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Christian Braun

By HE Ambassador Christian Braun, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the EU.

From the first of July onwards, Luxembourg will take up the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It will be Luxembourg’s 12th Presidency, as the last one took place in 2005. For six months, my country will be responsible for successfully conducting the proceedings of the EU Council in its different configurations.

For Luxembourg, the upcoming Presidency provides a genuine opportunity to show our attachment and our engagement with regard to the European integration project. It will allow us to share our expertise and put into good use our extensive experience in this field. The Presidency mandate will enable us to contribute in a positive way to the European idea: we will help to build bridges, to reconcile diverging positions and traditions, to demonstrate our willingness to commit ourselves to the quest for compromise.

Recalling our attachment to the European integration process, to the principles and the fundamental values the European Union founds upon, we have chosen to adopt an approach based on outreach and openness: listening to the citizens, supporting enterprises, collaborating with partners and institutions in view of acting in the general interest of the Union will be crucial in this respect.

In line with its tradition and convictions, the Luxembourg Presidency will do its utmost to put the citizen at the heart of the European project. More than ever, it is important to ensure that the real and direct interests of the citizens are properly taken into account.

As far as the specific priorities of the Presidency are concerned, it comes as no surprise that the migration issue ranks very high on our agenda. The tragic events in the Mediterranean Sea call for a resolute and continued action in the field of migration. Saving lives and conducting an effective and credible immigration policy are two objectives to which Luxembourg will accord the highest priority. Furthermore, we intend to examine possibilities to promote legal migration with the aim of making the European Union a more attractive destination for talent.

From an economic point of view, the most important objective of the Presidency will be to contribute to the revitalisation of the economy as well as to tackle unemployment. We will therefore strive to unlock investment to create growth and jobs. The actions of the Luxembourg Presidency aim at complementing the Investment Plan for Europe proposed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a plan that intends to unlock up to 315 billion euro in investment. The financial component of this plan, however, constitutes only one part of the task. Regulatory measures rendering investments in Europe more attractive should complement the effort so as to leverage the effects of the investment plan.

We also remain attached to the triptych based on fiscal consolidation, boosting growth through investment and structural reforms conducive to sustainable and equitable growth. Improving productivity and restoring competitiveness hinges on putting into place an ambitious structural reform agenda.

Deepening the social dimension of the European Union will be another priority of our Presidency. Since its beginning, the European project has distinguished itself by a solid social dimension, which has for long years secured large popular support.. Against the backdrop of the economic crisis, unemployment has skyrocketed, particularly among young people, and social inequalities have widened within the EU. The Luxembourg Presidency will therefore support the idea of a « social triple A » Europe, put forward by the President of the European Commission.

Creating a sustainable and balanced growth does also mean fighting against tax fraud and tax evasion. This will constitute an important priority for the Luxembourg Presidency and we intend to address these issues in the context of establishing a global “level playing field”.

Moreover, our Presidency sets out to revitalise the internal market. The creation of jobs and growth above all relies on the deepening and the well-functioning of the single internal market. We will make efforts to develop a genuine digital single market, an area which currently remains to a large extent underexploited. The Luxembourg Presidency is committed to make of the digital agenda a cross-cutting priority and to place it at the very heart of the EU’s internal market policy.

A better functioning of the single market also requires an ambitious European policy in the field of energy and transport, where sustainability will be one of the Luxembourg Presidency’s leading principles.

Sustainability in general will be a recurrent leitmotif during the Luxembourg Presidency. We believe that a sustainable economic growth to the benefit of citizens goes hand in hand with a high level of environmental ambition. During our Presidency, we will therefore strive to accelerate the transition towards a low greenhouse gas emission and circular economy. The sustainability condition will also be at the centre of the Presidency’s action at forthcoming international meetings, first and foremost at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) taking place in December in Paris.

Finally, transatlantic talks on TTIP will gain in intensity during the second half of 2015 and Luxembourg will seek to take negotiations forward while at the same time emphasizing on transparency and openness towards civil society.

To conclude, I would like to underline that Luxembourg is proud to be given the opportunity to make its contribution. Within the government as well as within the different public administrations, there is a great willingness and eagerness to make sure that this twelfth Luxembourg Presidency will be a success both for the EU and for its citizens.

Richard CORBETT

By Richard Corbett, Member of the European Parliament for Yorkshire & Humber, and Deputy Leader of the Labour MEPs. He is currently Vice-Chair of the European Movement in the UK

Do we want a free trade deal with the USA? In principle, Europe – and especially the UK – has a lot to gain from a partnership that lowers tariffs, reduces red tape and harmonises regulations. So free trade between the world’s biggest market and its opposite number ought to be a good thing for both sides. In principle.

But the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is not all sweetness and light. Even as initial negotiations got underway between European and American trade representatives a couple of years ago, concerns began to surface in the public debate about what might be included in a future deal. Some of these concerns have proved unfounded. But others are genuine, serious, and need to be addressed:

  • First, we must not allow any future deal to undermine our existing standards of protection for workers, consumers and the environment. We’ve fought hard for high standards in Britain and across Europe. We mustn’t throw all this away in the name of a transatlantic deal.
  • Second, our vital public services must not be threatened. For instance, we don’t want a deal which makes privatisation any more likely, or any harder to reverse in a subsequent rethink. We’ve had some recent reassurance from negotiators on this, but that doesn’t cover all the bases and the devil will be in the detail.
  • Third, we must not allow special extra-judicial tribunals to undermine national legal systems. It is not necessary to add new ‘dispute settlement’ provisions to a deal like TTIP, where the partners already have mutually-recognised, well-functioning and independent courts. And it’s all very well to say that such “ISDS” clauses exist already in hundreds of similar agreements across the world.  It’s precisely the way they’ve operated that cause alarm, when people see, for instance, tobacco companies suing the Australian government for lost profits when the latter introduced plain packaging.

The debate in Britain

We British sometimes imagine that our reservations are unique. They aren’t. They are shared across Europe, and when I visited the US a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by the fact that campaigners, unions, consumer organisations and politicians expressed exactly the same mix of hopes and fears as we hear at home about what a future trade deal might bring.

There is, though, one unusual twist to the debate here in Britain. Uniquely, we have a government that’s thrown its weight behind TTIP while simultaneously toying with abandoning its place in the EU.

This is a somewhat precarious position to try to cling to. Britain risks ending up with no influence on shaping the deal, and no separate deal of our own.

I have on my desk a glossy brochure sent to me last year by British American Business, an organisation that represents many transatlantic companies large and small. It paints a rosy picture of TTIP – one about which we might well have some reservations. But, like it or loathe it, right there on the brochure’s front page is a stark warning that a trade deal is:

 

“Available to the UK as part of the EU and would unlikely be replicable in any foreseeable negotiating context just between the UK and the US.”

From the American perspective, the UK is a small fish on the far side of a big pond; but Europe is a leviathan. There’s little chance of getting an acceptable separate deal for Britain. Only the EU-US talks offer the prospect of a deal, and one that meets our concerns.

Indeed, British voices are leading the way in highlighting concerns about regulatory standards, public services, and investor-state tribunals. It was British Labour MEPs who brokered an agreement a few weeks ago so that the Socialist & Democrat grouping in the European Parliament could adopt a firm line against extra-judicial dispute settlement measures. And negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic have to listen to us because when we’re united, we speak with a powerful voice in the European Parliament – and Parliament has the power to veto any transatlantic deal it’s not happy with.

I believe it’s vital that British priorities and values are reflected in any final agreement, not just because these priorities and values are in our own national interest, but because they’re right for Europe and the US too. But make no mistake: if a deal is going to happen, it will be on terms acceptable to Europe, with its collective negotiating clout. The simple choice Britain faces is whether to get stuck in and make this what we want – or just give up and back out.

And, of course, it’s not just TTIP. There are echoes here of the choice we face across a whole range of policy areas. The European Union is not going to go away just because a few British eurosceptics close their eyes and wish. We can be part of it, shaping it, amplifying our voice, influencing the world; or we can be outside it, wishing it wasn’t happening to us. Take your pick.

This piece was originally written for British Influence and has been republished with permission.

 

Photo officielle

By Monique Goyens, Director General, BEUC, The European Consumer Organisation

TTIP not just trade as usual …

While BEUC, the umbrella organisation for 40 consumer organisations in 31 countries, does not traditionally focus on trade related issues – not because trade is not important, but we need to prioritise due to resource constraints – the transatlantic trade and investment partnership negotiations (TTIP) have become over the last months one of our strategic priorities.

There are many reasons for this, the details of which I invite you to discover in our own TTIP dedicated blog: www.beuc.eu/blog. To put it very shortly: while trade agreements can, under certain conditions and circumstances, deliver benefits to consumers in terms of choice, price and innovative products, TTIP is not just a trade agreement. Its focus on regulatory cooperation can lead to major disruptions of existing consumer protection frameworks, in areas such as food safety, chemicals and cosmetics, data protection, product safety etc. Let alone ISDS, which constitutes a threat to public policies in the EU.

And the fact that these hard earned protections are currently at risk is exactly the reason why there is a need for a public debate within the EU on TTIP’s risks and benefits over the years. More specifically we need to look into the scope and depth of what regulatory cooperation means for the right of the EU and its member states to uphold, adapt or improve their consumer standards.

…but European Commission just engaging into business as usual… or almost

In spite of TTIP’s different nature compared to the more traditional trade agreements, the Commission, and especially its DG Trade, orchestrates the negotiations’ procedures just as if this was a routine deal; DG Trade is in the lead of negotiations (with some input from other services), under very tight deadlines, and without the slightest ounce of timely democratic debate. It is true that these talks are the most transparent ones in EU history: the Commission organises stakeholder briefings, texts’ extracts are on EC’s website, an expert advisory group has been set up, a reading room is available for a selected number of experts and MEPs, under very strict conditions, etc. However, all these are well intended improvisations aimed to calm down a never seen expression of criticism and opposition from civil society, which confirms that better than nothing does not mean good enough.

The – real – risk is the rejection of TTIP – and the trauma that goes with it.

As long as texts are secret – and they remain adamantly secret in spite of requests by numerous and varied parts of society – those who are excluded from the negotiations can only suspect that there is something wrong. Secrecy leads to suspicion. And suspicion leads to elaboration of worst case scenarios and defensiveness. However, TTIP needs nothing more than constructive input from all stakeholders. Maintaining this secretive approach would lead to an ever increasing mobilisation against TTIP, with a major risk of it being rejected by the European Parliament. That would be an immense waste of resources.

Applying the precautionary principle to trade talks: open them up to prevent their failure
The EU can only gain from providing access to the negotiation texts to all stakeholders, starting with the Parliament and the Council, under clear and fair procedures and in such a way that allows for input, feedback and amendment. It can only gain from putting pressure on the US to also make available the consolidated negotiation text, because otherwise, the public would only see part of the picture – just like in a soccer game where only one of the two teams has to play by the rules… guess which one is going to win?

Only when access to documents is granted, may there be constructive and useful input from all stakeholders, including industry, retail, environment, labour and consumers. This will then feed the legitimacy of the process and its acceptance by public opinion: a winning attitude.

Why business should also be concerned

The transparency debate regarding the TTIP negotiations has been more than lively over the past months. Surprisingly, business representatives remain dead silent about the need to open up texts. One would be naïve to think that industry faces the same difficulties as NGO’s in getting insight on what is being negotiated. Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with business representatives having such rights, as long as they are granted to other stakeholders too. Imbalanced access to information will lead to rejection of the deal by public opinion.

More fundamentally, business has full interest in an open and fair deal which will be endorsed by public opinion. It will also win out because civil society’s input can support the EU industry against some of the US negotiators’ offensives. Therefore, there is a big case to be made for business to join forces with other stakeholders to urgently set the framework for full transparency in the TTIP talks.

[Find out more about TTip here]

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