The Tipping Point

adbustersHow big business is trying to permanently block the democratic process. By Jimmy Kerr

Imagine it is 2020, and the Government of Scotland, which worked so hard during the referendum process to keep the legitimacy of our independence out of the courts, is in the dock, facing lawyers from some Big Pharma outfit because our legislators passed a law banning a certain drug that has been proven to have terrible side effects, the judge comes back and says that the Government has no right to pass such a law and orders the Country to pay billions in compensation to the company.

Can’t happen?

Well it is happening at the moment, Big Tobacco monster Philip Morris is trying to sue Australia and Uruguay for introducing anti-smoking legislation, using a sinister investor dispute resolution system as the legal basis. There are currently nearly 600 similar cases of corporations taking nations to court with 98 currently involved in legal action and I’m afraid that this is just the start. The number of these types of cases will rise exponentially if we continue to sleepwalk our way into the biggest trade deal in history, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Just try and imagine what kinds of effects the threat of international legal action will have on nations thinking about progressive legislation.

Never heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?

I’m not surprised given the scant coverage it has had, never mind critical appraisal, public scrutiny, far less any meaningful resistance, at least in this country. This is despite negotiations rumbling away for over a year and growing pan-European protest movement. It is known as TTIP and it’s a deal between the EU and the US, currently being discussed by business elites, pretty much away from public scrutiny. It affects you and me and everyone on the planet. There is a lot not to like about this deal, not least that it is being conducted in secret, but the plans to include a similar process for resolving disputes between nations and corporations, the Investor State Dispute Settlement, an arbitration mechanism that allows for companies to sue countries that act against their interests, is the one element of the treaty that has caused the most concern. It is not an exaggeration to say that this treaty, far from being a harmless agreement designed to reduce barriers to business, in fact amounts to a dangerous assault on national sovereignty, a corporate power grab.

It was sections of civil society that first raised the alarm in December last year with an open letter to the lead negotiators of both the EU and the US, picked up by sections of the press. The letter focused on criticism of the ISDS investor state dispute mechanism and was signed by over 100 groups including War on Want, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, Since then there has been a flurry of articles, critiques and protests, mostly from groups in Europe, with the cumulative effect being a growing sense of alarm at the potential effects on the environment, food standards, health and safety, digital rights, employment rights, and sovereignty itself, all of which are very good reasons why the Scottish Independence movement, especially the radical and progressive elements should take a far greater interest in this treaty.

The fifth round of talks began on Monday to small but vocal protests, mostly making the modest demand for some transparency, but so far very little has been said about TTIP and how it might relate to Scottish Independence, even as we enter European elections. In the UK, it has been environmental groups that have been most pro-active in voicing their concerns with food safety often cited as a potential problem as companies emboldened by similar treaties use the threat of legal action to try and block sensible policies like food labelling or limits to the use of GM foods. More generally, we need to question the need for a trade agreement between the EU and the US, which already has very low trade tariffs. Negotiators say that the point of the treaty will be to “harmonise” legislation, standards and practices and that cutting this red tape will result in higher growth and more jobs. In reality, this is nothing but a red herring, the real goal for the corporations is not to create jobs, but to attempt a race to the bottom, eroding and eliminating where possible all kinds of current protective legislation. Most importantly elites will have a powerful tool to dissuade countries from passing laws and adopting regulations that protect their people in areas like workplace safety to use one example.

Someone at a public meeting once told me that once the glossy brochure is printed, everything has already been agreed by the people that matter and my own experience with public consultations is that this is very often the case. This is much the same with the EU public consultation on the Investor State Dispute Settlement, launched a few weeks ago, which can be accessed online. It tells us very little about what is actually being discussed. It is not a way for us to interact with the treaty negotiations, much rather a response to growing criticism, not much more than a PR exercise a cynical ploy to give a fig leaf of legitimacy to the treaty process.

At the same time and in fact in the same press release, EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht tried to assuage fears surrounding ISDS by pointing out that the mechanism is being reformed. This myth has already been debunked by the Corporate Europe Observatory. However that is not to say that these developments are insignificant. What it shows is that even powerful entities like the EU, are not immune to public pressure, they are susceptible to sustained criticism, something that should give us some hope that we can still block this treaty.

What we need to do in the Scottish Independence movement, I think, is not so much rush into protests in the form of direct action, like our friends in Europe, but to do something much more modest, yet much more potent. We should begin a process of putting our relationship with Europe and the EU at the centre of our thinking about what a post independent Scotland will look like.

We already have a very good way of doing this through the excellent Jimmy Reid Foundation and I’m sure if they would commission a series of scholarly articles on Europe, we would start to have much more of an idea of what European corporate elites are up to, plus it would have the added bonus of countering the ill-informed odium of the likes of UKIP and other anti EU elements



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17 replies

  1. 38 degrees is looking at this, with a likely petition or campaign in the offing.
    This article, scary as it is, describes a possible future if we don’t mobilise to make sure that governments limit the actions of global corporations, rather than the other way around.

  2. Like Bigbricks, I heard about this through 38 degrees. The agreement is utterly mental. I’m broadly pro-EU but if this agreement gets ratified then I shall become distinctly anti-EU. That seems the only way to get away from the madness.

  3. Neo-Liberalism just got worse.

    (That’s my first ever sentence containing the word neo-liberalism.

    That’s Bella for you! )

  4. Thought provoking stuff, if not alarming.

  5. It’s all starting to get like the movies with corporations running countries . If the EU allow this then i am anti -EU and will do my best to let everyone i know whats going on. Very creepy.

  6. However badly put together the European Commission consultation is, it is still worth responding to it. If a lot of people respond then at least those MEPs who support our anti-TTIP position have some ammunition to work with to get a no vote in the EP. Read more on my blog on the consultation here: http://rationaldebateblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/transatlantic-trade-and-investment-partnership-ttip-the-european-commission-consultation/
    And no, I’m not saying that the consultation is a real exercise in engaging citizens; but it is a vehicle for protest and we should use it.

  7. This is hugely important to Scotland and I have read snippets in various publications which have hinted about the effects of this deal being agreed.
    I don’t think the smaller countries in the EU (in particular the Nordic ones) will be happy about their democratically agreed laws being overturned by US corporations in their own courts.
    There is now no doubt that we are in a battle to save democracy from the power of unaccountable corporations and in our case the City of London.
    If this deal goes through,we will definitely have to decide what if anything we can do about it and which alliances we make in order to protect our democracy.

  8. I am broadly pro-EU, but that has never blinded me to the fact that the EU has long since been the prisoner of corporate capture. The TTIP scam will garner about the same amount of comment, analysis and investigation from the MSM as that devoted to the crooks and crookery going-on in the banks and the City of London pre – 2008. We’d all better start listening very carefully, in my opinion, to the likes of Mr Kerr.

  9. This certainly needs addressing by all – including those supporting YES – as it will be a major scare story for ALL involved on 18 September. It may be the smaller countries consider opting out of EU and consider developing EFTA, or have limited membership of EU? We certainly want NOTHING to do with secret deals/big business/bankers/politicians – WE the PEOPLE of SCOTLAND and the RESTof Europe need to decide such things – not the self-serving administartors in Brussels and their ilk.

  10. Increasingly, international big business corporations are acting as if they are national states or superpowers, out-with even the pretence of democratic influence or control..Western government, particularly UK and USA, links with these establishment elites, means that they promote these corporate interests, rather than protect their citizens against them. The anti – globalisation protesters had it right all along.

  11. We only know about even these sketchy details of the negotiations because the negotiating mandate – marked RESTRICTED – was leaked to the media by German MEPs from the Green Party – after even members of the German federal government had to admit that they were in the dark about what was being discussed behind closed doors. The footnote to the mandate says: “… unauthorised disclosure could be disadvantageous to the interests of the European Union or one or more of its Member States”.

    We know whose interests might be disadvantaged – certainly not those of the average EU citizen. It seems bizarre to many that at a time when it has become abundantly clear that neo-liberalism doesn’t work – that in reality its modus operandi is the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of losses (in Bush senior’s words: “The continuous concentration of wealth and power into ever fewer, ever tighter and ever righter hands”) – and that only a society based on solidarity and sharing can be sustainable in the long term, the elites continue to turn the screws in the wrong direction (right for them but wrong for sustainability and justice). Isn’t it time to admit that predatory capitalism has failed and that Adam Smith was wrong – that individual selfishness can never create a fair society?

  12. The biggest threat to democracy since 1939 without a bullet being fired. But we will all be prisoner to it.
    It would be ludicrous for Scotland to gain independence only to give up our sovereignty to Global Industry. We would seriously have to rethink EU membership if this goes through.

  13. I am so relieved this issue is becoming mainstream in YES sites. The TTIP is a major threat to the democracies of Europe and so are the EU technocrats who are negotiating this deal in secret. Mr Barroso was not joking when he said in a recent interview that the EU was a non-imperial empire. Thank you Bella for posting this article.

  14. Can I just mention – possibly a little late to influence anyone yet to vote in today’s EU elections – that the Greens are the ONLY grouping in the European Parliament united and actively campaigning against TTIP. Maggie Chapman from the Scottish Greens could be an important addition to that work.

  15. It’s happening already. The Scotch whisky association is taking the government to court over a decision to introduce minimum pricing, the decision of a democratically elected parliament. Just yesterday B&Q announced at their new store in Greenock that they would reconsider investment in Scotland in the light of a YES vote. Standard Life will move to England in the wake of a YES vote and Screwfix would reconsider its investment in Scotland. How could Diageo disinvest in the Scotch whisky industry? Maybe get it somewhere else?
    Companies that try to interfere with the democratic process do not deserve our trade. The arrogant use of this kind of economic power should be stopped. The other way to tackle companies producing addictive goods like tobacco and alcohol is to finance a team of lawyers to sue them for every case of death or serious illness occurring through consumption of their products. In the absence of product labelling, supermarkets could group products with unhealthy E-numbers, fats or sugars and label the shelves. Some of these companies are so immoral they are presiding over our early deaths.

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