety protections.
- The New Statesman describe TTIP as transferring “powers to corporations that raise serious questions about where the power lies in the world today.” Put simply, the agreement would give corporations the power to sue governments for any loss of profit they perceive to occur as a result of government actions, with cases taken to “secret arbitration panels” making decisions “based upon the ominously phrased, ‘free market values’.” Examples of this under similar agreements including the German government being sued by Vattenfall for over 3.7 Euros for deciding to phase out nuclear power, and utilities companies suing the government of Argentina for daring to freeze water and energy prices in a recession.
These are just some of the concerns that brought us out on a gloomy Friday afternoon to make our voice count alongside the millions who have signed the petition against this deal that we fear will undermine our democracy.
Flick accepted the petition box but declined to be seen to hold it as if in fear of some contagion. She also glanced at the accompanying notes outlining our concerns, dismissing some with a few cursory words, suggesting that there was nothing to worry about, explaining that she supports the proposed agreement. To be fair, she had other constituency members waiting to speak with her and she promised a full response in writing.
In the meantime, if TTIP is new to you, you can easily do your own research. Please bear in mind that at the top of your Google search will likely be a paid advert link to sites funded by companies seeking to push the deal through. Read widely, but be aware that some links have been written solely to reflect the interests of shareholders, unlike our elected representatives – they serve us, don’t they?
Photography by Kathleen Price.