Local and national governments may be forced into taking a free trade approach even when acting on issues in the public interest if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is finalised. This might have major implications for citizens who will find that decisions about local services, investment in jobs, and even food safety protection rules are dictated by the terms agreed under TTIP.
In response, the governments of cities, municipalities and regions in France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the UK and other European Union countries have made statements criticising TTIP or have declared themselves TTIP-free zones. They are urging national governments, Members of the European Parliament and European leaders to act in the interests of democracy to block TTIP.
What does it mean for local decision makers?
Increased pressure for privatisation
In seeking to increase trade between the US and the EU, TTIP is designed to encourage privatisation of public service provision. This would open up markets to allow private companies to provide services, including health care and education. There are also concerns that once services have been privatised, it could be difficult – and costly – for governments to bring them back into public ownership, even when private providers are failing to provide the services required.
Limiting policy choices
The details of the TTIP agreement could severely limit choices democratically-elected authorities have in key policy areas including health and safety, food standards, public procurement rules, and state subsidies. Local governments, for example, may be unable to specify social or environmental criteria when tendering for services, or to introduce local bans on GM crops, regardless of public concerns.
The European Committee of the Regions – a body that represents local authorities in the EU – has called for special arrangements to be included in TTIP to ensure that GM products, animals treated with growth hormones and food from cloned animals can be excluded from the trade deal. They also ask for special exemptions for locally designated food products, traditional seeds and crops, and foods treated with substances banned in the EU. Eurocities – a network bringing together over 130 of Europe's largest cities – stresses in their statement that TTIP should not lead to a watering down of existing EU and member state standards on the environment and food and product safety.
Risk of legal challenge to laws in the public interest
The proposal to include an investor-state dispute Settlement system in TTIP further limits the choices local authorities have to act. This system privileges foreign companies and could leave local and national governments exposed to legal action from foreign corporations who claim their profits have been affected by government decisions.
Cases of this nature under similar trade deals have already cost European governments billions of euro in compensation, and the risk of legal action can be seen to be having a chilling effect on government decisions.
Limiting public services, limiting public subsidies
TTIP could also limit the ability of national and local governments to support basic public services, depending on how "governmental authority" is defined in the trade deal. This could limit the ability of local governments to organise and finance activities in the public interest. Subsidies for transport, culture, and even housing could be at risk.
What does this mean for citizens?
These restrictions on the power of democratically elected local and national governments will mean that citizens cannot influence decisions on the nature of the services they receive, or hold democratically elected representatives to account where there is a failure to provide the services required.
Decisions that affect local services, the local economy (including jobs, small businesses, and standards) and the local environment will then all come under the remit of TTIP – reducing questions of local needs, values and standards to a question of competitiveness and cost.
Citizens would be deprived of their democratic rights to influence public policy decisions that affect their everyday lives – from the food they eat, to the health and education services in their area.
Opposition to TTIP from local authorities is just another reason to stop this Trojan horse of a trade deal that only benefits multinational corporations, not people or planet.