What is forbidden at the moment, like hormones, will be forbidden under the TTIP agreement as well
- Commissioner Cecilia Malmström -
Commissioner Malmström in Amsterdam: TTIP debate on TV
Neither introductory statements nor welcome words usually longer than expected; just pure, at times tough discussion between the EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström and participants of the unusual TV formatted very dynamic Citizens’ Dialogue in Amsterdam. The room was packed with those who are in favour of TTIP, those against, and a group of students interested in the topic.
Lasting 1 h 30 minutes Citizens’ Dialogue focused on a variety of topics related to TTIP and regarded as particularly controversial in the Netherlands: from the safety of dairy products and toxic chemicals, through ISDS (the investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism), energy, SMEs, pharmaceutical issues, labour standards, public services, to the transparency of the whole process of negotiations.
On the need to protect the EU market from US products with hormones, Cecilia Malmström explained that European farmers have a lot to gain from TTIP, because it would mean an easier access to American market. "There are differences in the food sector," she said "we want to keep our standards. What is forbidden at the moment, like hormones, will be forbidden under the TTIP agreement as well”. She added that the same rules would apply when it comes to toxic chemicals - EU standards will not be lowered.
Answering a series of questions on why the European Commission is negotiating this agreement despite many people protesting, Commissioner Malmström explained that the EC has a clear mandate to do so from unanimous decision coming from 28 EU Member States. Moreover, the main goal for this kind of debates is exactly to explain as many issues as possible.
Due to the fact that this debate took place in a medium sized room, arranged for a TV format debate, participants had been invited directly by the EC REP in Hague, the organizer of the debate together with the EenVandaag TV programme. At least half of the audience was made up of the representatives of anti-TTIP organizations and movements (i.e.Greenpeace, Environment NGO Milieudefensie, trade union FNV and many more).
A sign saying "Amsterdam - TTIP free zone" - was brought by the protesters. "The whole EU is a TTIP free zone, because TTIP does not exist yet" - reacted Cecilia Malmström. Her stage partner Kajsa Ollongren - Vice Mayor of Amsterdam added that it is good to have an open discussion with citizens. The Commissioner emphasized that it is not only her task to explain all the details of the negotiated agreement, but also of the national governments who gave the Commission a mandate for negotiations with the US.
Similarly to earlier dialogues, one of the leading topics in Amsterdam was the investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS). And as everywhere else - from Paris, Warsaw, through Ljubljana Cecilia Malmström stated that ISDS is not something invented in TTIP. There are thousands of agreements based on this mechanism all over the world which have existed since 1959.
What was different in Amsterdam was the tone of the discussion of this particular point. "Why do you put extra protection for foreign investors?” - a man introducing himself as Professor of law raised his voice. "It is in the mandate we have” - Commissioner replied quietly, but the man tried to interrupt her by saying that ISDS favours private companies by not granting the same rights to individuals. Commissioner made it clear: without this settlement European companies could be discriminated in the US market.
She stressed that the EC is pushing the US to regulate labour standards, especially when it comes to labour costs and child labour problems.
Commissioner Malmström also underlined that education, health care and other public services are excluded from the TTIP negotiations. On the other hand the EU is insisting on having a separate chapter on energy, because „this is in the interest of the EU”.
Elaborating on the benefits for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) Cecilia Malmström underlined that TTIP would bring them more opportunities when exporting to the US, mainly by eliminating existing obstacles. For example, it would help a man whose company produces bikes for the American market. "But it also means more competition” - somebody from the audience interrupted. "Yes - was an answer - trade means competition for companies on both sides of the ocean. „We want to create possibilities and it is up to the SMEs whether they want to use it”.
"If TTIP means benefits for EU Member States, why so many groups of people are against it?” a young man raised this question at the very end of the discussion. Vice Mayor of Amsterdam Kajsa Ollongren replied that people in Amsterdam trust European standards and want to keep them. "TTIP is not about lowering any standards we have nor about harmonization” repeated Cecilia Malmström and declared that the EC would continue to be as transparent as possible. The negotiated agreement will be posted online, allowing everybody plenty of time to find out the details inside.