Call this democracy?


22 May 2014

Today we choose who will represent us in the European Parliament. A lot of people are sceptical about European elections – the parliament still has few powers in an overwhelmingly undemocratic decision-making system driven by corporate interests.

For proof of this, look at the fact that as we vote here in Europe, a ‘once in a generation’ investment deal -  The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP for short) - is being negotiated in Washington DC without democratic scrutiny. Egged on by corporate lobbyists, TTIP is all about ‘harmonising’ (read reducing) standards, giving big business more power over our laws and additional rights to sue governments for damaging their profits.

This week a leaked text shows that the European Union negotiators have been pushing the US to expand fracking, offshore oil drilling and natural gas exploration. In other words, that would lock us into greater fossil fuel dependency for the foreseeable future.

This comes on top of fears that TTIP will be used to allow all manner of unsavoury food practices to be imported into Europe and all manner of unsavoury financial practices to be exported to the US. Right at the heart of TTIP is a special court system, accessible only to foreign companies, which would allow big business to challenge European governments should they take action to protect citizens or the environment in a way that ‘damages’ their predicted profits. So that might be, for instance, if our government took railways or energy companies into public ownership, kicked private companies out of the NHS, banned certain chemicals, put cigarettes in plain packages or placed a moratorium on fracking. 

The unelected EU Trade Commissioner in charge of the talks – Karel de Gucht – isn’t too interested in listening to these fears, raised by hundreds of thousands of voters. Following the arrest of 250 anti-TTIP demonstrators in Brussels last week, including elected parliamentarians, de Gucht claimed the opposition was spreading “complete lies” and had been taken over by “the left side of the political spectrum, the Greens, and also a number of far-left groups”.

So to demonstrate the extent of opposition, this week we joined with 120 organisations from across Europe to form a coalition committed to fighting against TTIP. Today, we’re also calling a day of action on 12 July, with a number of other organisations, to begin to show the strength of feeling on TTIP all around the UK. It will be the beginning of an intensive campaign to stop TTIP in its tracks.
But here the European Parliament really can be important. It will have to agree to any final text. So whoever you vote for today, make sure you hold them to account when TTIP comes to the floor of the parliament. 

But democracy, of course, is about much more than voting. TTIP will not simply be won or lost in parliament, but by the energy which the citizens of Europe and the US put into making their voices heard. But we’ve had a pretty good start, with huge opposition in Germany and the US. We can win this battle to roll back corporate power in our society. And if we do, by the next European elections, we will truly have made Europe a more democratic place.

WDM is calling for a national day of action against TTIP on July 12. If you want to get involved, send an email to activism@wdm.org.uk

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