Whereas in the United States the ‘debate’ about Obama’s ‘trade’ deals is about the effect they’ll have in lowering U.S. wages, versus the effects they’ll have in lowering U.S. prices and increasing U.S. exports; in Europe, the debate is instead about the effect they’ll have in ending democracy, versus the effects they’ll have in lowering European prices and increasing European exports. Ending democracy is more basic than merely lowering wages.
Of course, one of those two publics is being deceived that exports will increase while imports will decrease — the net balance of trade from the deal will instead benefit one side at the expense of the other — but Europeans are right to think that the big issue is the transfer of sovereignty from national democracies to international corporations, and the reason they’re correct on this is that lowering wages (which will happen on both sides of the Atlantic if this deal goes through) is only a small part of the catastrophe that would result from a transference of national democratic sovereignty to international corporate sovereignty.
Following is how the debate is going in Europe, focusing there on the basic democracy-versus-dictatorship issue, instead of on the more-particular workers’-rights issue:
On the night of Thursday May 28th, the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade voted 2-to-1 for a non-binding resolution advising Europe’s trade-negotiators to move forward with the negotiations on Obama’s proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but to exclude from from the deal the provisions that U.S. President Obama demands, which would cede democratic national sovereignty to panels of corporate-appointed judges whose mandate would be to prioritize the rights of international stockholders above the rights of any and all nations’ consumers, workers, and environment. These panels will enforce the treaty by empowering any international corporation to bring suit to be judged by these panels for money damages against any country that the given corporation alleges violates its rights under the treaty, such as by a nation’s legislating stronger product-safety laws than the TTIP allows, or by its legislating stronger protections of workers’ rights, or of the environment, than the treaty allows.
The main news-site on these negotiations, euractive.com, headlined on May 29th, “MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] Give Passing Vote to TTIP,” and reported that the central debate in Europe about TTIP concerns precisely this issue, of not ceding democratic sovereignty to international corporations.
By contrast, in the United States, almost all of the opposition to Obama’s proposed ‘trade’ deals concerns their allowing American jobs to be sent overseas to countries where labor-union organizers are routinely murdered with little investigation and no prosecution. (In other words: U.S. labor unions don’t want their workers to be competing against non-unionized workers in police-states.) By contrast, U.S. environmental and consumer organizations are largely silent, coopted by the foundations that fund them, which foundations are controlled by the same aristocrats who control international corporations and who also control the media that report the news about the issues of the day. It’s the longstanding American system (called in foundation-land and media-land “the free market,” and not just labeled that in corporate-land), and it’s not as pervasive in other developed countries as it is here. Consequently, in the United States, virtually the only congressional opposition to Obama’s ‘trade’ deals reflects concerns of labor unions, which are the only American institutionalized opposition to mega-corporations.
As Euractive reported at that link, the debate in the European Parliament is fundamentally different than this. There is, in Europe, practically an obsession with the sovereignty issue. The tension in Europe is between Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on the political left who are committed to blocking any TTIP that replaces national democratic sovereignty with international-corporate sovereignty, versus MEPs on the political right who instead say such things as “TTIP is worth far too much to our economy and to everybody’s pocket for us to let it fail” (that from Emma McClarken, a Conservative). The American Chamber of Commerce, reflecting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is controlled by large international corporations, “welcomed the vote,” but refused to be quoted on it. However, Bernd Lange, the author of the parliamentary report and chairman of the Parliament’s International Trade Committee, who is a Socialist and a Democrat, gave the exact opposite impression, and he wanted to be quoted on his view, because it reflects the public’s sentiments and he wants to win re-election: “This resolution is the beginning of the end for” Obama’s placement of international investors’ rights above any national rights, and he went on to say that this is “a development which is long overdue.”
In other words, the politicians who mouth progressive views are being bought off, but the politicians who express conservative views are overtly supporting their corporate sponsors. The same thing happens in the United States, where it’s not even noticed. But, in Europe, the buy-off is not unnoticed, at all. “After the vote, Greens/EFA trade spokesperson Yannick Jadot said: ‘This resolution does not reflect the ever-growing concern among the public and civil society with the TTIP negotiations and their overt corporate agenda. Instead of using the resolution to help give voice to this concern, Socialist MEPs have rowed in behind the centre-right and ensured a tame and sanitised outcome.’” Furthermore, “Helmut Scholz, shadow rapporteur for GUE/NGL parliamentary group, criticised this outcome: ‘The vast majority of people outside this Committee room reject investor-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS [the Obama-demanded sovereignty-transfer system]), but those MEPs in favour think they know better. In my opinion, it is arrogant that the amendments from the opinions of five other committees, including the legal affairs committee and the constitutional affairs committee, who asked [the Parliament’s International Trade Committee] to oppose ISDS, have been completely ignored, just like the 1.9 million EU citizens who already signed a petition against ISDS.’”
Obama is pushing three of these deals simultaneously — one, TTIP, with Europe; another, TPP, with Asia; and a third worldwide, TISA, concerning trade in services.
Specifically regarding TTIP, the only independent economic analysis of it concludes that it’ll be bad for all but the richest 1%; and the same was found to be the case in the only independent analysis that was done of TPP. Obama’s people designed them that way. (That’s why Obama selected a Wall Street member of David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission, Michael B. G. Froman, to head the negotiations.) It’s not a bug, it’s a feature, of Obama’s Presidency. But these deals don’t just take money from the masses and transfer it to the billionaires; they even more importantly and very directly transfer a considerable portion of the political power, also, from the masses, to the classes. In general, Europeans understand this, far better than Americans do.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity, and of Feudalism, Fascism, Libertarianism and Economics.