from the or-is-it-a-trick? dept
The extreme secrecy surrounding the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations means that it is very hard to tell what the negotiators on both sides are really thinking about the current state of play — as opposed to what they say in public. That means a new kremlinology is emerging that tries to tease out the deeper meanings of the information we have. For example, a meeting of the European Parliament’s INTA committee, which is responsible for formulating policy on international trade — and thus on TTIP — has given an extremely strong hint that, on the European Commission side at least, people are beginning to panic about the lack of progress achieved during the talks.
That’s what emerges from a blog post by Yannick Jadot, vice-chair of the INTA committee, who describes an extraordinary suggestion from Italy, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council (one of the three main EU bodies):
In one of Italy’s first appearances in the European Parliament since it assumed the Council Presidency in July, Carlo Calenda, the minister charged with overseeing TTIP for the Council, announced to the INTA committee the possibility of concluding an “interim agreement” for TTIP in light of lack of progress to date.
This is the first time such a thing has been suggested, and hugely significant, as Jadot notes:
It is both a clear indication that a thorough TTIP reevaluation is underway at the highest levels in Brussels, and that a comprehensive agreement may be too controversial and substantial to swallow in one go. The minister noted that a “profound reflection on the negotiation strategy” was now needed and that a decision to go for an interim agreement could take place after the US mid-term elections in November, with an aim to conclude it in 2015.
As well as the imminent US mid-term elections, another major factor affecting the evolution of the TTIP/TAFTA talks is the fact that there is a new group of European Commissioners taking over later this year. That’s a clear opportunity for expectations to be re-set without worrying too much about what the current commissioner responsible for TTIP, Karel De Gucht, said or promised on this score. However, as Jadot rightly notes, this lowering of expectations might also be a ploy to lull people into a false sense of security:
By concluding a scaled down TTIP, or ‘TTIP-lite’, controversial items such as the investor-state dispute settlement, non-tariff barriers and mutual recognition of standards could be kicked to touch, and be dealt with later when public interest subsides. Problematic sectors like agriculture or public procurement could be isolated out and tackled individually. In many ways an interim agreement holds true to original intentions to create a ‘living agreement’, a structure that formalises never-ending negotiations, which do not need return to any parliament for ratification.
That would certainly be a clever way of presenting a TTIP to the public that appeared relatively benign, but which merely set the stage for the really unpopular elements to be eased in piecemeal in the coming years. Adopting this approach would ensure that the European Parliament did not reject TTIP outright — a distinct possibility if it contains corporate sovereignty provisions, or undermines EU regulations on chlorine chickens and hormone beef, for example — but would be unable to stop further changes later on. However, there’s a problem with implementing this cunning plan:
Anthony Gardner, the new US Ambassador to the EU, immediately refuted Italy’s interim suggestion at the same INTA meeting, aggressively defending a comprehensive deal:
“There are many geopolitical and economic reasons to conclude an ambitious agreement, and I say ambitious because we continue to believe, like our Commission colleagues, that only a comprehensive agreement would yield the significant results our leaders want. Yes I know our friend Carlo Calenda believes an interim agreement should be considered but we continue to believe that only a comprehensive agreement will work.”
While Mr. Gardner said he would look forward to “a regular, open and honest dialogue?, he went on to attack those who have raised issues of concern, such as chlorine washed chicken. Such issues he claimed were “peripheral” and amounted to “scaremongering”.
So, we are left with contradictory messages, with the European side apparently pushing for an interim agreement, and the US side refusing even to consider it. Along the way, though, there’s some useful fodder for those TTIP kremlinologists to get working on.