Van 13 tot 15 november vond de Conferentie van commissies voor Europese aangelegenheden (COSAC) plaats in Bratislava. Vlaams parlementslid Güler Turan was een van de sprekers in het panelgesprek over TTIP, het vrijhandels- en investeringsakkoord tussen de EU en de VS. Ze sprak er meer dan honderd parlementsleden vanuit de verschillende lidstaten van de EU toe. Haar boodschap: ons handelsbeleid moet anders. Lees hieronder haar toespraak na.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

It’s quite a challenge to discuss a wide-ranging topic such as TTIP, and for that matter EU trade policy more broadly, in so little time. Given the current political situation, I would like to focus on two issues. First I will talk about why trade policy has to change and how that future trade policy should take shape. Second, I will talk about the role that we, members of parliament, can and should play in shaping that future trade policy.

Current political situation

When I hear Mr. Bercero talking about “very encouraging progress”. When I hear Mr. Froman saying that “negotiations will resume with the new U.S. administration”. When I hear Commissioner Malmström saying that “TTIP is not dead, but TTIP is not an agreement yet” ...

I wonder in what reality they are living. Because they are negotiating in a political and societal void. Public support for TTIP is crumbling all over Europe, but especially in Germany and France, where national elections are to be held next year. And with the election of Mr. Trump as the new president of the US, the chances that TTIP will ever awaken from its coma, are slim to none.

Why and how our trade policy needs to change

Citizens and civil society organizations on both sides of the Atlantic have pushed the pause button in the TTIP-negotiations. And they will not rest until we push the CTRL-ALT-DEL button and drastically change our trade policy. Their protest focuses mainly on two very worrisome issues: the investment arbitration system and the regulatory cooperation. While I definitely share their concerns regarding these issues, I believe there is a more fundamental root cause for the public disgruntlement. That root cause is a corporate-driven globalization process that is out of control, pushing environmental and societal limits too far. That is why our trade policy has to change. Let me explain.

It is true that free trade has provided Europe with phenomenal prosperity after the second world war. It is true that free trade has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, especially in Asia. But it is also true that free trade creates losers – those who have lost their jobs or have seen their wages drop. And while globalization gained speed, many governments reduced redistribution efforts and weakened social protection systems, thereby creating unacceptable levels of inequality.

It is also true that globalization has caused CO2-emissions to skyrocket. These environmental and societal costs are not part of the equation when the proponents of unchecked free trade talk about the benefits in terms of economic growth. That has to change. Trade policy has to keep in check with environmental costs and make sure the benefits are more equally distributed.

The current political deadlock in the TTIP-negotiations forces us to rethink our future trade policy. As such, it is a unique window of opportunity to prepare our trade framework for the new global economy. That framework should incorporate ambitious labor, consumer, health, safety and environmental standards. Only if these standards can be established at the highest quality level, trade agreements will gain the support of the people and can develop into role models for good regulation. This trade policy 2.0. should finally put public interests before corporate interests. That’s why there can be no room for exclusive, privileged access to the rulemaking process for multinationals, be it through regulatory cooperation or through investment arbitrage.

The role members of parliament can and should play in reshaping trade policy

I want to finish with a call for action directed at my fellow members of parliament who are present at this plenary meeting. My colleagues in the Walloon parliament, have recently shown the positive impact that national, and in this case, regional parliaments can have in shaping EU trade policy.

Civil society in Belgium started warning us, politicians, in a very early stage about the dangers and risks entailed in TTIP and CETA. We took their concerns to heart and started drafting resolutions in which we spelled out to our governments what needed to change in these trade agreements. We started asking our ministers tough questions on the viewpoints they defended at the European level.

The Walloon president, Paul Magnette, eventually refused to approve CETA because the Commission didn’t take into account a number of concerns voiced by civil society, most importantly regarding investment arbitration. And he succeeded in securing a number of guarantees. Of course, members of parliament, like myself, who are confronted with governments who support unbridled free trade, have a much tougher job to do. But we simply owe it to our citizens to keep pushing for change.

The huge level of public awareness can no longer be ignored and instead should be viewed as an opportunity to reform the pillars of European trade policy. And we, members of parliament, have a vital role to play as a launching pad for speaking out in the name of our citizens. If the EU can do this, if it succeeds in taking into account to the demands of its citizens and civil society on a complex matter such as trade policy, it would show the world its ability to cope with the challenges of globalization in a democratic way.