We must engage with TTIP, or else risk being shut out

We need to take action to positively influence the direction of negotiations

Last Friday, 38 Degrees launched a name-and-shame campaign against me and three of my colleagues in the European Parliament. Photographs of David Campbell Bannerman (Conservative), Emma McClarkin (Conservative), David Martin (Labour) and I were posted beneath the caption ‘These UK politicians voted to support TTIP’, with an incitement to subscribers to share the infographic in order to ‘expose’ us.

All four of us sit on the Trade Committee of the European Parliament, which on 28 May adopted a resolution setting out our position with regards to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a huge trade deal currently being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the United States.

38 Degrees’ campaign falls startlingly short of the mark at a number of levels. In the first instance, it is a fundamental misrepresentation of the processes involved in putting together a trade deal of this scale, and of the powers that Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have in the negotiation process.

We can’t ‘stop’ or ‘block’ TTIP: it’s already happening.

It is the European Commission, not the European Parliament, which leads negotiations on trade deals in the EU. In fact, MEPs do not have any official role in negotiations at all. Our one legislative power is the ability to veto any TTIP that does not satisfy our demands or the demands of our constituents.

Yet this blunt power of veto – a simple yes or no – will not come into play for many years. This was not, as 38 Degrees’ post and other campaigners suggest, the Final Vote on TTIP: negotiations between the EU and US have barely begun, and are unlikely to be concluded before the end of the current European Parliament in 2019. TTIP has yet to be written: until the final text presented to the European Parliament, there is no deal to vote for or against.

What Parliament can do is to influence negotiations by setting out our demands in advance: the threat of defeat at the last hurdle is too great for the Commission simply to ignore our demands, and negotiators would be very unwise to do so. This is the stage at which we find ourselves now: in Plenary on 10 June, Parliament will adopt its official position on TTIP.

Second, 38 Degrees’ campaign reduces political values and ideals to a binary opposition of right and wrong.

Trade in and of itself is not a bad thing: when it works in our best interests it can boost local economies, support small and medium sized enterprises and provide much needed jobs and training opportunities.

In 2012 I helped put together and signed the Alternative Trade Mandate, which, following extensive cooperation with civil society organisations from all over Europe, was created to promote an alternative vision of European trade policy. A trade policy that puts people and planet before big business, and that respects core EU values such as democracy, human rights, social justice and sustainability.

TTIP could present us with a unique opportunity to regulate globalisation and promote the high regulatory standards and worker rights we so cherish in the European Union. But in order to achieve these goals we need to need to mobilise; we need to take action to influence positively the direction of negotiations.

With a blindly pro-TTIP and –ISDS right-wing majority in the European Parliament, not engaging means accepting defeat before the gun has been fired. Much better to engage – with constituents, campaigners and with our Parliamentary colleagues of all political colours – in order to build majorities behind the red lines we are not prepared to see breached in a final trade deal.

This has been Labour’s strategy, with the support of our Socialist and Democrat colleagues: we simply refuse to stay silent on standards, on animal and environmental protections, on public services and on secret courts. Doing so would be to sign the Commission a blank cheque.

It is simplistic and frankly lazy on the part of 38 Degrees to brand Labour and Conservative MEPs as one and the same. Unlike my Conservative and Liberal counterparts in parliament, I have been unequivocal in my opposition to the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP and have indeed spent the last 10 years campaigning on this issue.

I don’t think that multinationals should be able to sue governments because they don’t like legislation; I don’t think they should have a parallel private legal system to defend their rights. Rather, if they feel that they are unfairly treated, they should be expected to use the ordinary court system like everyone else.

However, the issue of ISDS is the most divisive in the debate surrounding TTIP in the European Parliament. And as the makeup of the trade committee favours neoliberal ideals, there is no majority to reject secret tribunals, despite claims to the contrary. UKIP and fascist members of the trade committee, who vote against every report, reduce the left’s chances of a majority even further.

If we had not been prepared to accept a compromise on investment protection – one that did not explicitly mention ISDS – at the 11th hour, Conservative and Liberal MEPs in the trade committee were clear that they would vote down the entire report.

We had no choice but to water down my original amendment, but doing so meant that we were able to push through key amendments on several other issues of great concern to the British public. As the lead committee on TTIP, it is this report that will be presented to the Plenary for a final adoption of Parliament’s official position by all 751 MEPs. Failure to do so would have prevented the Parliament from voting on its contents, leaving MEPs with no say in how the Commission leads negotiations.

We did not accept just any compromise though: the text adopted explicitly states that we trust national courts in the case of investor protection disputes, which ends the role of special ISDS tribunals. This is already progress, even though it is not all that we hoped for.

Furthermore, contrary to claims made by 38 Degrees, compromising at committee level does not mean my position has changed: in no way have I backtracked on my rejection of private arbitration mechanisms. Rather, the Plenary vote on 10 June gives me one final chance to table amendments that explicitly rule out ISDS from TTIP and to strengthen Parliament’s position on this.

I do not believe in grandstanding on behalf of maintaining the moral high ground and making political gain. A career spent in the trade union movement has taught me the value and importance of organising in order to build support around the issues that matter in order to effect positive change. This is not a quick or simple process: it requires patience, cooperation and a willingness to accept small setbacks in the name of bigger gains down the line.

I therefore deeply regret that an organisation whose core values I share has resorted to misinformation and scaremongering tactics, reducing lengthy and complicated political process and trade negotiations to a simple equation of right versus wrong. 38 Degrees’ subscribers deserve more than this.

Jude Kirton-Darling is Labour MEP for the North East of England and European Labour Party spokesperson on TTIP. Follow her on Twitter

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25 Responses to “We must engage with TTIP, or else risk being shut out”

  1. Sean

    Might 38degrees’ ‘unhelpful’ post have been due, in part, to the dearth of information about TTIP currently available?

  2. Liam John Liburd

    I almost applauded at this article.

    I’m involved with 38 Degrees and while I have mostly enjoyed my experiences with them, I do at times find them anti-Labour to a degree that is beyond reason. They’re supposed to be party independent, but the local group in my area gives a far fairer hearing to the Greens, TUSC, Communist Party, etc. than it would to even a far left Labour candidate. I have to add, I’m a Labour Party member, a democratic socialist anti-Blairite one. I think there are many reasonable and sometimes devastating criticisms to be made about the leadership, past and present, but to ignore the people fighting hard for what they believe (like Jude Kirton-Darling) and are attacked by enemies on the right as well as potential supporters on the left who have closed their ears must be a thankless hell.

    Thanks for having a go, Jude.

  3. AlanGiles

    Perhaps having things we don’t want thrust on us might just be another good reason for the public to vote for the first time in 40 years (in many cases they haven’t had a chance to vote at all) on whether they wish to stay in the EU or not?

    Back in 75 we were voting for an economic organisation, not a finger-wagging know-all group of school marms.

  4. Ollie

    Great defence of a progressive, future focused approach to TTIP that cuts through the cynical misrepresentation of orgs like 38 Degrees who use the NHS as a political football. Go Jude!

  5. neiallswheel

    Yep. We will have to take his word for it, not an easy ask for many of us, and to be fair, not an acceptable state or affairs.

    If an arguement can’t be made (by any of our MEP’S) to make every meeting concerning TTIP absolutely transparent by releasing all details, then …
    many of us will continue to mistrust the entire initiative.

    Its in the public interest

  6. swat

    I’ve also been giving out leaflets in the High Street organised by 38 Degrees. They’ve been campaigning largely to makeb the public aaware of the pitfalls involved.Not many people know about TTIP, but they should because it could affect our jobs and services. Is it just privatisation by the back door.
    Jude’s robust response makes a good point that, its coming whether we like it or not, and its better to engage now and maybe shape the outcomes.
    But a lot of us will be unhappy that its the unelected Commission that is bringing this in, not Parliamentarians. And that really does need to change

  7. AlanGiles

    But it won’t have to come – or at least be accepted by us – if we withdraw from the EU…………

  8. Judith Kirton-Darling

    Hi – all European Parliament meetings are open to the public & webstreamed here http://www.europarl.europa.eu. The draft report of our redlines is also available on the dedicated TTIP page. Amendments now being tabled for plenary (deadline yesterday) are under plenary page. All the best Jude

  9. swat

    Again, we’ll be staying in the EU whether you like it or not, so accept it, and make the best of it. Otherwise go to Saudi Arabia.

  10. AlanGiles

    If I may say so, there is a great deal of arrogant posturing on both sides of the EU debate – you are the reverse side of Farage. I don’t get the allusion to Saudi Arabia, but whether “I like it or not”, there is a great deal of hostility to the EU, decisions made by ignorant faceless beaurocrats who are in it just for the money.

    I have little doubt that Cameron will declare that he gets a great deal (however small it is in actuality) , and you will get the usual cross-party brown-nosers like Mandelson and Blair jumping on the bandwaggon, and I have little doubt the “Yes” campaign will win, but don;t take it is a foregone conclusion.

  11. swat

    My thoughts exactly. DC will dress it up as having got ‘concessions’ and the public will vote for the status quo, as they usually do. We have to tackle that bureauorcracy from within and that means sitting at the top table.
    The point about Europe is that its not just a Market but an idea of peace cooperation and stability in Europe.
    The reference to S Arabia, is what I’d say to all those who express a fundamentalist, narrow minded, and blinkered medieval view, like the islamofacists amongst us, which you clearly are not. Apologies for any offence caused

  12. AlanGiles

    No offence taken. I take your point, but you sometimes wonder if the price is worth paying. The EU tend to interfere in areas where it knows little: for example, recorded sound copyright has been extended from 50 years to 70 years, so whereas up to this year it would be permissable to issue a recording made in 1965, after next year the latest recording that could be issued would be from 1946 (and in some forms of music this is an aeon). It might suit the likes of Cliff Richard who relies on his royalties, but a lot of the music reissued by small record companies is ignored by the major companies which originally recorded it (if they still exist) or is lost in the vaults of the major global companies that swallowed up (for example) British Decca, in many cases the musicians and their heirs and succesors have been dead many years.

    I don’t like the Farage party, but I am afraid I view the EU beuarocrats in much the same way the world has come to view FIFA: the accounts haven’t been signed off for years, and I very much doubt that Europe would want to get involved in another war. That said Blair has started another new job today, so one never knows!….. 🙂

  13. hermann kelly

    UKIP opposes TTIP

    We are the only major party opposed to TTIP, the
    Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which could allow American
    corporates to win contracts in the NHS and potentially sue the government if
    changes of policy cut their profits.

    UKIP firmly believes that NHS care should be free
    at the point of access. TTIP threatens

    Labour and the Tories both support TTIP.

    TTIP is being negotiated by the unelected EU Trade
    Commissioner behind closed doors. it is almost inevitable that such
    ill-thought-out rules will be created when the people negotiating them are not
    accountable to the voters.

    It should be for the British people and
    Parliament to decide their stance on this vital issue.

    UKIP is in favour of free trade, but TTIP is a
    Corporatist stitch-up.

    TTIP and the NHS.

    At our party conference in 2014, UKIP’s then
    Health Spokeswoman, MEP Louise Bours confirmed that UKIP will fight to exclude
    the NHS from inclusion within the TTIP agreement.
    You can watch Louise Bours here:
    TTIP and ISDS

    Contained within TTIP at present, ISDS in a
    mechanism which allows large corporations to sue governments in private courts,
    for any government action that limits a corporation’s future profits. This sets
    up a potential liability for the British taxpayer which UKIP regards as

    UKIP’s opposition to TTIP in the European Parliament.

    I suggest you keep a close watch on how different parties actually vote on

    The vote in the EU’s International
    Trade Committee on 7th May shows that the big political groups in
    the European Parliament (including those to which Labour, LibDem and Tory MEPs
    belong) are committed to the Parliament approving TTIP. They cynically
    rejected UKIP’s amendment by UKIP’s Trade Spokesman, William Dartmouth which
    asked the Commission to conduct negotiations with the USA in such a way as to
    ring-fence the NHS.

    You can read more about the events here:


    TTIP and the EU Referendum

    The forthcoming EU referendum will
    ask if the British people wish to regain the power to make our own laws and
    confident enough to set our face towards a global future.

    If we all vote for freedom from the
    EU and self-determination, the UK will be able to make its own trade deals and
    not be encumbered by TTIP.

  14. The Beardy Guy

    Sounds like 38 Degrees have a case to answer on some of the detail around that recent vote.

    Certainly some interesting points made here, but I’m not sure I buy the argument that ” TTIP could present us with a unique opportunity to regulate globalisation and promote the high regulatory standards and worker rights we so cherish in the European Union.”

    Like all trade deals its purpose is to encourage MORE trade. In this respect it will be the usual race to the bottom synonymous with globalisation.

    The rather weak starting point for The Labour Party seems to be that TTIP is going to happen and so better to work with the EC and try and water down the legislation a little here and there.

    This sounds like a familiar policy when it comes to The Labour Party. Fracking and The Infrastructure Bill anyone?

  15. John Coppinger

    I must say I am at loss as to why an elected representative of our country would respond n such a way to a group who give up their free time to campaign about issues that matter to the people of the UK. I am a member of 38 Degrees. The Manchester group arranged a meeting with 2 MEP’s to discuss TTIP. We wanted to be sure of the facts before we moved forward. We had an honest, respectful and open meeting with the MEP’s. At the end of the meeting, they were gracious enough to acknowledge that they appeared to know less than we did about TTIP and vowed to go away and learn more about. The Manchester group later attended an all day meeting part of which was given over to the discussion of TTIP. We were very fortunate to have on overseas visitor, Jeronim Capaldo, lecture us on the paper he produced following his research on TTIP. I would urge you read this excellent academic appraisal of TTIP. Jude, might I suggest rather than berate voters for disagreeing with you, why not do what Manchester did, meet with the electorate and establish what they feel about TTIP. If anyone would like a copy I am sure 38 Degress Manchester would be delighted to assist you.

  16. Neil C

    Having witnessed and experienced the last 30+ years of corporates increasingly over exploiting their workforces in exchange for less than inflation rate wages rises in return for a more flexible workforce, and the continual decline in workers terms and conditions that have seen Corporate C.E.O.’s salary exponentially increase from a ratio of 12-1 in the 1970’s to over a 1000-1 today as part of the kick back they are rewarded with for reducing all these individual workers salaries, terms and conditions, and the declining influence of our unions who are supposed to protect our workforce that this government are trying to further undermine with their proposed questionable voting criteria that they themselves could not govern our country with if they were to use these same voting criteria and terms – I will not be holding my breath hoping there will be some kind of miraculous improvement for all our working classes or our present state of our purported democracy and I will continue the fight for a lot more clarity and understanding on this crucial issue so we can all be able to influence and be involved and have a say in the more democratically evolved outcome that should be our human right especially now as we prepare to celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta this month – but we cannot accept a treaty that would be responsible for the further decline of our nation and be involved in and assist the escalation of this continued disenfranchisement of the wealth, health, working conditions and environment of the people of our nation or be engaged in the further loss of our democratic control which could be handed over to the multi-national conglomerates if we are not careful and resilient in our defence who already abuse their hierarchical positions of power to control favoured outcomes through their well healed lobbyists that distort and negatively influence our political ruling classes whose soluble backbones and filled party pockets help bend to their pressured will who want to exploit further the masses of populaces across all the nations of the world and make even more profits from us all at a further sustained loss to the already over-exploited, pulverised, forced austeritised, and further disenfranchised heart-rending demoralised people of this once great nation!

  17. Blanche Jones

    Hello, you can see the 38 Degrees response to this blog post here: https://leftfootforward.org/2015/06/there-can-be-no-compromises-on-ttip/

  18. CauliflowerEars

    Trade can create benefits and jobs, but as a 3 time entrepreneur and a former business strategy Masters lecturer I can say with all sincerity the economic benefits of TTIP are highly dubious at best. It is a corporate wishlist and in the main it will only benefit large corporations. Small and Medium sized business will have winners and losers, but the net effect could just as easily be negative as positive. Give the historical results of other similar trade agreements it is more likely that the effects for small businesses will be negative. Small business are the medium and large businesses of the future. So once again we could be selling our future for Wall Street to make a quick buck now. In light of this reality the “TTIP is happening whether we like it or not” attitude is ill informed and negligent. The compromises that were made to accommodate the dysfunctional workings of Brussells only make any sense if you think TTIP is basically a good idea if only we can work out the “kinks”. The truth is it is fundamentally flawed on all levels, not least the secret process of its creation. In my view it should be opposed on moral grounds, not as “grandstanding”, but simply because it should be opposed on moral grounds! Yes, there is a right and wrong way to vote on this!

  19. Nick McBain

    Spot on Beardy Guy. Too much nuancing, not enough standing your ground, outcome? Steamrollered.

  20. Laz

    Drop the TTIP all together , the USA is bankrupted …………..

  21. MissCostello

    Why should anyone who doesn’t want to stay in the EU “go to Saudi Arabia”?
    Is it because we’re all “fundamentalist, narrow minded, and blinkered medieval view, like the islamofacists” (sic) bigots?

  22. MissCostello

    Well said. 38 degrees might not get it right every time, but their hearts are in the right place and members (of which I am one) give their all. This country has been bled dry every which way for way too long – thanks to excessive corporate greed across the board – aided & abetted by an elitist mob masquerading as a ‘government’ whose sole aim in life (‘raison d’etre’) is to rule under the ‘Law of Mammon’ – for which UK citizens have paid dearly. Some with their lives. Enough is enough. TTIP stinks! Sold down the Swanny yet again.

  23. Michele Lomas

    the EU’s Commission is obviously blindly pro-UU, and would accept any deal, no matter how detrimental to its own members, in order to placate Washington

  24. Michele Lomas

    The ElU’s Commission is obviously blindly pro-US, and would enter any deal, no matter how detrimental to its own members, in order to placate Washington.

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