Tag Archives: TTIP

Red Tape

It does appear right now that the only thing that is happening in the entire world is that the UK is having a referendum about its EU membership. I’m pretty sure this is not the case (that nothing else is happening, because we are having a referendum!), but it still feels remiss not to contribute to the debate. The topic is extensive and the EU deals with a massive range of issues, so I’ll stick to what I know and talk about woMrMessyrds.

The words I particularly want to talk about are ‘red’ and ‘tape’. How we love to sigh about bureaucracy and regulation and how everything is tied up with red tape. I always end up picturing that moment when you pull off too much sellotape and it ends up sticking to itself, and then getting worse when you try to pull it apart so you end up with a sticky useless ball of tape. And then my imagine runs on a bit until I see someone entirely wrapped in tape looking somewhat like Mr Messy.

gift-box-with-red-bowBut there are better images for red tape. My mum always used to get special sticky tape for wrapping Christmas presents, usually red with pictures of holly, to make our Christmas wrapping that bit more special. Or what about a big red bow on top of an exquisite box of chocolates or other expensive gift. Red tape doesn’t seem so bad now.

So what is all this terrible red tape from Europe that we are so desperate to free ourselves from? Perhaps we would like to rid ourselves of safety at work regulations which mean we can all have the ridiculous luxury of going to work in the morning confident that we will also come home safely and not be dead. Or perhaps we would like to abandon legislation about working hours, rests, breaks and holidays. Because we’d all like to spend more time at the office without getting properly remunerated, and we’re all keen to be treated by health professionals who haven’t slept properly, and we’d love to be driven long distances by or share the road with drivers who haven’t taken a break for hours. Maybe we’d like to reduce the safety standards attached to our food products, because it’s not that important to be confident that what we’re eating and drinking isn’t bad for us. Or perhaps it’s the environmental protections and safety standards that we’d like to dilute, because we don’t really care about having clean rivers or safe air to breath. Or finally, perhaps it’s those pesky human rights that we’re so fed up of, interfering with our right to live our life the way we want to.

First, a word about human rights. The stay/remain choice about the EU has nothing to do with human rights. The European Court of Human Rights is a wider organisation than the EU, and includes countries which are not members of the EU. We have signed up to ECHR independently of our membership of the EU. Whether we vote to stay or remain in the EU, we will still come under the ECHR. We have signed up to the highest standard of protection for our civil liberties and those of our fellow humans around us, and we will remain signed up to this whatever happens on June 23rd. So this is not red tape but a red herring.

But back to the other red tape. Or, as I prefer to see it, the red silk ribbon round the gifts of protection at work, protection of the environment, quality standards, safety standards and peace of mind. Whether we are in Europe of out of Europe, I am sure most of us would prefer to keep this kind of security, high standards for what we consume, and protection of our environment and wellbeing. And if we want to leave Europe but still trade with Europe, then everything we make to sell (both goods and services) will still have to conform to these kinds of standards, or they won’t be allowed on the European market. But instead of playing our part in setting these standards, they will, instead, be imposed on us with no say. Shall I tell you who would really like to see a watering down of the rigorous quality and safety imposed by Europe? The Americans. They’d love to be able to get at our market without having to meet our high standards. That’s what TTIP is all about – the Transatlantic Trade Partnership which the Americans are trying to negotiate with Europe, so they can impose themselves on our markets without having to comply to our standards.

So, personally, I’d rather keep my gift wrapped regulations than decide which part of our society’s health, wellbeing and safety I’m prepared to give away.

Psst! Do you want to know a secret?

It’s been quiet on these pages over the summer holidays. Not that stuff doesn’t happen, but getting up late and being out of the country means I’ve missed most of it. The terrible distressing stories from Iraq, Syria and Gaza haven’t gone unnoticed, but I haven’t felt able to make an informed, helpful comment on these issues.

Something else has been slipping by unnoticed, though. I expect it has slipped by most people, without them ever realising it was happening. I’m talking about TTIP. See – you’ve still no idea what that is! And if I tell you it stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, are you any the wiser?

It is a deal being negotiated between the US and the EU to removed barriers to trade between the two regions. So you’d expect this blog to have something to say in criticism of an unfettered free market. And I do have a problem with the elevation of “the market” as the solution to all our problems, economic at any rate. But my problem with TTIP runs deeper than this.

For a start, there’s the fact that most people have never heard of it. Negotiations are being carried out in secret, and most of our MPs don’t have any idea about the details of the deal. Its remit is wide ranging, and it needs to be subject to scrutiny. In the interests of democracy, the general public should know what is being discussed, understand its likely impact on our society, and have a say in whether they agree with this or not.

I have more concerns because most of the “barriers” to trade between the EU and the US are in the form of the higher levels of safety standards, environmental protection and workers rights which we have in the EU. Clearly it is better for business if standards are regularised, so that products are compliant across both regions. But lets guess which way standards are likely to change in areas where they differ.

Another aspect of the deal would be to force public services to open themselves up to private companies bidding for contracts, removing any option for governments to choose to keep them in public ownership. Maybe you think private ownership is a good thing, maybe you don’t. Right now, that’s a debate that is raging in the UK with regard to the NHS. If this deal is agreed, there will be no debate, and the NHS could soon be in the hands of American private healthcare companies.

TTIP could prevent better laws to protect our environment and combat climate change
TTIP could prevent better laws to protect our environment and combat climate change

But most insidious of all is the erosion of government power to introduce legislation to protect workers, consumers and the environment. If governments want to implement a living wage, or raise standards for air and water pollution, for example, and a business feels this will impact on their profits, they will be able to sue that government. Not through the usual channels of the national court, but by taking them to an ad hoc secretive arbitration panel, overseen by corporate lawyers. Businesses already hold way to much sway over government policy. This further diminishes government’s ability to make policies for the public good, where people’s taxes will end up paying for corporations to keep the law.

I don’t think you need to be against free trade to recognise that this deal, as it stands, is bad news. Large multinational corporations don’t need more power. It is difficult enough to make sure they pay proper taxes, don’t exploit their workers and take responsibility for tackling climate change and taking care of the environment. And we certainly don’t want to be handing over power to big business in secret without knowing what is being negotiated and given up on our behalf. The secrecy and the strait-jacketing of our elected governments make this deal an attack on democracy.

If you’d like to raise your voice in opposition, you can join the campaign on the 38 degrees website. If you’d like to read more, try George Monbiot or this blog.