The European Parliament transcended into chaos today after a key debate on the controversial US-EU trade deal (known as TTIP) was postponed at the last-minute, causing a loud and prolonged protest led by anti-EU party UKIP.
President of the Parliament, Martin Schulz, announced that the debate had been postponed, “to give more time … to further reflect on the outstanding issues and to reduce as much as possible the large number of amendments tabled.” MEPs voted narrowly in favour of a delay in the debate.
MEPs were due to set out their first formal position on TTIP since negotiations started two years ago. The TTIP deal will now have to be debated at a later, unspecified date.
But this caused fury among those MEPs opposing the deal – who saw it as a refusal to allow the bill to be debated properly.
MEP Stephen Woolfe, UKIP’s immigration and financial affair’s spokesman, started the protest by reading out a rule of procedure, stating that if 40 MEPs stood up from their seats in unison, the entire plenary sessions could be halted. But although more than 40 MEPs immediately stood up, their protest was rejected because the session had already come to an end. In response some MEPs started to slow-clap the chairman.
On this occasion UKIP appeared to have the support of MEPs of other parties, who joined UKIP in standing, shouting, booing and slow-clapping to show their dissatisfaction with proceedings.
Then UKIP’s recently reinstalled leader, Nigel Farage, strided up to the front of the Parliament to launch a furious tirade against the chairman, telling him that the Parliament was a joke and should be torn down. The UKIP leader claimed that the postponement of the debate was proof that the EU was “running scared” of the strength of opposition to TTIP.
Green party MEP Keith Taylor said: “The decision to postpone the votes and debate on TTIP stinks of political parties in the European Parliament running scared of the huge public opposition to TTIP. TTIP represents a monumental power grab by corporations and it must be stopped in its tracks.”
There have been media reports that large corporations have bribed politicians both in the US and the European Union to ensure the TTIP deal goes ahead.
The European Commission claims that if the TTIP agreement is passed, the average European household would gain €545 [£433] each year, as the economy would be boosted by 0.5% of GDP, or €120 billion [£94bn] annually.
The European Parliament will eventually have the final say on whether TTIP goes ahead or not.
In the meantime, more than a million people across Europe have signed a petition to scrap the TTIP agreement going ahead. Under EU laws, a petition of more than a million signatures can force the European Commission to review the deal and hold a hearing in the European Parliament. Protestors are concerned that the trade deal – which aims to remove ‘regulatory barriers’ between the EU and the US – will also remove good regulations such as Europe’s labour rights, food safety rules and restrictions on the use of toxic chemicals.
Critics of the proposed TTIP deal – which has mostly been negotiated in secrecy – say they are also concerned by a proposed clause in the agreement, called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). This would allow private companies to sue national governments if their actions hurt their profits.
But proponents of TTIP – which if it goes ahead would become the world’s biggest ever trade agreement – argue that it would dramatically free-up trade between the two super-powers, increasing the size of the EU’s economy by about €120 billion and the US economy by about €95 billion. The removal of trade barriers would mean that identical products could be sold across the USA and the EU, without businesses having to change their manufacturing processes for two different continents.
Explained the UK’s Lord Livingston, Minister for Trade and Investment, “Currently, Jaguar Land Rover has to design two subtly different cars to meet regulations on either side of the Atlantic. For example, cars require different rear windscreen heaters. Successful negotiations for TTIP will boost trade by eliminating this pointless difference.”
He added, “People are being told that this agreement will lead to the privatisation of the NHS, removal of food health and safety standards and leave it with an inability to regulate in the future. This is simply not true.”
Scrapping trade tariffs, said Lord Livingston, will save UK exporters US $1 billion a year. “Currently British companies such as Barbour have to pay a 32% tariff to sell their products in America, while iconic Brompton bikes, through a quirk of regulation have to pay 20% tariffs. TTIP will remove this impediment to jobs and growth.”
As for ISDS, Lord Livingston said, “TTIP will not give corporations any extra power to overturn local or national Government decisions. Indeed, the right of governments to regulate in the public interest will be explicitly protected by the agreement.”
However, opponents to TTIP have not been convinced. Yesterday TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, wrote to all British Euro-MPs (most of them members of UKIP) urging them to reject ISDS. She said, “The European Parliament must use (tomorrow’s) resolution to send a clear signal to the TTIP negotiators in the commission that trade must be in the public interest, not for private profit.”
Global Justice Now, an action group campaigning against TTIP, claims that the European Union doesn’t have a ‘public mandate’ to continue with the trade agreement. Said their director, Nick Deardon, “MEPs must listen to the two million voices telling them to reject TTIP when voting on their position on the deal tomorrow”.
Labour MEP Jude Kirton-Darling said, “On Wednesday, for the first time since the European elections, MEPs will set out red-lines in advance of a final vote on TTIP. The basic text that will be voted on this Wednesday already contains key protections, notably on public services, labour safeguards and regulation, which were won by MEPs in the trade committee a week ago. However the wording on ISDS is not as strong as it needs to be.”
The Group of Seven (G7) major industrialized democracies have pledged to speed up work on TTIP. A final communique at the end of a recent G7 meeting stated: “We will immediately accelerate work on all TTIP issues, ensuring progress in all the elements of the negotiations, with the goal of finalizing understandings on the outline of an agreement as soon as possible, preferably by the end of this year.”
Other articles by Jon Danzig:
- What Nigel Farage told British expats in Spain
- The value of being ‘citizens of Europe’
- Fact: Most migrants come to work or study