Vote in favour of fair and sustainable trade on 22 May
On 22 May European citizens will head to the polls to vote for the European Parliament. The outcome will have a major impact on the policies emanating from Brussels. These elections are not just about the choice for or against Europe, but about what kind of Europe we want. Trade and investment policy is an important part of the European project. Up till now however, this policy has not served people and planet. Curious which politicians will commit themselves to a fair and sustainable European trade and investment policy? Take a look at the list of candidates for the European Parliament who have signed the pledge of the Alternative Trade Mandate alliance.
What is the Alternative Trade Mandate?
The alternative trade mandate (ATM) is an alternative vision for European trade and investment policy that places respect for people, the environment and democracy at the heart of its philosophy. The vision has been presented to the nominees for the European Parliament in the run up to the European elections by an alliance of 80 European NGOs. At this moment, more than 140 candidates have already pledged to support the ATM proposals once they’ll be elected.
What is wrong with current EU trade policy?
The trade and investment policy of the European Union has contributed to the food, environmental and economic crises that have plagued the world in recent years. The trade interests of the European Union are represented by the European Commission, which negotiates trade agreements on behalf of the Member States with other countries and regions. Negotiations are not just about lowering tariffs, but also about environmental regulations, labor rights, and intellectual property. Trade agreements make deep inroads into the way in which countries organize their economy and society. The current trade policy reflects the interests of a few large European multinationals, which leads to increasing inequality and environmental degradation, both in the EU and in other countries.
The ecological footprint of the EU, driven by the European trade policy, is one of the largest in the world. Scarce natural resources in developing countries are now used for the export-oriented production of biofuels. The land required for the production of these crops is often taken away from local communities who are forced to move elsewhere. Furthermore, the European Commission puts pressure on developing countries to limit the use of export taxes and restrictions. Many governments use these restrictions to promote local processing of raw materials or to prevent depletion of natural resources. By making these demands, the EU is depriving developing countries of an important policy instrument for boosting its manufacturing industry.
Alternative vision on trade and investment
The ATM-alliance believes that European trade policy is in need of fundamental change. The mandate contains a number of concrete and realistic proposals. The candidates pledge to defend measures protecting small-scale farmers and promoting food sovereignty, protecting public services and asking for the inclusion of human rights criteria in the EU trade agreements' assessments. Countries should also be allowed ample policy space to determine their own path for sustainable economic development. Export restrictions ensuring that countries retain democratic control over their natural resources should not be reduced or eliminated.
The manner in which agreements are negotiated contributes to the erosion of democracy. The EU's trade negotiations with third countries take place behind closed doors, allowing civil society organizations and concerned citizens have almost no possibility to influence the outcome. Negotiating texts are made publicly available only after the negotiations are finished. The ATM recommends full transparency of the decision-making process, including meaningful transparency around lobbying and the publication of all draft legislation and negotiation texts.
What can European Parliament do?
At present, the influence of the European Parliament on trade and investment policy is fairly limited, because it is only allowed approve or reject the end result of negotiations. However, in the recent past Parliament has shown its teeth when it rejected ACTA, the controversial anti-piracy agreement. The Parliament is now recognized as a major player in EU trade policy. “EP members can play a key role in the EU trade decision-making process," says Lala Hakuma Dadci of Aitec, who leads the campaign in France. "They can expose the dangers of the trade and investment agreements as they are pushed by the transnational corporations and their lobbies, and help bringing trade talks into the public debate. The EP ratifies the final trade deals before they come into force. So we're satisfied to see that lots of candidates are aware of the importance of their role, and ready to stand up for democracy, social justice and environment.”
The pledge signatures come from 18 different countries and from various political parties and groups in the European Parliament. In the Netherlands the pledge has been signed by 27 candidates from the Labour Party, GreenLeft, the Socialist Party, the Christian Union, the Pirate Party, the Party for Animals and Ikkiesvooreerlijk.eu.
You can access the list of candidates who pledged, here.
Photo courtesy of Comhlámh, Dublin