I find it very inspiring that trade policy is garnering this type of far-reaching, heated debate. Trade used to be one of the issues that few people cared about, and even fewer debated. No more. Trade - and in particular TTIP, the trade deal that the EU is negotiating with the US - is the focus of discussion all over Europe.
I believe that as citizens, we all have a responsibility to follow this process closely and engage in the debate. That's why we, from the EU Commission's side, have made the TTIP negotiations the most transparent bilateral trade negotiations ever. On our website, you can find negotiating documents on almost all topics and detailed, straightforward explanations. I encourage everyone to delve into the wealth of material available.
A persistent feature of these discussions, however, is that some of the claims that are being made do not have a basis in reality. It is claimed that "TTIP [is] a threat to democracy, the environment, consumers and labour standards". That is just not the case. (For a list of some of the most common misunderstandings on TTIP, have a look at this publication.)
To listen, and to explain what the negotiations are about - and what they are not about - I have tried to meet as many stakeholders as possible since I became Commissioner for Trade. These have included business representatives from specific sectors, stakeholders critical of certain aspects of the TTIP negotiations, and organisations which against the agreement as a whole. I have met with NGOs focused on environment issues, consumer organisations, trade unions and many others, and I will continue to meet stakeholders as often as I can.
However, it is not only for the Commission to take the debate. We are, and we will. But TTIP is a joint European endevour, as 28 Member States have asked the Commission to negotiate this deal, because they believe that it is good for Europe. So governments and national politicians also have a responsibilty to go out and engage with citizens, listen to concerns, answer questions and explain why they believe this is beneficial for our economy and society.
In my own meetings with stakeholders, I have gained a good understanding of how important it is to get every element of TTIP exactly right. I have also been strengthened in my conviction that we need to continue to have a strong debate - but one based on facts, not on myths or distortions.
Earlier this week, I was in Paris and discussed TTIP with French parliamentarians as well as with students and others. Today, I've been in Maastricht in the Netherlands, speaking at a university and meeting local government and small businesses. Everywhere, there are engaged questions and informed discussion.
Unfortunately, I can't be everywhere at once. This week, for instance, there have been demonstrations in the UK against TTIP, claiming that the National Health Service (NHS) is under threat. I wish that I could stop by and ask them to have a look at the joint statement from me and my US counterpart, Ambassador Froman, where we point out that TTIP will not affect how national governments choose to deliver public services, in any way. Or the letter I sent to the UK minister on the same subject.
TTIP can help us deliver better public services like health, education or water, by lowering the costs of the goods and services that governments have to buy – like uniforms, furniture or medicine. TTIP will not force governments to open public services to any new competition from private providers, it won't force the government to privatise any public service and it won't limit governments' freedom to change its mind about public services in the future.
TTIP is also about reinforcing beneficial regulatory cooperation and cutting overlapping, unnecessary red tape. We are not discussing cooperation where EU and US approaches are just too different. That's why TTIP will not change our regime for genetically modified food or on hormone treated beef, to name two examples. And no product will be allowed on Europe's market that does not comply with our high EU standards.
As regards another of the most debated subject around TTIP, ISDS, or investment protection - this system needs to be substantially reformed, and TTIP is a key step in that process. That's why we are now considering a new investment arbitration system, and we will present concrete proposals soon. More info can be found here.
Some who are involved in this debate seem opposed to trade in general and free trade in particular. But we already know that trade is fundamental to prosperity in Europe. 31 million jobs in Europe depend on exports - that's 14% of the whole labour force. By opening markets around the world to trade and investment, we are creating more jobs like these. And because 90% of the world's growth is expected to happen outside of Europe over the next fifteen years, these are jobs of the future.
That's why we're now negotiating trade deals all around the world – in Asia, Africa and the Americas – with the aim of making two-thirds of Europe's trade free in the coming years. TTIP is just a part of this picture. But it's the most ambitious and important one - economically but also strategically.
The rise of China, India and other emerging economies is good news for development. But it means that Europe and the US on their own will be in a weaker position when it comes to setting the trade rules of the future. TTIP changes the game. Because it means that Europe and America will be closer allies when we talk to the rest of the world. The choice is simple - either we work together to shape globalisation, or we allow others to do it for us. We have to choose whether we are ready to stand up for European values in the world, or stand still and let others do the leading in the 21st century.