Our Democracy is Not for Sale to the EU

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This article was originally published on The Commentator 

TTIP once again dominates the news with the 13th round of negotiations having taken place at the end of April.If it were just a free trade agreement everyone would support it – but it goes far beyond the realms of free trade.There are also increasing calls to halt the deal from European leaders – most recently from French President François Hollande, revealing the increasing hostility towards the deal. However, we should not assume this growing belief in TTIP’s impending failure is assured and we certainly shouldn’t be relying on Hollande to safeguard British interests.

Traditionally many of us on the Eurosceptic Right do not particularly see TTIP – or its Canadian brother CETA – as an issue of much concern. We have long believed the European Commission’s inadequacies in negotiating trade deals would result in a flawed, but still acceptable trade deal. This is an incredibly naïve view of TTIP and CETA. The reality is they both present very serious threats to democratic and accountable governance. The secrecy in which the negotiations are conducted, in addition to the provisions of the Investor-States Disputes Settlements (ISDS) mechanism, will fatally damage the public’s belief in democracy and free markets. We have already seen the electoral consequences of such a development in the USA with the rise of Donald Trump. European politicians should be very wary before they dismiss such a course of events as an American-only phenomenon. The flames of political ideology are already spreading across the western world and deals like TTIP and CETA are providing further fuel to the fire. The reality is both of these ‘trade deals’ are nothing more than the sacrifice of democracy to the greed of large corporations.

Understandably there are concerns over the secrecy in which these deals – TTIP especially – have been negotiated. Stuart Agnew – UKIP MEP for the East of England, recently revealed he was forced to sign a document swearing him not to reveal their contents, with the threat of severe financial and criminal proceedings. He was then led into a windowless room, after being stripped of all electronic and writing equipment, before being shown the most recent drafts of the agricultural sections of the TTIP deal. Accountability and transparency is impossible in these conditions, when our elected representatives are unable to share the details of the trade deal with their constituents. How can they possibly be expected to discuss their views on the matter and represent the voters effectively, when they can’t even tell us about it or ask for our opinions!

It is clear the major beneficiaries of this secrecy are the multinational companies who stand to make huge gains from the two deals. It’s true we often defend businesses as the drivers of the economy, however we also believe the interests of business cannot and should not override the need for true democratic accountability. When people see their vote having little effect on the world around them in a time of austerity, but still see big business getting preferential treatment, they will lose faith in democracy. The breakdown of the democratic system is far too high a price to pay for increased profits for those who are already wealthy.

The ISDS mechanism is highly problematic and could be very destructive to our domestic companies – including those in a public sector organisation like the NHS, which could be forced to open up all their services to privatisation. If a dispute occurs, corporations would be allowed to sue governments if they believe government actions damage their profits!   For example, if our Government introduces an environmental tax on fracking which subsequently affects the profit of an American mining company, they could sue us for loss of profits. Completely ridiculous. Things like this should be decided by our own Government, not forced on us by TTIP and the EU!

Conservative politicians often fail to understand the problems. They argue private companies should have the right to sue governments if what they do causes them loss of profits. Even if this is true, in reality not every company would be able to do so. Only the richest and biggest corporations would have access to the legal expertise and the resources to successfully take governments to court. The only thing which would happen would be a further distortion of free markets, where large multinational corporations exploit this mechanism to rig the market in their favour – to the disadvantage of the small and medium-sized companies – which after all are over 99% of British businesses.

The long-running concerns over the future of the NHS were brought sharply into focus this week, exposing just how real these fears are. A draft of the TTIP agreement was leaked to Greenpeace and it makes for very worrying reading. It seems the NHS has been a major subject of discussion. Privatisation of the NHS is not something the British people want, but the European Commission sees fit to ignore this and is trying to hand it over to American health companies. The leaked document shows they are prepared to concede the right for the British government to reverse existing partial privatisations – currently 6.1% of the NHS – should we wish to do so – without the American companies involved being able to sue our government. This means it would be impossible to reverse any privatisation into public hands – current or in the future – without extreme difficulty.

It is simply not acceptable for our government and our people to be stripped of control of our own health service and any attempt to do so would massively turn people against the free market and capitalism. This is something we must avoid at all costs.

If you are a supporter of free markets, you cannot support a trade deal which involves the heavy handed mechanism we see with the similar mechanism in NAFTA. This has only benefited the largest American corporations and has done nothing for smaller companies. Many NAFTA rulings have been highly controversial, with Canada being repeatedly fined for banning neurotoxic chemicals – such as MMT and PCB waste – on public health grounds. The fines levied for these “offences” total more than $200 million, and they are being sued for $1.75 billion more! This has nothing to do with companies being treated fairly, and everything to do with corporate greed triumphing over democracy. It is easy to see why many Westerners lose their faith in capitalism. While ensuring governments treat companies fairly may look appealing, in reality what seems to be happening is a transfer of power away from democratically elected governments to large multinational corporations for their financial gain.

Democracy is in great peril, and it is something we must defend with all our might. We must not and cannot fall for the idea democracy can be sacrificed in the pursuit of a “Greater Good” which is only interested in the increased profits of corporations. It is most clearly not when you see neurotoxins being unbanned and health services dismantled.

The European Union is an organisation which thrives on secrecy and a complete lack of democratic accountability. This has now extended to its trade deals in the form of CETA and TTIP. These trade deals are containing more to make big companies happy, than protecting the how democratic governments act to look after people. This makes TTIP and CETA an unacceptable attack on the democratic foundations of our society and is nothing but a corporate power grab. Hopefully TTIP and CETA will fail because of the bureaucratic nightmare of the EU, but let us not leave this to chance. We must ensure we are not trapped into a trade deal which only benefits large corporations – to do this we must Get Britain Out of the EU.

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