Seminar for citizens on transcontinental treaties
November 23rd, 2015
Despite a climate of insecurity in Brussels, the seminar and the debate between federal parliamentarians and citizens on the importance of signing the new transactlantic treaties was held. Of the Federal MPs only Gwenaëlle GROVONIUS (PS) and Dirk VAN DER MAELEN (s.pa), who were co-organizers with the MPEVH, were present. The debate was regretfully limited between the “pro” and “con” arguments of treaties and their contents. The initial objective had been to have a broad debate.
Even though the European commission and national governments want to reassure people about the consequences and the opportunities provided by these international treaties, many doubts and questions remain as regard the necessity of this type of agreements.
Professeur Jean DE MUNCK (Catholic University of Louvain) stressed that the new generation of international treaties – referred to as free trade agreements – goes beyond the sole economic effects. They, in fact, call into question three axes of our European model:
- Our democratic model: the signing of this kind of near-constitutional agreements would imply the involvement of foreign countries and financial lobbies in the EU regulatory process, more particularly in an arbitration system under the authority of private organisations and beyond the EU judiciary system’s control;
- Our socio-economic development model, which takes into account other variables such as the fight against climate change
- The meaning of the European project: Do we want to achieve a Federal State or a common market? Do we want a market dominated by American partners or a multipolar market open to China, India and Russia?
Charles-Etienne LAGASSE, President of the Jacques Georgin Studies Centre (Défi studies centre), noted that the mandate of negociations that the previous Government has approved is too lax. Despite some positive elements (especially regarding access to American procurement contracts and removal of technical and administraives barriers), too many uncertainties remain with regard to the respect of European social, environmental and health standards, the statute for mutual, generic medicines, and the dispute settlement mechanism between States and investors. Civil society pressure has given satisfying results so far, that’s why it must continue. In conclusion, Charles-Etienne LAGASSE listed a number of conditions to be met in order to approve the futue treaty.
In addition, many economic concerns have been expressed. A report of TUFTS University (Boston) recently highlighted a loss of 600 000 jobs in Europe. The European economic fabric made up of a majority of SMEs could be eroded under the competitive power and the size of multinationals.
Mahité ORBAN (committed citizen) stressed that national taxation could escape from sovereign powers. Companies would gain the power to attack the States in a “private justice and at the expense of tax payers”, according to absolutely illegitimate rules.
In any case, members of civil society who were present reached the conclusion that free trade should not be the basis for any agreement or treaty to be negotiated with other countries. They ask for the rejection of the CETA (treaty between Canada and the EU), wrapped up by the European commission, as well as for the end of the ongoing negotiations with the United States of America on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP). In that way, regional, national and European deputies could reflect, in line with voters, and check the observance of national objectives and the values of our European model, which promotes equity, tolerance, the fulfilment and well-being of citizens. “Free trade” should give way to “fair trade” in order to pursue an absolutely different fundamental model for our society: to globalize the respect of rules in order to foster development for all.
Furthermore, participants from Civil society consider that the guidelines of the European strategy project “Trade for all”, which the European commission has recently proposed in order to involve citizens more closely in transnational economic affairs, should first be discussed and then made binding as regulation before any (re)negotiation of international treaties which will affect irreversibly our common future.
A few elements of our debate:
- From a social point of view, the Member States of the European Union would suffer a regulatory lightening to the detriment of the citizens’ safety and well-being. Instead of stimulating competition between the States for the purposes of growth on all fronts, the EU could take a leading role in a multilateral vision, through innovation and consequential development in clean and renewable technologies. At the same time, the EU could reactivate some pending treaties such as nuclear disarmament or weapons reduction, or reengaging the Millenium Development goals.
- From a democratic view, these near constitutional agreements and the negotiation mandates of the European commission lead to the question of whether they are legitimate or not. These agreements could then call into question the separation of powers and limit the national judiciary and legislative powers. Signing the CETA in its current form would considerably reduce the legislative capacity of the Member States.
- From a geopolitical point of view, some participants stressed that the independence of the EU could be threatened. “The multilateral system must remain the cornerstone of EU trade policy” (European Commission, « Trade for all« , p.27), mustn’t it?