Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Anti-TTIP Protest, Brussels, 3-4 February 2015, Day One

The protest against TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), was organised mainly by Global Justice Now38 degrees and War on Want. I went to represent Green Left.

 I must congratulate the organisers on the efficiency with which they  managed to get more than 100 people onto the right train and get us all to the right venue in Brussels. (Some, like myself, are elderly and disabled, and help was at hand). The venue was Mundo-B, which is a building ecologically renovated by a group of NGOs - it contains a conference centre, an organic cafe and organic garden.

I will outline as briefly as possible what TTIP is, and why we felt it was necessary to protest against it. It has been summed up by Global Justice Now as 'a race to the bottom, which doesn't pit the EU against the US, but people's rights against Big Business'. A good way of putting it....it is in fact intended as a corporate takeover. The outline here is taken from information supplied by Global Justice NowJean Lambert MEPMolly Scott Cato MEP and Keith Taylor, MEP.

In essence TTIP is a trade agreement between the US and the EU which increases the power of multinational corporations at the expense of the governments and populace of EU countries. The National Health Service of the UK is particularly at risk. 'The stated aims of TTIP are to remove trade barriers in relation to the buying and selling of goods and services between the EU and the US.If health services were not exempted from TTIP, it would cause them to be traded in much the same way.....Specific concerns that have been raised include whether TTIP would make it impossible to repeal existing health legislation which encourages marketisation of the NHS, the extent to which prospective public health measures (such as introducing plain packaging of tobacco products) would be under threat of legal challenge.......(Matthew Hamilton, Royal College of Nursing).

 Food standards and environmental protection would also be at risk were TTIP to be implemented.
'The EU and US have very different food standards, and some of the US food safety laws are much lower than those in the EU.
For example, products such as bleached chicken and hormone-fed cattle products are sold on the US market, whereas we are protected from such products here in the EU. In the EU we also have much more stringent restrictions on GMOs and pesticides......The US meat and dairy industries have very openly stated that they want to weaken provisions for animal welfare in the EU. They say these provisions are 'barriers to trade', but this is irrelevant. The provisions were introduced for a reason - the welfare of animals - and so they must remain in place.......the corporations driving the TTIP agenda were not elected to make our laws, and have not been given any public mandate to do so, For them, the end game is profit.....TTIP must be stopped in its tracks. (Keith Taylor, MEP).

I will conclude this introduction by drawing attention to the most insidious danger of TTIP, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).This would give transnational corporations the power to sue European countries before secret arbitration tribunals, thus allowing US companies to bypass domestic European courts and sue for loss of profits from public policy decisions.
I am indebted for the following information to John Hilary, Chair of War on Want.

These are some examples of how companies have already used these powers.

1) US tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing the Australian government for billions of dollars in lost profits over the public health policy that all cigarettes must be sold in plain packaging.

2) Swedish energy company Vattenfall is suing the German government for 3.7 billion Euros over the country's decision to phase out nuclear power in the wake of the Fukusima nuclear disaster.

3) Veolia is suing the Egyptian government for loss of profits as a result of the county's decision to raise the minimum wage.

4) Ecuador has been ordered to pay Occidental Petrolium $1.77 billion in damages for terminating the oil giant's contract, even though the company had broken the law.

I will now turn to our protest. More than 100 people travelled to Brussels via Eurostar. On arrival in Brussels, we were taken on a walking tour of the corporate and lobbying quarter of Brussels - this visit was organised by Corporate Europe Observatory, who describe themselves as 'a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making'.

Because there were so many of us, we were divided into two groups - I elected to join the Food and Agriculture group. The other was Banking and Finance, but obviously there is an overlap, and we all ended up back together again in the Champs de Mars, the location of the 26 floor Bastion Tower, which houses the water and energy giant Suez, as well as several law firms and consultancies. (It is incredible how often we came up against corporate lawyers and consultancies!)

The Food and BioTech lobby operates through umbrella groups Eurobio and the European Seed Association. Biotech corporations including Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer, Bayer Cropscience, have their own lobbying offices in Brussels. According to the booklet provided by CEO, the biotech lobby want to get rid of the EU zero-tolerance policy for the presence of non-authorised GMOs in any imported food or feed.
The best known - and most hated - of the biotech corporations is Monsanto, which is based at 270, Avenue de Tervueren. The Monsanto Logo is no longer displayed on the front of the building, so it is possible that the company's decision makers are aware of the strength of feeling against them in the EU. Their website describes them as 'a sustainable agriculture company' which focuses on 'empowering farmers'.....whereas in fact the reverse is the truth.They are continuing to push for approval for RoundupReady soy in Europe - and also lobbies at the UN, pushing for GM soy to be recognised as climate-friendly. (This of course raises the whole question of soy and palm oil production!! I have included a link here to the Rainforest foundation, although this was not specifically on the anti-TTIP agenda).

Our attention was also drawn to Food and Drink Europe, which represents the multi-national food companies, including Uniliver, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and Mars. They were influential in a recent lobby battle over food labelling, campaigning to block consumer-friendly 'traffic light' labels - colour-coded labels for products containing high amounts of salt, sugar and fats. They succeeded in persuading MEPs that a voluntary approach involving guidelines would be preferable. The most recent entry on the their website reiterates this view.

There are many other influential lobby groups based in Brussels, including the all-important carbon lobby. Shell recently opened new premises on Rond-Point Schuman, a stone's throw from the European Commission. Both BP and Shell have lobbied to manipulate the EU's efforts to tackle climate change by promoting carbon trading as a solution.

After this fascinating, though tiring walk, we went to have a discussion and an evening meal with comrades and civil society activists, then returned to our various hotels.

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