Blog: Europe, do not fall into Obama's TTIP trap

This weekend, President Obama will visit Europe. Together with Chancellor Merkel, he will be at the official opening of the Hannover Messe, the biggest industrial fair in Germany. He will also meet together with Merkel, Cameron, Hollande and Renzi. The timing is no coincidence. After years of negotiations on a trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, Obama wants a deal before the end of his term in office. Preferably as compact and favourable as possible for the US. Doing business now with Obama, instead of with his possible successors such as Trump or Cruz may seem smart, but the EU must not fall into this trap. Three years ago, the aim was to work towards a broad and comprehensive agreement, so that the world's two biggest trading blocs could set global standards. And to make sure European companies could more easily access the American market. We want global recognition of high norms on consumer protection, animal welfare and labour law. And with the US, we stand stronger vis-à-vis rising economies in Asia and the Gulf that have very different standards and values. Import and export are at the core of European growth. A reliable import flow is crucial for European industry. A stable export flow is essential to be able to sell high quality European products on third country markets. Digitisation has made it easier for European service providers to operate abroad. But to be able to do so, they need a clear and trustworthy regulatory framework within which they can operate and gain access to foreign markets. Agreements create the environment European companies need to trade globally, but they should not do so at any price. That is why an open and honest debate is crucial. Concerns must be addressed, but also the potential benefits and experiences of past trade agreements need to be discussed too. The Dutch Social Economic Council, which unites employers and workers' associations, recently published a report on TTIP. It rightly states that any agreement should lead to sustainable growth and that it should strive to shape globalisation. This is exactly what the European Commission is aiming to do. Hopefully, this latest report will contribute to a more balanced discussion about the agreement with the US. Critics have suggested that TTIP would be the end of European democracy and civilization. Meanwhile European governments and the business sector have been largely quiet and have not entered the discussion. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the debate has derailed, but it is very unfortunate. Looking at the different interests at stake, it is clear that a quick deal is not at all in our interest. The negotiations have not progressed enough on the issues which are key for the EU. For example, the US side has given hardly any concessions on public procurement. The American market for European dredgers remains closed. And there have been almost no discussions about the protection of European products like Parma ham and Edam cheese, which is especially important for our Southern Member States. In the meantime, there has been substantial progress on lowering tariffs. Coincidentally, this is the main priority for the Americans. Obama’s call to finish the negotiations as soon as possible is therefore a strategic one. The Americans appear to have achieved their goal, while Europe has not done so yet. European leaders must not fall into the trap to close a deal that may seem politically opportune, but in actual fact delivers little. Speed above content would lead to a lose-lose situation: a bad deal and not necessarily less criticism of it. Even worse, it will become more difficult to defend a weak deal which does not contain concrete results for Europe. The way the debate in the EU has developed is now having a direct impact in the negotiating chamber. Instead of forming a united front in order to get deliverables from the Americans, an internal battle developed which put the European Commission more and more on the defensive. Meanwhile, the EU Member State's governments who gave the mandate to start negotiations, as well as those businesses who say they would benefit from an agreement, have remained largely silent. They should have risen to the challenges of this debate earlier. It is their responsibility to make clear what the idea behind trade agreements is. Not popular, but definitely necessary. It is not too late yet to start an all-encompassing discussion about this trade agreement, addressing genuine concerns and based on facts. It is time that we seriously discuss how we want to shape globalisation and how we see cooperation with the US. How we want to spread and enforce Europe’s high standards globally. How we can ensure sustainable growth. We should be aiming for an agreement that is good for both sides of the Atlantic, not for a quick fix. Read more: 22-02 MEP: American commitments crucial in TTIP negotiations 06-11 Blog: Values-based trade 28-10 MEP: Transparency negotiations on trade agreements must be a priority 14-10 MEP: New European trade strategy should be implemented quickly 05-10 Reaction MEP Schaake to conclusion TPP