Markéta Vinkelhoferová & Jaroslav Fiala: Until recently, a lot of people in East-Central Europe had no idea about TTIP. But thanks to you, we now have very detailed information about the risks involved in this secret treaty. How did you get this information?
John Hillary: I have been working on European trade policy for twenty years and have been following multilateral agreements, the WTO and then the bilateral turn of the European Union and the Global Europe strategy. So I was aware of this all the way through. But it wasn’t until 2013, when TTIP was announced, that I began to look at it more closely. I was approached and asked if I could write a study that would look at the real impact of TTIP and answer: what does it mean for real people? Not just very high level academic stuff but really bringing it down to earth, talking about jobs and so on. I also wrote a book called The Poverty of Capitalism in which I already mentioned TTIP.
John Hillaryis the executive director of the organization War on Want. For more than 20 years, he has worked on trade and investment and is an honorary professor at the School for Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. He has published TTIP: A Charter for Deregulation, an Attack on Jobs, an End to Democracy as well as The Poverty of Capitalism: Economic Meltdown and the Struggle for What Comes Next (2013.)
What do you believe to be the most striking examples of how TTIP has been presented by European authorities? What are the most prominent differences between their claims and reality?
I think the first difference is that people like European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, want to present TTIP as something which is good for ordinary working people. There is this myth that somehow ordinary people would benefit because they will become a little bit richer. Instead, when we looked deep into the European Commission’s own literature and their own studies, we found that at least one million people are expected to lose their jobs as a result of TTIP. That is their own statistic! Even the European Commission recognizes that a lot of those people who will lose their jobs won’t find new ones as we already have high unemployment in the EU. This is one of the biggest deceptions of European citizens. They know that their own statistics are wrong and yet they still continue to suggest that TTIP is good for jobs. Even the British government said: “Oh, yeah, there will be a lot of new jobs.”They have no idea and even if there are gains for business, that does not necessarily mean that there will be gains for workers.
How can such a major agreement between the EU and the US be such a disaster for the people?
Because it is about big business. The original genesis, which gave birth to TTIP, dates back to 1995. This is when the Trans-Atlantic business dialogue was formed and they came up with the idea of forming a free-trade zone across the Atlantic; that is the reason for TTIP. Back then and when they were preparing TTIP from 2011 onwards, they asked all big business lobbies what their wishes were. They never asked us and they never asked the trade unions. They just asked those with corporate interests. And that’s why TTIP was written for big business by big business. So there is no reason, why it should be good for the people. The authorities have wrongly presented it as beneficial and they cannot tell the truth that it is just an agreement for the benefit of capital. They cannot do so, as then it would become clear that the emperor has no clothes and everybody would throw them out.
The European Commission is negotiating something that will destroy the power of our national Parliaments, which we elected to shape our future.
Do you consider TTIP a threat to democracy?
It is a complete threat to democracy. It shows that the European Commission is negotiating something that will destroy the power of our national Parliaments, which we elected to shape our future. For example, if we want to raise standards, introduce new laws and new regulations on the environment, labour rights, or on social standards, this becomes more and more impossible. As first you will have to present these laws in front of the new regulatory cooperation body, which will tell you whether or not your new law will create a trade barrier.
Could you be more specific?
For example, in the case of food in the EU, there has been a ban for twenty years on beef injected with growth hormones. In contrast, in the US, 90% of their beef contains growth hormones. In Europe we don’t want to allow that. And the US has always said that this is a trade barrier. Under free-trade rules, you will not be able to choose between beef with growth hormones and beef without growth hormones. They even took the case to the WTO. The WTO agreed with the US, stating: “Under the trade law, the EU will have to renounce this ban”. The EU responded with: “Our scientists show us that this beef would cause cancer in humans”. And yet they were still told: “You can’t say ‘no’ to us.” They consider rejecting trading the hormone-filled beef a non-tariff barrier, which should be removed. We also have pesticide regulations in the EU, which say that you cannot sell grain or potatoes with pesticides above a certain level. As a result of TTIP, it would be possible for the US or a multinational company to sue European governments for any regulation, even if it is beneficial for the citizens.
Politicians and business representatives in the Czech Republic either don’t know about TTIP, or they are enthusiastic about it. How would TTIP impact us, the people of East-Central Europe?
For the people in East-Central Europe, there is a real threat that TTIP would introduce more competition and that this competition could lead to some very negative economic outcomes. We have seen studies suggesting that less rich and competitive countries will find real problems in the future. Some of the most important employers, big factories and big producers in Eastern Europe could be pushed out. It is widely acknowledged that the agricultural sector could be badly hit. Agriculture in the traditional European way i.e. local, small-scale family farms, would be very badly damaged by the TTIP. For example, people who produce beef or dairy farmers will come in direct competition with the big industrial agriculture of the US Midwest. There you have places with ten or fifteen thousand cows locked in an industrial factory. All these cows are fed not with grass but with soya and grain, so they are constantly ill. It is disgusting. Then they are killed and put in the next room mechanically. It is just an industrial process and so it needs very few people with very low wages. But of course it is very profitable. Small farms in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, or Croatia simply cannot compete with that. They will be destroyed. Even the European Commission has said: “We know these people will be badly hit.” It is exactly the same situation as when NAFTA, the free-trade agreement, damaged the Mexicans. There are now two million people there who are completely ruined; they were driven from their homes and so they became so-called “illegal immigrants” in the US. It is exactly what they want to reproduce here in Europe.
How can the authorities support something like that? Are we supposed to serve as job-creating places for big corporations?
Yes, it’s like ethnic cleansing.
This is rather a strong statement…
But this is this sort of thing. Unfortunately, what they are trying to tell us is that maybe it could be a victory for car producers in the Czech Republic against the workers in the US. But that is not how it works. It is not that one worker gains and another worker loses. It is that capital will go to the place where it can find most profits. And that can sometimes mean that all the workers lose. So it is not a zero-sum game – five jobs lost here, five new ones there. No, you could lose five jobs here, and then three other jobs somewhere else, without creating new ones.
How would a possible future with TTIP look?
It is a nightmare vision of our future. It is a vision of the world where you have no rights; they are all stripped away. You have almost no money, because you have no job. You are looking for the cheapest possible food in the supermarket but the food can make you ill. If you are ill, you go to the hospital, but you can’t afford treatment. You are trying to find some justice but justice is not available for people any more. It is available only for the rich and for big corporations.
The defenders of TTIP in East-Central Europe often say that the treaty would serve as a barrier against Russia as it would liberate us from dependence on Russian oil and gas. What would you say to them?
They think TTIP would serve as “the economic NATO”. The EU is trying to get a separate chapter in TTIP on energy saying: “we want to have unrestricted oil and gas exports from the US to Europe in order to break the dependence on Russian oil.” But introducing the long-term investments that are needed to built the ports and pipelines to ship gas and oil from North America to Europe means billions of dollars of investments and in order to pay them back, we will have to have decades of dependency on fossil fuel. They are locking us into decades of fossil fuel dependency at the very moment of climate change. The European Commission openly said that under every possible scenario, under every possible outcome of TTIP, it would be negative for the environment. There will be millions of tons of extra CO2 in the atmosphere; a big loss to biodiversity. It is incredible. The protection of the environment will be seen as another non-tariff barrier, which should be removed; under TTIP there is no climate.
Do we want to have a future in Europe where we just recreate the US? A future that would mean living in a place where we will have no standards, and no social and cultural identity?
Has the recent Brexit influenced TTIP negotiations in any way? Do you expect any further major steps in the autumn?
The Brexit vote certainly makes a huge difference for us, since the UK will no longer be part of TTIP as an EU member state. We have also now heard that the negotiations as a whole are in crisis, as the USA considers what it means to have lost a market of 65 million people from the EU side of the equation. Now is the time for the EU to think hard about its future – it needs an urgent change of direction if it wishes to avoid further fragmentation, yet all we hear from Brussels is “business as usual”. TTIP is a perfect example of why the EU’s neoliberal programme has become so unpopular across Europe and yet they have no interest in changing direction.
How do you judge the activity of Europeans from below? Do you see more resistance against TTIP?
Some information about TTIP came out at the end of 2013. And I think what we have seen since then is an amazing movement across the whole of Europe. It is a real pan-European movement: people are working with people across countries and across languages. And it is not just about TTIP. It says something more about what type of future we actually want. Do we want to have a future in Europe where we just recreate the US? A future that would mean living in a place where we will have no standards, and no social and cultural identity? The idea of the EU was based on the single market but also on a social model. It was not just about profit but it was actually about people. We are facing a really big challenge now: can we, as Europeans, reclaim Europe? And TTIP says no, you have no future. But we, the people, want to dictate our future.
A lot of people would say they don’t have enough power in their hands. What would you suggest that they can do?
The first thing to do is to sign the European Initiative against TTIP, which is still continuing and it only takes a minute. The second thing is to send a letter to your members of Parliament on the national, as well as on the European level. So they know that you are angry about it. From these methods, we managed to turn TTIP into a real political issue. It was not a political issue before. Now it is one of the most important issues for all members of the European Parliament. We need to make sure people hear about it.
Markéta Vinkelhoferová works for the Ecumenical Academy in Prague
Jaroslav Fiala is editor-in-chief of A2larm.cz