Philip Blenkinsop | Reuters
BRUSSELS – A broad coalition of European environmental, consumer rights and anti-globalisation groups launched a bid on Tuesday to stop the European Union from negotiating a free trade deal with the United States.
The alliance of around 150 groups, ranging from Greenpeace Luxembourg to Germany’s left-wing Die Linke party, say the proposed EU/U.S. trade deal is being driven by big business at the expense of European citizens.
The challenge comes as EU and U.S. negotiators hold a sixth round of talks in Brussels this week. They hope to clinch the world’s biggest trade deal next year, which proponents say could generate $100 billion a year in economic growth for both sides.
John Hilary, executive director of anti-poverty group War on Want, said that deregulation, central to the free trade deal, would undermine EU rules governing food safety, environmental standards and the use of toxins.
“TTIP is a new generation of trade deal which aims not at the border but behind the border,” he told a news conference.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is indeed designed to go beyond reduction of already low tariffs, and to harmonise standards such as for cars and to open up public tenders to all EU and U.S. firms.
Dubbed STOP TTIP, the alliance of groups from 18 EU member states will form a “citizens’ initiative”, which can propose EU legislation as long as it is backed by at least one million citizens from at least seven of the 28 member states.
The alliance needs first to register the initiative with the European Commission, before being given a year to find the million-plus signatories. The group believes it will submit its initiative by the end of 2015 or early in 2016.
Even if it doesn’t block TTIP, the initiative would then lead to a public hearing in the European Parliament and a formal response from the Commission, increasing exposure for the groups’ views.
TTIP has also come under fire over a provision to allow companies to bring claims against countries deemed to have breached the trade treaty. Critics say this limits the right of countries to legislate over areas of public policy.
The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the EU’s 28 members, has said the investor-state dispute mechanism is nothing new and is part of a multitude of bilateral trade deals agreed by individual member states.
It also accuses some critics of scaremongering, saying that the proposed trade deal is not about a pure adoption of U.S. standards and that EU rules on food safety will not change.
Germany, Europe’s biggest exporter, is emerging as one of the most vocal critics of the trade deal and is the home of more than a third of the organisations within the STOP TTIP alliance.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Catherine Evans)