Belgian municipalities mobilise against the TTIP

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It is a pioneering move, with potentially far-reaching implications: in the last few months, some thirty municipalities in Belgium have approved or are in the process of drawing up a motion demanding an end to the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The mobilisation emerged from the grassroots. Citizens, concerned at the opacity of the negotiations and the treaty’s potentially disastrous impact on health, social and environmental standards in Belgium, have been pressing their elected representatives to oppose the ambitious free trade project.

The call made by citizens in the commune of Watermael-Boitsfort led the local authority to pass “the strongest motion in the whole of Belgium”, Green local councillor Hugo Périlleux Sanchez told Equal Times in a telephone interview.

In addition to a “conclusive and immediate” end to the TTIP negotiations, the residents of this Brussels municipality are demanding an end to the talks on the trade agreement already negotiated with Canada (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement ˗ CETA) as well as to the negotiations aimed at concluding an agreement on trade in services (Trade in Services Agreement ˗ TiSA).

The Boitsfort motion also foresees taking the case to the European Court of Justice should the treaty be approved, after all, by European Union (EU) member states.

Responding to what they consider to be a media blackout, Karine Wathelet and Julie Moors, the two thirty-two-year-old women who launched this initiative, set up an entertaining and informative website treatthetreaty.org, seeking to inform citizens about the effects of these trade agreements negotiated in near-total secrecy.

They drew up a petition and obtained ten times the number of signatures needed to take the issue to the local authority.

“We are calling for an immediate end to the negotiations on these treaties and are also opposing private arbitration tribunals. We hope our campaign will inspire other municipalities, and not only in Brussels,” they say.

In the municipality of Molenbeek, in the north of Brussels, a motion proposed by all the parties on the local council, except the Liberals, is also calling for a “definitive end” to the TTIP negotiations, which they consider a “serious threat to our local democracies on an economic, social, health, environmental and cultural level”.

Local representatives and citizens hope to be able to put pressure on the various parliamentary assemblies, of which there are a total of seven in Belgium, in the event that the treaty is presented for ratification. But that will depend on the nature of the treaty.

If it is “mixed”, meaning it will affect areas other than trade, it will be up to the national parliaments to ratify it.

Citizen mobilisation could mean that the TTIP will be rejected by Belgium, where opposition to it is growing in a number of political circles, and in spite of the pledge made by the government in its formation agreement (page 191) to approve the transatlantic partnership.

If the treaty is, however, considered to be purely a trade agreement, it will only require ratification by the European Parliament. The mobilisation of Belgian local authorities, if it were to spread to other European countries, could also become a major political issue for MEPs.

 

“Killing the TTIP is possible”

Green MEP Philippe Lamberts believes that “killing the TTIP is a real possibility”.

“We have already seen it done with ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), despite the majority in Parliament, as even those in favour ended up voting against it because it would have been a bad electoral move. And the TTIP carries much more weight. Few people had heard of ACTA, whereas I would say that ten per cent of the population knows about the TTIP. There is already a very high level of public awareness, and the scope for civil society to press for its rejection is huge.”

Lamberts also argues that “his sources in the European Commission” are now counting on a change of strategy, focused on using “more educational tools” to convince citizens to accept the treaty because the Commission “realises it is losing”.

This also explains why the European executive will probably drag out the conclusion of the treaty, which has been scheduled for the end of next year but seems headed for extra time since the “controversial issues” like genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) have not yet been put on the table.

In the meantime, anti-TTIP groups are preparing new citizen actions and media offensives in several member states, to take the mobilisation beyond Belgian borders and create an EU-wide civil movement.

 

This story has been translated from French.