02/02/2015 published at http://www.euroactiv.com
The newly-elected government in Athens has always been suspicious of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and will use its Parliament majority to sink the EU-US trade pact, claims a former Syriza MEP now turned minister. EurActiv Greece reports.
After making its voice heard in the debate over sanctions on Russia, the new government in Athens is now making its opposition known to the EU-US trade deal, TTIP.
Georgios Katrougkalos, a former influential Syriza MEP who quit his European Parliament seat to become deputy minister for administrative reform in the leftist Greek government, said the new leadership in Athens will use its veto to kill the proposed trade pact – at least in its current form.
Just before the January elections, he told EurActiv Greece that a Syriza-dominated Greek parliament would never ratify the EU-USA trade deal.
Asked by EurActiv Greece whether the promise still holds now Syriza is in power, Katrougkalos replied:
“I can ensure you that a Parliament where Syriza holds the majority will never ratify the deal. And this will be a big gift not only to the Greek people but to all the European people”.
Double veto power
The leftist Syriza party may not have an absolute majority in Parliament but its junior coalition partner seems to share the same views on the EU-US trade pact.
Syriza, which won a stunning victory at snap elections a week ago (25 January) formed a coalition with the right-wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks party, which is intent on opposing laws seen as too favourable to big business.
>> Read: Greek leftist scores victory over austerity
The coalition agreement gives the new Greek leadership an effective veto power over TTIP and other deals submitted to Parliament ratification.
Indeed, once the pact is negotiated – a process which may still take over a year –, it will be submitted for a unanimous vote in the European Council, where each of the 28 EU national governments are represented.
This means that one country can use its veto power to influence the negotiations or block the trade deal as a whole, an opportunity Syriza will no doubt use.
And even if the pact makes it past this first stage, it will then be submitted to ratification by all parliaments of the 28 EU Member States, offering opponents a second opportunity to wield a veto.
Welfare state under threat
Like many other leftists and social democrats in Europe, Katrougkalos raised serious concerns about the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism, or ISDS, contained in the pact.
The mechanism is designed to protect companies’ foreign investments against harmful or illegal rulings in the countries where they operate. It gives them the chance to take legal action against a state whose legislation negatively impacts their economic activity.
Katrougkalos underlined the uncertainty surrounding the ISDS negotiations, saying the European Commission’s precise mandate was unclear.
“An undemocratic practice of lack of transparency has prevailed from the very beginning of the negotiations,” he claimed.
The newly-appointed minister understands that TTIP’s objective was not to reduce tariffs, which are already “very low” but to make an adjustment to the rules governing other sectors. “It contributes to the elimination of some bureaucratic procedures on exports, helping this way the economic efficiency,” he said.
But he made clear that the danger lies in the fact that in most economic fields the regulatory rules are different in the EU and the US. For him, multinational companies stand to benefit the most from lower regulatory barriers, citing banks and brokerage firms, which are subject to weaker supervision in America than in Europe.
“For example we [the EU] don’t permit GMOs, data protection is significantly more important as well as the protection of national health systems,” he said, adding that any consolidation in these rules “will undermine the way the welfare state is organised in the EU.”
Independent Greeks take the same line
Meanwhile, Syriza’s coalition partner, the right-wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks party, takes a similar stance against TTIP.
In a statement issued on 4 November 2014, the then-opposition party said the deal will not live up to its promise of relaunching economic activity.
“It is supposed to be an agreement that will boost the real economy, but its main supporters are international bankers and lobbies,” emphasised Marina Chrysoveloni, a spokesperson for Independent Greeks.
“In simple words, the speculative capital will have even more freedom to move […] in a huge single market with eight hundred million people,” she concluded.
On Syriza’s side, Katrougkalos admitted there was uncertainty about how the talks will conclude but said he was confident that the trade pact “will be approved by the European Parliament”.
“The social democrats have objections on ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement] mechanism but it seems they accept the trade deal’s logic,” Katrougkalos said. In his view, the centre-right European People’s Party and the Liberal ALDE “have a safe majority in Parliament”.
EurActiv Greece by Sarantis Michalopoulos