As I remember clearly, somewhere around early October I've met Martin Kliehm from Mozilla Foundation. We spend the whole evening by discussion about the upcoming DRM in HTML5 debate in the Parliament and current trends in many IT related areas in general. In one moment he mentioned “ACTA 2” - a new document under some strange name. I have to say I can't remember clearly what was the abbreviation he mentioned. It was maybe something with T... and it mentioned the IP protocol (perhaps?) somewhere.
But as the time progressed, it was not that hard to find out what is the issue. The abbreviation stands for TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, cornerstone of the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, abbreviated as TAFTA.
The idea is simple: European single market (EU) and North American free trade Area (NAFTA) should be merged. This will create the one of the largest single market in the world – and it will make doing the investments in both regions more easy. There might be also better competition and both Europeans and Americans will benefit from this. The profit calculated from the whole TAFTA project is supposed to be billions of EUR every year. So what is the big deal?
In order to establish pretty much any community, a set of rules has to be drafted first. In our countries, we have complex legislative processes; laws and other legal documents that are supposed to make life in better, are proposed. People can participate on this process; they can either submit their proposals in some of the countries directly, or they elect their representatives in the chamber of deputies that will do this on their behalf.
With much bigger bodies, such as international organizations – like the European Union, this process is pretty much working the same way. We have the European Commission with its president voted by the European Parliament and commissioners appointed by member states' governments. Again, the member states' governments were formed on basis of the elections results – on the will of the people. And we also have the European Parliament, that can approve or disapprove any legislative act – or international agreement.
A hundred years ago, it was a common practice in European politics to sign secret international treaties. A treaty that no one would know about – a treaty that might define allies or enemies. Once a single nation attacked his neighbor, he suddenly realized that he is in war not with his neighbor only – but with much more countries, allied to him secretly. This made international negotiations pretty much impossible to hold; and it was also considered as one of the causes of the rapid spread of hostilities in the beginning of First World War.
That is one of the reason why international political agreements mostly don't function this way any longer. When it comes however to the trade pacts, these still follow the practice from the early 20th century. Last year we've been witnesses of the ratification of the ACTA agreement that appeared almost from a thin air; the negotiations were made behind closed doors. Most of the information that was available to the democratically elected parliamentarians came from WikiLeaks – and not from standard communication channels. Having in mind the lack of information, it was only logical that the request for the European Commission to made all the negotiations, documents and especially the text of the very treaty itself public – was voted shortly after.
Once the text of the treaty was officially published and the Members of the European Parliament as well as many other interested people started to analyze it, opposition continued to grow. This convinced the more governments of the member states to interrupt the ratification process of ACTA in their respective countries. 5 committees of the European Parliament (Development Committee – DEVE, Civil Rights Committee – LIBE, Industry Committee – ITRE, Legal Affairs Committee – JURI, International Trade Committee - INTA) decided to vote againt the adoption of the treaty after many of the possible consequences were discussed. That (together with Amelia's contribution) was pretty much the very reason why the deputies rejected ACTA in July by a majority vote – as the possible list of consequences of the implementation of the treaty would be so big, that no one would be able to evaluate it properly – especially in the short time given between the publication of the text of the treaty and voting. In this case it might be interesting to point out that the secret nature of the negotiations de facto killed the treaty itself.
More than a year has passed from that very moment, but it seems that those want the transatlantic economic to flourish, did not learn anything from it.
There is a reason why during that October night TTIP was a strange, unknown acronym to me (and perhaps to all others as well). Media has not informed about the upcoming treaty in appropriate way so far – yet, this treaty will have a dramatic impact on our daily life.
As the third round of negotiations in Washington D. C. is closing in, opposition is growing again. An open letter, that was drafted and signed by more than 100 NGOs from around the world requests removal of certain features from the treaty.
What feature are we talking about?
It is so-called “Investor-state dispute settlement”. It is part of the NAFTA's charter (article 11). Expanding the NAFTA towards European Union would make this practice effective in the EU as well. How does it work? Simply.
There are many countries in the world that want to attract foreign investors. In order to do so, they can offer lower taxes, subsidies, they can prepare industrial parks so that the cost of the investment of any particular company will be lower and the return time can be more interesting. However, there are other options as well. The government can guarantee the same legal environment for the company for a certain amount of time. Thus, any changes to mentioned part of the legal system would become illegal for the government. Political representation might then be sued and face consequences. Investor-state dispute-settlement (abbreviated) ISDS <kok size="3">grants the corporations the right to use private trade tribunals and directly challenge any government policy and action that be seen as harming the current or even future profit of the private investor. This is called “expropriation”. A new term, so-called “<ko size="3">predictable regulatory environment” will be introduced <ko size="3">to describe the part of the legal system, that should be preserved at any cost.</ko></ko></kok>
<ko size="3">This very part of the TTIP document would simply restrict the powers of democratically elected governments. It does not say that the cabinets will not be allowed to change whatever law they would like; that would be too undemocratic to say. But it says that the government can be sued and if so, pay a lot in refunds to the very company. And having in mind the current state of public finances – it is clear that not a single government would like to pay that much money, would it?</ko>
<ko size="3">Thus a stable and predictable environment is created – but on expense of <ko size="3">freedom to do actual politics<ko size="3">. Should we allow the negotiators in secret meetings to block our elected legislators from changing our laws anymore? Should we really give them that much power?</ko></ko></ko>
The TTIP document does have a chapter about Intellectual property rights. Text of the chapter is still secret (it was however published by Wikileaks on 13th November). According to the text, intellectual property will be extended over data, new patents will be introduced, as well as new expansion of privileges for right holders. Penalties for copyrigh tinfringement will be broadly extended.
Moving the freedom on the Internet to such a terrible direction and introducing the Investor-state dispute settlement over the whole Intellectual property section, the TTIP can be – in its current version – “a weapon of net destruction”.
It is very easy to convince both US and European general public to support the treaty with words like jobs, investments and billions of dollars – when unprecedented amount of Europeans (and I do believe that
Americans as well) are facing economic downfall, poverty and job loss. Radicalism, that is spreading throughout in all the European member states in every direction, can easily leave behind important concepts like creativity, competitiveness, freedom of speech or freedom of action.