These associations that you have previously mentioned are all representing employers and businesses. How good is the cooperation with, for instance the European Trade Union Confederation or other societal stakeholders?
Next to the more general business associations, there are also European organizations which are centred around a particular theme. For example, Philips is a member of the European Alliance for saving Energy. In these organizations we closely work together with labour and civil society. On the other hand, there is still very often a gap between companies and groups such as trade unions, consumer organizations and civil society groups in Brussels groups. I feel that there is something like a “Brussels bubble” in which these groups are not always represented. With regard to TTIP for example, discussions in Brussels are more or less like preaching to the converted. You have similar panels at every event, all likeminded, all in favour of TTIP and there simply is no debate. At the same time, in Member States such as Germany and Austria, there is a sizable opposition against TTIP. You cannot simply dismiss that. There are many NGOs and trade unions that are open for discussion. We need to have an exchange of information and positons; a genuine debate. You may in the end only agree to disagree, but at least do the outreach.
What is the reason, in your view, for the opposition against TTIP? And why are these views not making it into the “Brussels Bubble”?
I think that a lot of the opposition to TTIP is not based on facts and figures, but on a gut feeling of being against the establishment, against corporate Europe and against profits. Those arguments are more difficult to bundle up and bring into the discussion in Brussels, which makes it hard to enter into a debate.
Also, it is very difficult to engage with opponents when we do not have any concrete results to show for yet. Let us wait until we have a final text that we can have an argument about. These negotiations are highly technical, tedious, and very detailed. Let the professionals do their job first and then we can assess the draft outcome.
I have another, personal, theory. Today you rarely see mass demonstrations and mass riots anymore, like they occurred at G7 summits and other occasions in the past. I have the feeling that this kind of resistance against establishment, globalization and corporations has found a new outlet in the resistance against TTIP.
But is the secretive way in which the European Commission carries out these negotiations not part of the problem? The Commission has been criticized time and time again for its lack of transparency on this topic. Is that what prevents a discussion based on facts?
At a recent event I asked trade Commissioner Malmström precisely about this point. She said, rightly so in my opinion, that there has never been more transparency with regard to negotiating a trade agreement than there has been with TTIP. I compliment Commissioner Malmström on her efforts to bring TTTIP to the people and to make it more accessible. Ever since she took office, all possible documents have been made publically available on the internet. At the same time there is already a high degree of transparency when it comes to EU documents in general, which is partly the achievement of the European Parliament. What is not open to the public are the red lines that the EU has drawn. In any negotiation, you cannot give this kind of information to your counterparts. That is why commissioner Malmström asks for some secrecy during the process of drafting and negotiating this agreement, and I support her on that.
So you would see most of the criticism that has been raised against TTP and the way it is negotiated as a problem of perception?
Yes. Commissioner Malmström rightly pointed out, that while she is doing all she can, companies and Member States have to do their homework too, and engage with consumers and civil society. The argument for or against this agreement cannot be won in Brussels, but must continue on the ground, within the Member States. In the end the national Parliaments will have a say, the European Parliament will have a say and there will be a great amount of democratic scrutiny.
I have to say that half a year ago I was fairly pessimistic and thought that we would lose this debate. Now however, with the arrival of the new trade Commissioner Malmström and President Obama wanting to add TTIP to his legacy, I am more confident that we will have a comprehensive TTIP. Especially in a time of crisis we need more jobs and more growth, and TTIP is a relatively easy way to get there.
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