TTIP: why should European citizens care?

By Kiersten Meehan

Maastricht University was honored to host a lecture given by the European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, this past Friday afternoon.  Her lecture provided a brief overview of EU trade, introducing the fundamentals of trade policy, as well as outlined the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), its status and its implications. The TTIP has been a recent subject of heated criticism and has garnered far-reaching international discussion.

Thus, during Friday’s lecture, Cecilia Malmström, being an advocate of the trade partnership, made her position in this debate quite clear. In promoting the agreement, she pointed out various economic benefits tied to the TTIP and assured that opening up markets would ensure a larger number of jobs in the future. According to her, failing to move forward with the TTIP would only inhibit progression towards a “more prosperous Europe, ready to compete in a world economy that’s more integrated every day”.

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Surely, Mrs. Malmström had quite a few insightful things to say regarding the basics of the TTIP and made this bilateral agreement certainly seem appealing. However, it was not the contextual points made in the lecture itself that were most stimulating but rather the conversation that unraveled in the Q&A session that followed.

Concerns regarding consumer protection and the feasibility of the EU’s goal of harmonizing regulatory standards were brought up on multiple accounts. One question that came up enquired how trade in the agriculture sector will pan out with the US if the EU remains adamant in their refusal towards lowering standards, especially in regards to the use of GMOs. Malmström responded by citing a solution used in the EU-Canada trade agreement (CETA), which involved Canada establishing two lines of food products: one which can be sold within the EU and one that can’t. Whether US industries see this as a favorable, let alone realistic, route is a whole other matter. Additionally, the ISDS mechanism of the TTIP, which enables US companies to challenge EU governments directly and whittle away at EU standards, also does not seem to bode well for the EU’s vision of a TTIP that acts as a safeguard to EU rules and values. Nevertheless, Malmström assured that consumer protection standards will not be shaken.

The audience also voiced concerns regarding who stands to profit from this partnership. There have been many claims that such an agreement will only enhance corporate power and privatization of public services. Malmström, however, says this is not the case, reassuring that government officials have not been swayed towards solely serving corporate interests.

One of the most striking comments made by the audience involved the role of EU citizens themselves. The lecture was titled “Why Should European Citizens Care?”, and one student didn’t believe that this question was ever fully answered. And to be fair, after listening to a lecture focused on the promotion of a robust international trade partnership and the economic benefits that industries will enjoy, the link between students and the TTIP was not overtly clear. Additionally, the student  noted that it is well-known that these negotiations have recently been met with hostility across Europe. Massive protests have erupted in various countries and the TTIP has become a huge topic of discussion. Thus, people clearly DO care.

Nevertheless, all personal TTIP opinions aside, striving for a more informed debate is certainly respectable and that seems to have been Cecilia Malmström’s overall aim. She was informative, answered questions, and attempted to quiet any potentially unnecessary concerns, while truly presenting this partnership as a surefire way to lift the ailing EU economy. Whether this will be the end result, however, is yet to be sure.

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