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November 5, 2014

The most important thing you’ve never heard of

The issue of how friendly or hostile the community and voluntary sector should be towards the world of private business rumbles on. While at one level there has been a particularly heated exchange south of the border over what some believe to be the heart and soul of the social enterprise movement, there is another potentially more damaging development on a global scale which threatens the heart and soul of democracy. Why is not much more being made of this? 


MARY FITZGERALD, Blog 28 October 2014

Mary Fitzgerald is Editor-in-Chief of openDemocracy.

Well, thanks to some encouraging ruckus in the last few months, you may actually have heard of TTIP: the anodynely-acronymed “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”. In plain English, it’s a massive trade deal between the EU and North America which could affect everything from healthcare choices to government banking regulations to the air we breathe. (And it gets better, TPP is the US-Asia Pacific counterpart.)

Activists and even some politicians have been up in arms about one particularly nasty element of these behemoths, which together will cover almost 50 percent of global GDP. That element is the proposed secret courts where, in theory, oil companies could sue governments who try to bring in green-friendly policies, tobacco companies could challenge advertising restrictions, and private healthcare providers could pick apart what’s left of national health services. To name a few.

Don’t mention the deal behind the curtain

But in truth, we just don’t know what TTIP will mean because the negotiations are happening in secret. And the European Commission has just made a mockery of its own European Citizens’ Initiative, whereby citizens are supposed to be able to register dissent, by refusing to “allow” that dissent to be registered. (This in fact could prove a spectacular own goal because, in making it so plain that this supposedly-democratic mechanism is toothless, it paves the way for a challenge in the courts.)

What we do know, however, are the lessons from recent history. As Saskia Sassen, who has looked at this question for decades, points out: time and again, when global corporations gain rights through free trade deals, citizens lose out–in large part through a negative boomerang effect of job losses and wage stagnation that cheaper goods just don’t compensate for.

We also know that it’s farcical of the European Commission to try and claim that Europe’s citizens cannot have a say in this process because the treaty will have “no legal effect” on citizens. Grist to the mill of UKIP and others, as if they needed it.

Exposing and challenging this unaccountable “Nafta on steroids” is just what openDemocracy was made for.