18/11/2015 – The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), together with the Luxembourg Presidency, the European Parliament and the Commission, organised a high-level conference on the Transatlantic Trade, Investment and Partnership Agreement (TTIP) that the United States and Europe have been negotiating for nearly two and half years. Participants called for more transparency, better involvement of social partners and in particular for comprehensive information and communication on all impacts of TTIP – both positive and negative – as discussions showed that many questions remain open, which Commissioner Malmström strove to answer as clearly as possible. “Only an agreement which has the broad support of the social partners and civil society will be a good and sustainable agreement”, was the bottom line.
The Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, one of the initiators of this conference reminded that TTIP should not be signed at any price and that it should be a global and high quality agreement, which is not endangering our social model.
In its opening speech, Georges Dassis, President of the EESC, said: “For me a successful TTIP should be able to provide economic opportunities for small, medium-sized and large companies alike in both the US and Europe; it should secure jobs and stimulate job creation while at the same time guaranteeing workers’ rights, social protection and dialogue; last but not least, backed by the two largest economies it should shape environmental and social standards worldwide. Therefore the stake is high and it is important to include social partners, not only during the negotiations, but also at the implementation of any future agreement. A social and sustainable agenda needs to be the basis of this agreement and we will not accept any lowering of our standards.”
On behalf of the European Parliament, President Martin Schulz called for a constructive dialogue between promoters and opponents of TTIP, which in his opinion is still missing. “We must go beyond tariff reduction and advance on e.g. investment protection, standards and market access. Therefore I welcome this conference because the social partners must be fully on board.” Referring to globalisation, he urged to shape it in a fair way, also by promoting European labour rights, which ensure a high level of protection, and sustainable development.
Jacek Krawczyk, President of the EESC Employers’ Group, who participated in the panel entitled “Securing European social standards and labour rights”, reminded participants that the EESC, while facing lively and sometimes polarised discussions between the different groups, overwhelmingly voted in favour of the TTIP negotiations. For the EESC, a robust sustainable development chapter, reiterating the obligations arising from ILO membership, is indispensable. “The sustainable development chapter must include a proper civil society monitoring mechanism. Civil society participation in monitoring the implementation of TTIP is essential”.
Gabriele Bischoff, President of the Workers’ Group, who was on the panel on “Economic benefits for SMEs”, complained that the Commission so far has mainly promoted TTIP for its potential for growth and investment. “For workers, the question is not only the number of jobs which will be created, but also the quality of these new jobs. SMEs employ around 87 million people in Europe. We need to assess the TTIP’s impact on SMEs and their employees accurately – on a sector-by-sector basis, and at the EU and Member States level. We must be able to assess benefits against risks and take the necessary measures to minimise the negative effects.”
Luca Jahier, President of the Various Interests’ Group and member of the panel on “Transparency, democracy, accountability”, stated that “TTIP negotiations are the most transparent negotiations ever to have been undertaken by the EU”. However, he regretted that relevant stakeholders including the EESC cannot advise the Commission in its negotiations because of the US’ refusal to allow wider access to the consolidated versions of the negotiation texts.
More than 200 experts from social partners all over Europe, including the President of ETUC Rudy De Leeuw and Director General of Business Europe Markus J. Beyrer, participated and followed this conference specifically aiming at informing social partners about the various aspects of TTIP and to promote an informed exchange of views. Despite remaining differences, participants agreed that TTIP can be an opportunity to shape globalisation in line with the EU values.