Following an impassioned debate in the European Parliament, MEPs are expected to vote today (23 May) on a hard-fought resolution to back the launch of negotiations on a Transatlantic trade agreement, though not without red lines.
Except for the Greens, most MEPs have backed going ahead with the negotiations on the so-called Transatlantic Investment and Trade Partnership (TTIP), but reiterated their concerns on a number of issues, especially cultural diversity.
European Commissioner in charge of trade, Karel De Gucht, tried to quench some of the criticism, explaining that cultural diversity as enshrined in the EU Treaty and in the UNESCO Convention on cultural expressions was a guiding principle of the Commission’s actions, including trade.
“Let me be crystal clear what our red lines will be: the EU and the member states measures in support of their audio-visual sector will be maintained and will not be subject to negotiations,” he said, acknowledging that the main challenge in the future to support Europe's audiovisual sector was to address the evolution of digital technology.
This said, he insisted that excluding audiovisual services from EU commitments in the TTIP, as advocated by some MEPs, was neither necessary nor justified.
“Having red-lines does not mean taking entire areas off the table before negotiations have even started,” he said stressing the need for a broad text that would give the necessary negotiating flexibility. “Otherwise we will never be able also to obtain concessions from the Americans.”
The Commissioner added that he was deeply convinced that there were more workable solutions than fully excluding the audiovisual sector while still preserving those red lines.
If agreed the TTIP could bring significant economic gains to the EU (€119 billion a year) and the United States (€95 billion a year).
Combined, the US and EU economies – with a combined population of 813 million – account for 45% of the world’s gross domestic product and nearly 40% in terms of purchasing power.
Different social models
Reassuring that the Parliament favoured a comprehensive agreement to boost growth and jobs, centre-left MEP Bernd Lange noted that despite their similarities in many areas, the EU and the US had two fundamentally different social models. “On workers’ rights we have a culture of social dialogue, based on the ILO conventions. The system in the US is quite different,” he said.
The Parliament’s resolution does highlight that achieving common standards is likely to present both technical and political challenges.
"We are going to defend our social model and we are going to be very tough on this," S&D MEP Veronique De Keyser said.
“No fundamental EU policy is up for being traded away!, “ answered De Gucht, referring also to other sensitive areas, such as agriculture, food safety, GMOs and data protection.
Centre-right MEP and chair of the International Trade Committee, Vital Moreira, noted that in some areas the EU has little room for manoeuvre, but all issues have to be kept on the table. “Negotiations are all about give and take,” he said, stressing the European Parliament will be in the long run the one to give the green light to such a deal.
Flagging the debacle of ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), which was criticized for having been a deal negotiated without the full involvement of stakeholders, MEPs reiterated the need to be maintained in the talks’ loop. “We want to kept fully informed at all stages of the negotiations, before and after each negotiating round,” said Moreira.
"We want much more transparency," insisted Green MEP Reinard Bütikofer, noting that the US Congress was better informed than the European Parliament.