Success Of Fringe Parties In European Parliament Raises New Obstacle To TAFTA/TTIP's Progress
from the more-problems dept
As Techdirt has been charting, the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations have already encountered far more resistance than was expected when they began last year. This has mostly centered around the controversial corporate sovereignty provisions, but there are also more general concerns about things like deregulation -- for example, through a new regulatory council. As well as pushback from expected quarters -- civil organizations and NGOs (pdf) -- even some European governments are expressing their doubts. And following last week's elections for the European Parliament, a new obstacle to concluding the agreement has been added: an increased number of European politicians (MEPs) that are skeptical about pan-European projects in general, and TAFTA/TTIP.
Although they hold a relatively small number of seats, they complicate the dynamics of the European Parliament, where neither the center-right group of the European People's Party, nor the center-left group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, has an absolute majority. That means that complex and probably shifting coalitions will be needed to pass new laws in the European Parliament for the next few years.
For many areas, it's not obvious what those coalitions will be, or what policy compromises they will require in order to coalesce. But for one -- that of TAFTA/TTIP -- it's already clear that things have changed. That's because many of the smaller euroskeptic groups have declared their outright hostility to the negotiations. Here, for example is Marine Le Pen, leader of the successful far-right party, Front National, which came first in France, gaining 24 of the 74 seats allotted to that country in the European Parliament:
"I also demand that [the French President] does three things to take Sunday's vote into account: firstly, France halts the transatlantic treaty..."
In Italy, the Movimento Cinque Stelle came second in the polls, and won 17 out of the country's 73 seats. A recent blog post on the subject of TAFTA/TTIP made the party's views clear (original in Italian):
The Euro-American free exchange zone risks binding definitively the fates of Europe and the Euro with those of the US and the dollar, limiting the residual autonomy of an EU less and less integrated internally, and always more at risk of fragmenting.
Meanwhile, in Spain, a new party called "Podemos" took 5 of the country's 54 seats. Its political program (original in Spanish, pdf) contains the following demand regarding TAFTA/TTIP:
[Movimento Cinque Stelle] is certain that additional liberalization [from TAFTA/TTIP] would damage [Italy] more than other countries; we therefore expect from the [Italian] government clarity and full involvement of Parliament.
Cessation of the negotiation process for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement.
Now, individually these parties don't amount to much, and even collectively they are still a fringe group. But their existence will add a heightened anti-TTIP edge to the new European Parliament. Moreover, political leaders in France, Italy and Spain are likely to take their views into account in an attempt to minimize damage in local elections. Coupled with the existing groups that have declared their opposition to TAFTA/TTIP -- the European Greens and the left-wing groups -- this means the likelihood of TAFTA/TTIP getting an easy ride in the European Union is now greatly reduced.
That more hostile atmosphere will feed through to the European Commission -- the European body responsible for negotiating TAFTA/TTIP. New Commissioners are being appointed later this year, and the incoming Trade Commissioner is likely to be much more robust in his or her defense of European interests, so as to head off criticism from the new Euroskeptic groups and national leaders made nervous by the success of these parties.
The overall affect of this is likely to be more clashes during the negotiations, and slower progress. That's problematic for TAFTA/TTIP; if there is no deal until 2016, when the next Presidential race begins, a controversial and perhaps deeply unpopular trade agreement will be the last thing that US politicians will want to deal with. TTIP will just be put on hold until after the election -- or maybe even dropped completely.