The European Union’s Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has told a leading campaigner that she does not take her mandate “from the European people.” Her statement came in response to a question on the unpopular Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between America and the EU, which is opposed by millions of European citizens.
The socialist campaign group War on Want has been leading the charge against TTIP, which it believes will damage public service provision in Europe. “TTIP’s dodgy aim is to lift trade ‘barriers’ between the US and Europe but these rules actually provide some of our most crucial health, social and environmental protection,” the group’s website tells its followers.
It’s a popular message – War on Want’s petition against the deal has gained more than 2,260,000 signatures from across Europe over the past year, half a million of which came from British signatories.
The group has also orchestrated a number of well attended protest events, the latest, held last weekend in Berlin, attracting 250,000 marchers, according to War on Want.
In light of their success John Hilary, War on Want’s executive director was recently granted an interview with Cecilia Malmström, who, as the EU’s Trade Commissioner, is responsible for steering the deal through.
He used the opportunity to challenge her on how she could press ahead with the deal in the face of such widespread opposition. Her answer he described as “chilling” – she bluntly told him “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”
Mr Hilary said: “In reality, as a new report from War on Want has just revealed, Malmström receives her orders directly from the corporate lobbyists that swarm around Brussels. The European Commission makes no secret of the fact that it takes its steer from industry lobbies such as BusinessEurope and the European Services Forum, much as a secretary takes down dictation. It’s no wonder that the TTIP negotiations are set to serve corporate interests rather than public needs.”
Ms Malmström’s stark indifference to the views of European electorate may be a turning point for left wing opposition to the European Union (EU) project. Her comments come less than two weeks after her fellow EU Commissioner, Migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos advised the leaders of Europe’s member states to take a leaf out of the Commission’s book and “stop thinking about the political cost” of the pro-immigration policies forced on their countries by Brussels.
“The Commission does not take the blame because it does not care about the political cost,” the EU Commissioner told Politico.
However, unlike Avramopoulos whose views are supported by the left, Ms Malmström is setting herself against the powerful left wing lobby. War on Want boasts nearly 26,000 followers on Twitter and close to 35,000 on Facebook, but the success of its petition and marches is testament to a far greater reach, thanks to its frequent appeals for its followers to share its materials on their own social media. Their #NoTTIP hashtag has been used thousands of times on Twitter alone in both English and a range of European-language tweets.
Labour’s new leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously admitted that he voted to leave the European Community, the precursor to today’s EU, when Britain last had a referendum on the matter in 1975. He has also heaped praise on Labour’s 1983 electoral manifesto, which stated that “British withdrawal from the Community is the right policy for Britain,” prompting fears among Europhiles within his party that he would seek to back the ‘Leave’ campaign.
However, in September he confirmed that the party will be campaigning to stay in. Talking to the BBC, Corbyn said that he couldn’t envisage a situation in which Labour would campaign for a British exit if the prime minister negotiated a bad deal, saying: “I think we are going to be working with trade unions and social groups all across Europe as well as social groups in this country.”
He added that he opposes what he sees as a move towards “a free market approach” by the Union since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.
It remains to be seen whether he u-turns on this position if the wider left wing movement turn against an EU they increasingly see as working in cahoots with big business, against the wishes of the people.
“At some point in the next two years, the people of Britain will be asked whether they wish to leave or remain in the EU,” Mr Hilary said. “I am proud to be a European, and have no truck with the xenophobic scaremongering of those little Englanders who would close our borders.
“Yet the question we will be asked in the referendum is not whether we wish to remain Europeans, as if such a question could have any meaning. Rather, we will be asked whether we wish to remain subject to the institutions of the European Union, including the unelected Commission.
“As the people of Greece have learned through bitter experience, those institutions will not tolerate any reform or deviation from their blueprint of permanent austerity and corporate rule.”