For the past several years, I have been a member of 38 Degrees.
This is a nation-wide movement that engages in lobbying action and campaigns in pursuit of what it perceives to be injustices in social and political matters, particularly tracking government activity on controversial issues. Recent campaigning by 38 Degrees includes opposition to zero hours, the so-called “gagging laws”, the closing of hospitals, disclosing of peoples’ medical records to private companies, the fight against “fracking” activity in the UK, and numerous similar causes and actions.
I recently received correspondence from 38 Degrees that asked the question: “Do you want to live in a world in which multinational companies can sue the UK government for raising the minimum wage?” To me, the answer was obvious. No, I don’t. Or, how about accepting a world where big tobacco companies can sue the UK for billions of pounds for introducing a plain cigarette packaging law? No, I wouldn’t want to live in such a world.
38 Degrees wished t0 point out that this could happen if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is passed. This secretive adulteration of a trade deal has been described as “basically a Christmas wish-list for big businesses – one with no benefit to ordinary people”, the vast majority of people in the UK.
The negotiations for this trade deal are currently going on within the European Union and, as is typical in cases of this kind, behind closed doors. The potentially devastating effects of this deal, if passed, will affect us all. That it is happening within the European Union is, for those, like me, who are generally supportive of the European Union, disappointing. If passed, the TTIP could well be the “changed circumstances” of the UK’s relationship with Europe that may serve as the trigger for the British Labour Party to eventually support an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
In itself, this possibility is worrying but, as a matter of transparency of government policy, the British public needs to be made aware of the negotiations which are taking place with respect to TTIP. Economic policies signed-up to by the British government and which are inimical to the national interest of the UK – whether they originate from within the European Union or, just as damagingly, from the USA – require knowledge by and accountability to the British public.
As indicated, the effects of this trade deal will not be confined just to the UK for, as an EU initiative, they will be felt across Europe. In mitigation, and in response to massive people-powered campaigns across Europe, the TTIP team opened a consultation on an important aspect of the trade deal, what is called the Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). This is a complex title for a nasty rule that will enable corporations to sue our government for putting their duty to ordinary people before businesses’ profits. In the very limited time available, 38 Degrees has been campaigning to have ISDS dropped from the trade deal.
Still, it is to be noted that this is the first time that ordinary people have had a chance to have any say whatsoever on any part of TTIP. There has been no need to be an expert on the matter as 38 Degrees provides information on it and how to go about joining the campaign against TTIP/ISDS and the most effective ways of protesting against the trade deal and its implications.
I personally wrote the following to the relevant department of the European Commission:
“I write with a genuine concern about the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the implications it has for democracy in the UK, as in the rest of Europe. All economic activity in any country should be transacted with the agreement of government. In a democracy all governments are elected by the people. Therefore, the world of business should be subservient to the will of the people as realised through governments. With the inclusion of the Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) TTIP reverses this order of priority. Therefore, ISDS should have no place in the TTIP.
“The idea of corporations being able to sue governments when the latter do not comply with business expectations or outcomes, is a matter for extreme worry and should have no part in any transactions of the British government (within Europe or otherwise). National governments need to exemplify the will of their electorates, not the determinations of interested individuals, self-interested groups or trans-national corporations. The people of the nations do not exist for the benefit of those whose primary interest in life is to accrue wealth and power!”
Of course, by itself my voice is a lone voice and ineffective. However, when that voice is joined by thousands of others a crescendo of sound is produced that cannot be ignored by responsible government or trans-national commissions. There is strength in numbers and the tidal force of peoples’ protest produces waves of crashing power.
Notwithstanding, the opposition is formidable – but also vulnerable. For example, just this month the US embassy in Berlin offered grants of $20,000 for campaigns in support of TTIP. Against such self-interested opposition will be the voices of hundreds of thousands of citizens across Europe.
The voice of the people still carries great force. In the matter of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, with its manipulative Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement, this voice will reiterate the message that the people will not be held to ransom.