Most people would agree that the access to basic services like water, health and energy at a reasonable price, is a right of the people of the world. However, a recent report written by an international group of NGOs and trade unions (“Public services under attack“) exposes how recent trade agreements such as the EU’s CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) or the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) goal to commercialize everything and drive up the price.
The report’s key findings: (This is a summarized version of the report’s key finding section using actual verbatim langue used in the report, however I cut out some of the more redundant speech to shorten each section. Those that want to look at the sections in full click on the link above.)
- The TTIP and CETA are influenced by BusinessEurope and the European Services Forum, some of the most powerful lobbiest groups in Europe. These two groups are bringing business associations together as well as major companies such as British Telecommunications and Deutsche Bank.
- The European Commission actively stimulates business lobbying around its trade negotiations. Pierre Defraigne, former Deputy Director-General of the European Commission’s trade department, summarizes this as a “systemic collusion between the Commission and business circles”.
- CETA is set to become the first EU agreement with the ‘negative list’ approach for services commitments. This means that all services are subject to liberalisation unless an explicit exception is made. It marks a radical departure from the positive lists used so far in EU trade deals which contain only those services which governments have agreed to liberalise, leaving other sectors unaffected. The negative list approach dramatically expands the scope of a trade agreement as governments make commitments in areas they might not even be aware of, such as new services emerging in the future. The same could happen in TTIP where the Commission is pressuring EU member states to accept the same, risky approach, meeting the demands of the business lobby.
- Big business has successfully lobbied against the exemption of public services from CETA and TTIP as both agreements apply to virtually all services. This effectively limits the governmentalauthority exemption to a few core sovereign functions such as law enforcement, the judiciary, or the services of a central bank. Similar problems apply to the so-called ‘public utilities’ exemption, which only reserves EU member states’ right to subject certain services to public monopolies or to exclusive rights: it contains so many loopholes that it cannot award adequate protection for public services either.
- Under investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), thousands of US and Canadian corporations (as well as EU-headquartered multinationals structuring their investments through subsidiaries on the other side of the Atlantic) could sue the EU and its member states over regulatory changes in the services sector diminishing corporate profits, potentially leading to multi-billion euro taxpayer payouts in compensation.
- The exceptions generally do not apply to the most dangerous investment protection standards and ISDS, making regulations in sensitive public service sectors such as education, water, health, social welfare, and pensions prone to all kinds of investor attacks.
- The European Commission follows industry demands to lock in present and future liberalisations and privatisations of public services. This could threaten the growing trend of remunicipalisation of water services, energy grids and transport services. A roll-back of some of the failed privatisations of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to strengthen non-profit healthcare providers might be seen as violations of CETA/TTIP – as might nationalisations and re-regulations in the financial sector such as those seen during the economic crisis.
- Giving in to corporate demands for unfettered access to government procurement could restrict governments’ ability to support local and not-for-profit providers and foster the outsourcing of public sector jobs to private firms, where staff are often forced to do the same work with worse pay and working conditions.
- Both CETA and TTIP threaten to liberalise health and social care, making it difficult to adopt new regulations in the sector. The UK’s TTIP services offer explicitly includes hospital services. In the CETA text and recent TTIP drafts no less than 11 EU member States liberalise long-term care such as residential care for the elderly (Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the UK).
- The EU’s most recent draft TTIP services text severely restricts the use of universal service obligations (USOs) and curbs competition by public postal operators, mirroring the wishes of big courier companies such as UPS or FedEx. USOs such as daily delivery of mail to remote areas without extra charges aim at guaranteeing universal access to basic services at affordable prices.
- TTIP and CETA threaten to limit the freedom of public utilities to produce and distribute energy according to public interest goals, for example, by supporting renewables to combat climate change. Very few EU member states have explicitly reserved their right to adopt certain measures with regard to the production of electricity and local energy distribution networks in the trade deals.
- The US is eyeing the opening up of the education market via TTIP – from management training, and language courses, to high school admission tests. US education firms on the European market such as Laureate Education, the Apollo Group, and the Kaplan Group could benefit as much as German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, which has recently bought a stake in US-based online education provider Udacity.
- The US film industry wants TTIP to remove European content quotas and other support schemes for the local film industry (for example, in Poland, France, Spain, and Italy). Lobby groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPPA) and the US government have therefore opposed the exclusion of audiovisual services from the EU’s TTIP mandate, fought for by the French Government. They are now trying to limit the exception as much as possible, for example, by excluding broadcasting from the concept of audiovisual services – seemingly with the support of EU industry groups like BusinessEurope and the European Commission
- Financial investors such as BlackRock engaged in European public services could use TTIP and CETA provisions on financial services and investment protection to defend their interests against ‘burdensome’ regulations, for example, to improve working conditions in the long term care sector. Lobby groups like TheCityUK, representing the financial services industry based in the UK, are pushing heavily for a “comprehensive” TTIP, which “should cover all aspects of the transatlantic economy”.
- US services companies are also lobbying for TTIP to tackle ‘trade barriers’ such as labour regulations. For example US company Home Instead, a leading provider of home care services for seniors operating franchises in several EU member states, wants TTIP to address “inflexible labour laws” which oblige the firm to offer its part-time employees “extensive benefits including paid vacations” which it claims “unnecessarily inflate the costs of home care”.
The report’s concluded that our ability to steer all kinds of services in a direction that benefits our society is under attack by trade agreements like these two. The report also correctly states “If left to their own course, trade negotiations will eventually make it impossible to implement decisions for the common good,” and because of this, the only option is to revoke the agreement.
My take on all this is most (if not all) trade agreements have similar treasonous goals. These particular agreements are different because the fingerprints of big business lobbyists are all over this trade agreement. However, make no mistake– the goal of previous agreements and the creation of the EU and UN has always been geared towards killing national sovereignty, while giving control to the plutocratic class of international businessmen, or the “ruling class” as they like to fancy themselves.
In “The Men That Rule America”, I show how this class makes up the invisible government that controls most of the national level politicians (the same goes for every western government) and how they have interwoven their international businesses to create a very powerful super entity. You might be wondering what the point of making agreements like this is if big business controls a vast majority of the politicians? Well, even if the ruling class owns enough of the politicians to ensure they would never allow regulations to get passed that would hurt their interests, the voice of the people is very strong. If you take a look at some of the quotes (in the linked article above) by presidents and other powerful politicians dating back to the early 1900’s, you will see this invisible government was around even then. Yet, the people were able to demand post-depression regulation changes to the country’s work conditions. Directly after the depression, big business used the fact that people were desperate to feed and shelter their families to force them into working extremely long hours (without overtime) or lose their jobs. The Big businesses were simply taking advantage of the situation to exploit the working class. The people finally got fed up and demanded change that came in the form of the “Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938”, which installed the 40 hour work week. What is at stake here (outside of what the report mentioned) is the people not being able to force change when big business uses situations to force people to work in less than desirable conditions. To me, this is the most important factor that was not addressed in the report.
This report is great because now it won’t be as easy to dismiss people who have warned about these agreements as crazy conspiracy theorist. This report should go a long way to get people to start questioning trade agreements like this and to ultimately stand up to get the ones that are already implemented revoked.
And, make no mistake, we need to revoke them!