A Peace Treaty Against the People

Demonstration in Berlin against TTIP

Rhetoric concerning customs and trade barriers conceals the greatest threat to democracy seen in a long time. TTIP has been called a “Peace Treaty” but it is actually a declaration of war against democracy. (1)

TTIP is the new trade and investment treaty currently negotiated between the EU and the US. It will lead to extensive delegation of power from elected politicians to opaque supranational bodies. Current, as well as future, democratic standards can be abolished without debate. This is why it has prompted European civil society to mobilize millions.

Out of the shadows

When the negotiations started in 2013, very few knew what the bureaucrats of the EU and the US had in mind. Secrecy was of profound importance to safeguard undisturbed discussions. Thus, no elected politicians took part in the negotiations and all documents were classified. Nonetheless civil society eventually got wind of that democratic regulations and decision-making processes actually were put on the table of negotiations. Anxiety spread rapidly. 

There is a long list of regulations under attack on both sides of the Atlantic. Frequently mentioned are the EU-regulations protecting against toxic chemicals, hormone-disturbing substances and genetically modified food, thus constraining food import from the US. Experts have voiced concern about rising levels of antibiotic- resistant bacteria. The US would also like “discriminating” European rules against import of fossil fuels from fracking – the most environmentally destructive extraction-method of all time – to be withdrawn. The EU has its own contentious issues and they are no better. They tried to lift important regulations on the financial industry, introduced in the US after the financial crisis. This was not accepted by the US. Now the EU is attempting to remove American policies on public procurements promoting local content. 

Prior to the negotiations the EU arranged 130 preparatory meetings, 119 of which were held with agents of multinational companies. Large enterprises are deeply involved in designing the TTIP treaty. Their lobbying is unprecedented in trade politics. 

1.3 million signatures

Certainly this had to be kept secret. But documents from the negotiations leaked, and the strife was a fact. During the last year the parties have been on the defensive. Civil society has demanded transparency and frankness about what is at stake. The EU was pushed to publish a few letters of intent and now say they want to listen to the civil society–however this has had no effect on the extent of the treaty. 

The threat against democracy has upset broad swathes of European civil society. Last year campaigners gathered over one million signatures for a European citizens' initiative, calling for the European Parliament to stop the TTIP deal. But despite that the initiative was meeting the requirements of the Lisbon treaty, it was rejected by the European Commission. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in the past year. In October there were demonstrations in about a hundred cities all over Europe. In late January 50,000 people assembled in Berlin in opposition to TTIP. As the negotiations resume again massive mobilization is expected. 

More than merely adjustments

Trade bureaucrats bargaining away democratic regulations in close dialogue with multinational corporations might sound bad enough. But what alarms civil society the most are two supranational bodies constituted in the treaty. Firstly, the parties want to establish an extrajudicial arbitration tribunal, where companies can sue nation-states over existing, as well as future, regulations. The tribunal will be founded ad hoc and will be composed of three appointed adjudicators. This set-up is known from several free trade agreements from before. When German authorities introduced better regulation of disposal of toxic waste from coal power plants they were sued by Swedish power company, Vattenfall. The case ended with withdrawal of the environmental measure. 

The European Commission consented to a public consultation on TTIP. The result was overwhelming. Out of 149,399 responses, 97% voiced either a general rejection of TTIP or opposition to the arbitration tribunal. The high number of participants was due to campaign organizations informing about the consultation. 

Secondly, there are plans to found a regulatory cooperation council. According to the EU this council is supposed to be a forum for eliminating regulations after the treaty has been signed. It will discuss all existing and future regulations “affecting international trade”. And all proposed legislation from the congress, the EU Parliament, and individual member states have to be approved by the council before being adopted nationally. We don’t know anything about who is going to be part of this council. But it will be assisted by “sector-specific ad hoc working groups”. It is hardly civil society that the parties have in mind. 

Forced trade

No trade treaty ought to delegate power in this way. It seems almost as if they want to end democratic debate once and for all: Now a few representatives from the EU and the US are going to settle agreements, without public debate, and with elected politicians completely taken out of the equation. 

The trade regime fishermen in both Europe and America have to conform to is one example on how trade politics gets us cornered. In the US most of the seafood is already being imported. And eventually European fish trade directed toward Asia and America will surpass intra-European trade. It is a trade politics that is bad for the environment and completely behind the times. No one wants long-distance food.

But this is the regime market liberals have enforced during the last few decades. What remains is an extremely fragile fishing industry. For Norway this will mean eliminating its protection of the domestic industry and jobs if the country wants to take part in this chase. The entire agricultural policy is jeopardized if Norway joins a partnership like TTIP. There are no more customs barriers to remove, accordingly the ground rules of democracy will be under attack.

Customs and regulations obviously thwart maximum profit for the big commercial stakeholders. And they don’t even want to discuss it openly. That is why civil society is speaking up on this matter. TTIP is not a “Peace Treaty”, but an invitation to a fight over democracy. 2015 might thus be a decisive year. 


1. This article is written as a comment on a feature reportage about TTIP in one of the biggest Norwegian daily newspapers, Aftenposten. In the feature TTIP was portrayed as a "peace agreement" to end trade conflicts between the EU and the US.

Editorial Comment

"A Peace Treaty Against the People" was first published in Norwegian on www.attac.no. An abridged version was published in the daily newspaper Aftenposten, February 10, 2015.