A+ A A-

All Give and No Take

George Monbiot

Do those negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have any interest in democracy? Here’s a test.

 By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th March 2014

Nothing threatens democracy as much as corporate power. Nowhere do corporations operate with greater freedom than between nations, for here there is no competition. With the exception of the European parliament there is no transnational democracy, anywhere. All other supranational bodies – the IMF, the World Bank, the United Nations, trade organisations and the rest – work on the principle of photocopy democracy (presumed consent is transferred, copy by copy, to ever greyer and more remote institutions) or no democracy at all(1).

When everything has been globalised except our consent, corporations fill the void. In a system that governments have shown no interest in reforming, global power is often scarcely distinguishable from corporate power. It is exercised through backroom deals between bureaucrats and lobbyists.

This is how negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) began. TTIP is a proposed single market between the United States and the European Union, described as “the biggest trade deal in the world”(2). Corporate lobbyists secretly boasted that they would “essentially co-write regulation”(3). But, after some of their plans were leaked and people responded with outrage(4,5), democracy campaigners have begun to extract a few concessions. The talks have just resumed, and there’s a sense that we cannot remain shut out.

This trade deal has little to do with removing trade taxes (tarriffs). As the EU’s chief negotiator says, about 80% of it involves “discussions on regulations which protect people from risks to their health, safety, environment, financial and data security”(6). Discussions on regulations means aligning the rules in the EU with those in the US. But Karel de Gucht, the European Trade Commissioner, maintains that European standards “are not up for negotiation. There is no ‘give and take'”(7). An international treaty without give and take? That is a novel concept. A treaty with the USA without negotiation? That’s not just novel, that’s nuts.

You cannot align regulations on both sides of the Atlantic without negotiation. The idea that the rules governing the relationship between business, citizens and the natural world will be negotiated upwards, ensuring that the strongest protections anywhere in the trading bloc will be applied universally, is simply not credible when governments on both sides of the Atlantic have promised to shred what they dismissively call red tape. There will be negotiation. There will be give and take. The result is that regulations are likely to be levelled down. To believe otherwise is to live in fairyland.

Last month the Financial Times reported that the US is using these negotiations “to push for a fundamental change in the way business regulations are drafted in the EU to allow business groups greater input earlier in the process.”(8) At first the European trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, said this was “impossible”. Then he said he is “ready to work in that direction”(9).  So much for no give and take.

But this is not all that democracy must give so that corporations can take. The most dangerous aspect of the talks is the insistence on both sides on a mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS)(10). ISDS allows corporations to sue governments at offshore arbitration panels of corporate lawyers, bypassing domestic courts. Inserted into other trade treaties, it has been used by big business to strike down laws that impinge on its profits: the plain packaging of cigarettes; tougher financial rules; stronger standards on water pollution and public health; attempts to leave fossil fuels in the ground(11).

At first Mr de Gucht told us there was nothing to see here(12). But in January the man who doesn’t do give and take performed a handbrake turn and promised that there would be a three-month public consultation on ISDS, beginning in “early March”(13). The transatlantic talks resumed on Monday. So far there’s no sign of the consultation.

And still there remains that howling absence: a credible expanation of why ISDS is necessary. As Kenneth Clarke, the British minister promoting TTIP, admits, “it was designed to support businesses investing in countries where the rule of law is unpredictable, to say the least.”(14) So what is it doing in a US-EU treaty? A report commissioned by the UK government found that ISDS “is highly unlikely to encourage investment” and is “likely to provide the UK with few or no benefits.”(15) But it could allow corporations on both sides of the ocean to sue the living daylights out of governments that stand in their way.

Unlike Mr de Gucht, I believe in give and take. So instead of rejecting the whole idea, here are some basic tests which would determine whether or not the negotiators give a fig about democracy.

First, all negotiating positions, on both sides, would be released to the public as soon as they are tabled. Then, instead of being treated like patronised morons, we could debate these positions and consider their impacts. Secondly, every chapter of the agreement would be subject to a separate vote in the European parliament. At present the parliament will be invited only to adopt or reject the whole package: when faced with such complexity, that’s a meaningless choice. Thirdly, TTIP would contain a sunset clause. After five years it would be reconsidered(16). If it has failed to live up to its promise of enhanced economic performance, or if it reduces public safety or public welfare, it could then be scrapped. I accept that this would be almost unprecedented: most such treaties, unlike elected governments, are “valid indefinitely”(17). How democratic does that sound?

So here’s my challenge to Mr de Gucht and Mr Clarke and the others who want us to shut up and take our medicine: why not make these changes? If you reject them, how does that square with your claims about safeguarding democracy and the public interest? How about a little give and take?



1. George Monbiot, 2003. The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order. Harper Perennial, London.

2. http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip/

3. US Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope, October 2012. Regulatory Cooperation in the EU-US Economic Agreement.

4. eg: http://corporateeurope.org/pressreleases/2013/12/leaked-proposal-eu-us-trade-deal-increases-business-power-decision-making

5. and: http://corporateeurope.org/trade/2013/11/leaked-european-commission-pr-strategy-communicating-ttip

6. http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1007

7. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-14-12_en.htm

8. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6e9b7190-9a65-11e3-8e06-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2uEHV6YIc

9. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6e9b7190-9a65-11e3-8e06-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2uEHV6YIc

10. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

11. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/02/transatlantic-free-trade-deal-regulation-by-lawyers-eu-us

12.  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/18/wrong-george-monbiot-nothing-secret-eu-trade-deal

13. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-56_en.htm

14. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/eu-us-trade-deal-transatlantic-trade-and-investment-partnership-democracy

15. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/260380/bis-13-1284-costs-and-benefits-of-an-eu-usa-investment-protection-treaty.pdf

16. This idea came up during a discussion with John Healey MP, who, while broadly in favour of TTIP, is campaigning for better transparency and accountability in the agreement.

17. John Healey’s researcher kindly asked the Commons research service to look into renewable agreements. They produced a few examples: the Canada-US Softwood Lumber Agreements, a number of treaties between India and Tanzania and India and Bangladesh, the Lomé Convention trade-and-aid agreements between the EU and some African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries, and its successor, the Cotonou Agreement.



More News

Prev Next


Two meetings, one voice

Two meeting…

You had to be there. North and south of the boro...

Read more


New Site

New Site

We're back ;)   Read more: New Site...

Read more


Corbyn Won Kensington Nomination

Corbyn Won …

On July 21st Jeremy Corbyn overwhelmingly won th...

Read more


Hats-off to Micky P: Portobello Live 3rd/4th May

Hats-off to…

Reflecting on the Portobello Live Festival - by ...

Read more


Portobello community stands up against plans to turn iconic area into bland shopping centre


Hundreds of protestors, including children and p...

Read more


Leon Löwentraut at the The Muse Gallery

Leon Löwent…

Never too early to become a full fledged artist ...

Read more

More News 2

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Prev Next


Greferendum: an anthology


Thinking of Greece. ...

Read more


Pink Cigar video release

Pink Cigar …

 Local down’n’dirty rock’n’roll outfit Pink Ciga...

Read more


Gaz’s Rockin Blues 35th Anniversary Spectacular

Gaz’s Rocki…

Gaz’s Rockin Blues 35th Anniversary Spectacular ...

Read more


Interactive Video Art at The Dissenters Gallery Catacombs


On Saturday 4 July, 11-5pm, a chance to see the ...

Read more


"Exposed" a Solo Show by Louis-Nicholas Darbon


 Coming up Thursday- June 4th -  at the Graffik ...

Read more


Mock The Opera Protest @ Holland Park

Mock The Op…

A protest is taking place tomorrow at the Hollan...

Read more


Where next for Labour?

Where next …

 Labour’s defeat in the UK general election on M...

Read more


Artists For Nepal – local benefit gig for Nepal

Artists For…

 Thursday May 21st at the Elgin with music, film...

Read more


RED ALERT by Maximilian Wiedemann


West Bank last exhibition at the current buildin...

Read more

Related Articles

Local Events Calendar

<<  <  May 2024  >  >>
 Mo  Tu  We  Th  Fr  Sa  Su 

Upcoming Events


writers pic2

We're looking for writers! Join in! (scroll down the article)


  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7

I don't do …

I don't do rants. But,

...it's a rant! ...

Read more

Last Night …

Last Night I Dreamt...

"I could see the body of Kim Kardashian..." ...

Read more

Portobello …

Portobello drinkers 'harassed' by children

  From our sports correspondent Dave 'the ...

Read more

Everyone’s …

Everyone’s a F*****g DJ

by Kensal Scream  At long last! Another salvo f...

Read more

Lap dogs …

Lap dogs & devil dogs - the final solution

By Kensal Scream Time for another rant by the K...

Read more

Trains and …

Trains and  lycra pants

 By Kensal Scream That Really Grinds my Gears i...

Read more

An e-mail f…

An e-mail from Billy Connolly?

We can not be sure that  it’s his but it co...

Read more

Your Experience

review and preview

Login or Sign Up