In over 16 years as an MEP, I’ve never seen such a vast amount of emails, correspondence, even members of the public phoning my office in Strasbourg as I have recently over the issue of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Partly this is because e-mail wasn’t anywhere near as popular 16 years ago, but the reality is that this is the first big crack in the European Union’s corporatist agenda.
It marks really the first time that I have seen large numbers of people questioning the EU’s mantra that big is good and that business, jobs and prosperity flow from all the actions of the Union.
For years I’ve wondered: just how can the Left support all of this corporatist stuff? Why are trades unions and the TUC saying nothing?
Well actually, full congratulations to campaigning group 38 Degrees, who have really highlighted the fact that TTIP is potentially very significant. I even received a nice letter from Francis O’Grady, the TUC’s General Secretary, regarding TTIP’s dispute mechanism.
I sense the Left as a whole are in real trouble however. British Labour MEPs, who had been for TTIP, didn’t know where to look in the Parliament Chamber yesterday.
At the same time even Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham, the ultimate opportunist, has said he thinks Labour should oppose TTIP in its current form. Mr. Burnham has also recent said that it is wrong that British workers should be surrounded by people who don’t speak English. Can you imagine the sheer righteous indignation if I said such a thing?
I’ve always been in favour of free trade, free markets and a form of competitive capitalism. But I find myself deeply alarmed by TTIP. As John Redwood has quite rightly pointed out, over half our trade with America is tariff-free already. If the EU were serious about tariff reduction, why not just abolish car tariffs and we’d be there?
It’s also important for people to understand when we talk about tariffs, we’re not living in the 1960s and maximum tariffs are only ever now 3 per cent on manufactured goods anyway.
I have no doubt that if UK had the self-confidence to negotiate our own genuine tariff free trade deals, we could have come to such an arrangement with the U.S. about 25 years ago.
Whilst TTIP may masquerade as being about free trade, actually it’s not. It’s about harmonisation, standardisation and a market place in which the giant corporates can dominate.
As a former trader, the argument that making everything the same creates greater business opportunities is anathema. Differences in price, regulation and standards lead to a much greater volume of business and trade being conducted which inevitably leads to a more competitive, profitable market place.
Whether or not the NHS is directly under threat or can be excluded from TTIP during what will be interminable negotiations remains to be seen. But the fact that a disputes mechanism will be set up that has a higher authority than our own supposedly sovereign Parliament and Courts is not only undeniable, but in my view wholly undesirable.
And the public themselves, in large numbers, have begun to twig that’s something’s afoot.
So to Strasbourg and a scheduled debate and vote though not in any way legislative, indicative, all due to take place on Wednesday of this week.
We learnt on Tuesday that the vote was being postponed, as a very complex report was being sent back to the Trade Committee. A Committee in which UKIP MEP William Dartmouth thus far has been the only British representative to challenge TTIP.
While President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, did indeed have the authority to send this vote back, I was a little surprised when he did. At 10pm, as I was settling into my second (?) glass of wine, an e-mail from Schulz himself arrived, stating that he had received a request from the big groups in the Parliament to postpone the debate the next morning.
This was highly unusual. And so we gathered at 8am the next morning, an hour earlier than usual, because of a UKIP request for a longer debate.
Try though we did to argue that a debate was necessary and wanted by millions, the big groups in the European Parliament managed to postpone.
We then tried to use the rules of procedure to suspend the days sitting but were ignored. There were scenes of mild uproar in the Parliament and I made a beeline for the President’s front desk to tell them they were running the place like a banana republic.
Actually, I want to thank Martin Schulz. By delaying this debate, millions more voters across Europe will become aware that something is going on. And when the issue of TTIP comes back, probably in the second week in July, I have no doubt that I will have received thousands more e-mails on the subject.
Interestingly, these developments have been noticed in Washington, D.C. and whilst Cameron and Obama may wish to do the bidding of the big corporates, we are beginning to hear voices of alarm about sovereignty and the great modern battle of corporatism versus capitalism being raised.
The week after the next Strasbourg session in July I will be in Washington. I have a feeling that TTIP will dominate my life for the next couple of weeks.
Nigel Farage MEP is the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and a columnist for Breitbart London