This is a fuller account of the presentations that Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden and law lecturer Dr Eva Nanopoulos gave in Jesus Lane Friends’ Meeting House, Cambridge, on 16 March 2016, on links between the Greek financial crisis and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Nick Dearden said both TTIP and the Greek financial crisis of 2015 were symptoms of an unbalanced world economy, geared to serving the interests of the richest rather than of all. He had first studied Greece in his time with the Jubilee Debt Campaign , and said French and other loans to Greece for military purchases had given the country a debt comparable to the one that had pushed so many southern-hemisphere nations backwards during the 1980s. The European Union’s 2015 response to Greece’s debt involved no form of debt relief, but a humiliating requirement for the Syriza government to adopt policies such as privatisation — in which the first assets to be sold off were the profitable ones such as the national lottery. Taking issue with Nobel Economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, Nick said that this arrangement was not unhinged. It made perfect sense in as much it created a kind of paradise for international capital.
Trade agreements like TTIP — and others pending, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the pending Canadian/EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, and the proposed Trade in Services Agreement — were similarly about re-writing economic rules in the interests of capital. These ‘next-generation’ trade deals went beyond the traditional concern with tariffs to focus on removing ‘non-tariff barriers’ to trade, many of which were regulations long fought for and much valued, for example in animal welfare. And, Nick added, this wasn’t a case of virtuous Europe and wicked America. The United States had banking regulations better than Europe’s — but negotiating TTIP would give American banks the chance to press for those rules to be swept away. TTIP might enable many corporate successes in removing rules that interfered with the right to profit, and it was likely that those successes would be locked in.
Nick likened TTIP to the enclosure of the commons in Tudor times. He said the financial arrangements set up in the capitalist world in the mid-1940s had been based on a recognition that some things were best not left to the market. The spread of privatisation since the 1970s had been a reversal of that, with TTIP the next stage in the process. But one thing afforded an optimistic view. In 2014 hardly anyone had heard of TTIP. By 2016, TTIP had become the most toxic issue around the EU. All US Presidential candidates had be careful to distance themselves from TTIP. In the UK, opposition to TTIP joined up concern about the NHS, the environment, animal welfare — all the issues people most cared about. Nick was optimistic that TTIP would be defeated, and that the networks forged in the struggle would afterwards be flourishing social movements like those now changing Latin America.
Eva Nanopoulos drew a number of comparisons between TTIP and the measures taken in response to the Greek debt: their narratives, their origins, their methods, and their consequences.
TTIP and the EU’s Greek measures shared a common narrative, concealing their ideological bedrock. They were presented as saviours, but the evidence pointed the other way. The North American Free Trade Agreement, a precursor to TTIP, had led to the loss of 400,000 industrial jobs. The beneficiaries were the richest people in the developed countries.
TTIP and the EU’s Greek measures shared an origin in colonial practice, specifically, Eva said, United States practice in nineteenth-century Latin America. A difference was that the techniques were no longer being imposed only on poor countries but on the poorest people in richer countries.
TTIP and the EU’s Greek measures shared undemocratic methods. The European and national parliaments had no power to influence TTIP, only to vote on whether the secretly-negotiated treaty should be accepted en bloc. Likewise, the Greek parliament had been given hours to reach a decision on enormous memoranda of understanding drafted by the International Monetary Fund.
TTIP and the EU’s Greek measures shared the consequence that both stirred up a high level of resistance. Events like the Egyptian revolution and the anti-World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999 were highly visible expressions of this movement, but they drew on a struggle sustained and built over generations.
These questions and answers are written up from notes and should not be taken as a verbatim transcription.
Question: How far advanced are the TTIP negotiations?
Nick: They’re at the 13th round. They’re closed, so we don’t know much. But they’re unlikely to be completed this year, precisely because of the protests. The controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) has been replaced by the Investment Court System (ICS) — a more transparent set-up, with arbitration by judges rather than corporate lawyers, and an appeals procedure, but the core problem of power imbalance remains. The ICS has made further trouble for the negotiators, because it’s being opposed from both sides. The Canadian/EU is further on, and we need to watch it all the more cautiously because too many people assume that the Canadian and EU ownership somehow makes it benign. Global Justice Now’s campaign to email MEPs and ask them their voting intentions is about to roll.
Question: TTIP is a monster. We need to hit it where it’s most vulnerable.
Nick: Global Justice Now is forming anti-TTIP alliances where it can. A new campaign pack, specifically designed for Christians, has received a lot of support. We’re in discussion with anti-TTIP Tories.
Question: A vulnerable point is the EU referendum.
Eva: Since the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, the power of national governments has been very much reduced. I regret the asphyxiation of debate about the EU in Britain — it’s a shame that we’re presented with a dichotomy of EU membership versus right-wing racism.
Nick: Yes, the two main Brexit worries are that leaving the EU would seem like a right-wing racist victory and that immigration problems are already causing a disintegration of the EU. As a progressive European, I took great pride in the fading of borders.
Question: Isn’t it more important to oppose TTIP than to focus on whether we should stay in the EU?
Eva: Something like this is happening already. It’s good that Greece had anti-TTIP demonstrations.
Nick: The German Social Democrats were essential to the campaign, and too many of them are wavering in their opposition now that the ISDS has been replaced with the ICS. We need to build alliances with universities, colleges, councils, and small businesses. We need to get shop-owners putting TTIP FREE ZONE posters in their windows.
Comment: The Cambridge City Council anti-TTIP resolution needs to be much sharpened.
Question: Could small businesses ever use TTIP and its courts to their advantage?
Nick: No. Also, the principle of the thing — a system inherently biased in favour of business against elected governments — is wrong.
Question: TTIP and its predecessors have sprung up, two to a generation. Is this a hydra, sprouting head after head for ever?
Eva: I’m more cautious about what might replace TTIP. We need to see relations between nations brought under control as well.