Well, yes, what do I have to do with Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Trade? Just this that there was on Fre 22.04. a public discussion about TTIP and CETA with the very Cecilia Malmström being present, giving a presentation and, unsurprisingly, defending TTIP against possible objections from the side of the audience (which, considering that the occasion was taking place in an economy school, seemed to quite some extent to consist of economists and students of economy).
The organizers had claimed that the occasion was meant to help the dialogue between the EU politicians and the citizens, and the way the matter was organized, they actually seemed to mean it (honour to them!).
The event began (to the organizers’ and also my own surprise) with a larger number of the audience standing up and singing a protest song, after which they were without too much violence removed from the lecture room. For a moment I was considering whether also I should leave (as a demonstration of solidarity), but as I had not been informed beforehand of this action, and had anyway come to get some closer impressions and to offer some of my own objections, I stayed. There followed some rather short presentations by (indeed high-ranking) official promoters of TTIP, and while waiting for the event to begin I also had had some little time to look into a brochure which had been available at the entrance. And then there began rather soon the public discussion.
My impression was (and still is) that Cecilia Malmström (and presumably also the experts around her) seems honestly to believe that she is doing a good and important job when working to formulate and promote TTIP, and after having looked at a short piece in the brochure which was titled “A new system to replace the ISDS” it was also my impression that they in fact honestly try to work towards formulations which take care of the usual worst fears of protesters. When taking the word in the discussion I even began by mentioning this piece as a very positive step, but still voiced two objections: (a) pointing at the Panama papers, I said that whatever they would write into the agreement, there would be vast flocks of lawyers eager to find (and very probable to find) “loopholes”, and also eager to use those for less than honest purposes; and (b) giving an example for the abject submissiveness of European governments to any real or suspected wishes of the US government, I predicted that if a future US government should wish that such an agreement would be re-interpreted according to some US interest the Europeans would certainly agree. Cecilia Malmström’s answer to these points was (a) that also the EU commission had vast numbers of lawyers at its disposal, and (b) that, considering that the EU has more inhabitants than the USA and also a huge economic potential, Europe could without difficulty stand up against any US pressure (at this point I tried to interrupt by saying that Europe is split, but that objection did not really arrive).
Having spent some time thinking about the discussion, I am inclined to claim that Malmström is in both points wrong. (a) Up to now it is so that anybody who wants to export a new product to the USA is advised to hire one or several US lawyers (who are very expensive) as guides through the bureaucratic procedures. The reason which is given from the side of the Finnish government for joining TTIP is that there are many small and medium-sized Finnish firms who would like to export to the USA, but cannot afford it. During the discussion it was asked once how many of those present felt that they were sufficiently well informed about CETA, upon which 6 people raised their hands (in an audience including many economists!), which was then commented by Malmström that, well, the CETA agreement is after all 1.600 pages to read … . We can assume that the TTIP agreement will not be very much less to read than CETA, nor will the EU bureaucracy be willing to put those vast numbers of their lawyers at the disposal of single small and medium-sized enterprises. Which will mean that lawyers will still have any possibility to squeeze business “partners” or competitors with real or pretended legal details (which the squeezed one will have neither the expertise nor the time nor the money to form a solid opinion about – especially if s/he is only small or medium-sized). Thus, it is doubtful how much of an advantage TTIP would really be. And if the trade between EU and USA would really become very much easier, one should not forget that there will also be very many firms in the USA eager to export THEIR products to Europe, in competition to – also small and medium-sized – European firms. And concerning (b), it is GLARINGLY obvious that Europe will have tremendous difficulties to stand together against US demands. There are always traditions, special relations, considerations how willing the USA might be to defend Europe militarily, etc. which will prevent the EU countries to stand together against the USA.
And to add a last aspect, there is the point of those 1.600 pages of CETA text. In a democracy, the citizens are not only expected to vote but also to make up a reasonably informed opinion HOW to vote (otherwise the vote becomes just a gamble). And if negotiators are producing landslides of small print (as seemingly about CETA) about international agreements, then it becomes simply impossible to make up an informed opinion. Which means that the very METHOD how such agreements are made up is pure poison for democracy. It is very much more adequate to human psychology if there is just a small number of statements how things should be (the Ten Commandments of the Bible were fitting on just two stone tablets and the ancient Roman republic managed with a law on ten stone tablets) while decisions in doubtful cases are left to TRUSTWORTHY judges. It is my impression that one should rethink the whole process concerning TTIP, CETA, etc.. Perhaps it could also help if the whole thing could be made accessible by a computerized search system (if there is not already one …). But right now my thoughts have not managed any further than up to here … .