Current Concerns: TTIP and TiSA are free trade agreements with far-reaching consequences. They are not widely known. What is to be envisaged by them?
National Councillor Jacqueline Badran: TTIP is a free trade agreement between the US and the EU, not covered by WTO. TiSA is a free trade agreement that does not regulate the transports of goods but it deals with services in the broadest sense. This happens within the WTO, but not multi-laterally, because not all members do join it, only those who want to. Of course these are significant differences.
Why doesn’t the public know more about it?
This has to do with the fact that these negotiations are kept secret. But although the negotiations concerning TTIP are kept secret by the EU-commission, certain information has been leaked. But the commission has unrightfully usurped the competence to negotiate such things. Finally one has no choice but to accept the agreement or not.
Why is that so?
Because the European Union Parliament has no right of proposal. Actually it is complete madness, what is happening at the EU level. It is absolutely undemocratic and completely absurd in the sense that the EU is weakening its own position.
What is the TTIP about concretely?
It is above all about the free trade of goods and especially about giving the large companies excessive rights.
What are these rights? What is given in the large companies’ field of competence?
These are for example the rights to file an action. The large companies are given the right to sue lost profits if in terms of a legislative process another country changes laws to their disadvantage. This might be a genetic-engineering-moratorium, more stringent environmental regulations or the improvement of workers’ protection. In these cases the company can sue lost profits. Private concerns are put at the same level as those of a state.
What are the consequences?
The legislative process gets terminated. If the legislator wants to eliminate disadvantages one will have to think twice how much it will cost. The state will have to pay compensation. This is the end of democracy, because constraints are generated that avoid democratic decisions. This is the beginning of the large companies’ oligarchy: The reign of a few. Neither does one have to be an opponent of large companies to reject this nor it is a question of left or right. This is a step back towards feudalism into the period of pre-bourgeois revolutions. We must not let that happen.
What stands behind this absurd idea – as you have made clear – that economy and in its result whole states get transformed into formations reigned by the dictatorship of big American trusts?
Of course the US have an imperial schedule and act according to their hegemonic politics. Europeans did that during the period of colonialism as well, but this obviously belongs to the past. De-colonialisation has been done by European countries, even when it was done badly, but they did it.
And what is that like in the US?
Nothing has happened here. For example, extraterritorial jurisdiction is commonplace. It is not only controled what happens on the own territory, but also outside. In addition, companies have a different status. Sometimes one gets the impression that the state in the US has to serve the large corporations.
And in Europe it’s different?
Yes, for us it is still different, although I must say that this has softened over the last 10 years. The large corporations try to dictate the amount of taxes they would like to pay as well as the national regulations for corporations. If their demands are not met they threaten to go to another country. In this respect Europe is on its way to follow the US.
For what can the corporations sue a state?
The corporations can sue the government for lost profits. The state will have to pay compensation. If it is true, what is being leaked, the big corporations will have a right to sue and on top of this will be permitted to determine the judges. There shall be a court of arbitration, which is composed of private lawyers. These are not elected and legitimate judges. The corporations can decide to sue and simultaneously choose the judge. That’s incredible. Who comes up with this? This is the end of democracy, the rule of law and the beginning of a reign of large corporations that replace the princes and emperors of the past. This is absolutely undemocratic and highly questionable with respect to the constitution.
This raises even the question about the “foreign judges”. What do you think about that?
If the right wing is speaking of “foreign judges” in the EU, these are at least democratically elected judges. That would be one thing that we can voluntarily and bilaterally agree to. But it is a completely different story if “foreign judges” are appointed by those who sue. How absurd is that? That would be really the ultimate “foreign judge”. For our direct democracy that would be the end, as well for the rule of law. This is unconceivable for me.
What is the reaction in the EU countries?
In Germany even the SPD says, it is important and good for the German export industry. Some BIP percentage figures are calculated, which are supposed to be the alleged result of the agreement, instead of clearly saying no. Where does this lead to? Free trade can be good in principle, but certainly not at this price.
Wouldn’t it take a broad discussion in the EU countries?
Definitely yes, but the discussion goes to some red lines that should be shifted. Maybe a “No” to the tribunal but a “Yes” to the possibility to sue the state.
What are these rights of action?
These are rights for investment (“investment dispute settlement”). Supposedly it is about “investment security”. But in reality it is not about investments but just about selling things; you just want to sell the chlorine chicken or the GMO corn. This has nothing to do with investment in the classical sense. The rules are usually put in place towards developing countries and dictatorships, where you want to protect yourself against the threat of expropriation. These rules should prevent that a newly built factory can easily be nationalised. This is carried over and adapted to our western civilised countries, were there is a rule of law and developed democracies that have corruption reasonably under control.
Why are such contracts negotiated at all?
It is actually inconceivable that a European Commission ever negotiates such a thing. This European Commission came already up with the idea to privatise water; again, another completely abstruse and unacceptable idea. The spirit of the EU’s power centre is libertarian to the extreme. No matter what class of goods is involved. For years, they have been driving liberalisation and privatisation. Everything should be subordinated to the logic of capital utilisation. This is the priority of the economy over politics. In fact, it’s already like that, but this is now getting cemented institutionally.
If Switzerland joined at a later point of time here, what would that mean for our country?
For us here in Switzerland, of course, this means that our direct democracy would be finished. Because every time we have to decide something, we must realise that we might be liable to pay compensation.
Agriculture is also subject of negotiations? What would that mean?
Yes, we have a high quality agriculture. We accept the cost of these production processes and standards than differ from the EU. Even with “Cassis de Dijon” principle, the principle of reciprocity, we complain about “similar products”. We demand that not only the product itself is similar, but also the production process. So, if we let our chicken grow in a species-appropriate manner and let them have a large run and on the other hand we have the EU battery chicken, these are not the same chicken. We are clearly proud of our agriculture with a high level of animal welfare and strong protection of our nature. With these agreements all that will be gone. Everything we have put in place in a democratic fashion would be gone. We have to prevent that.
Let us come to talk about TiSA. What is to be expected in Switzerland?
This refers to the whole public services such as schools, hospitals, water supply, infrastructure, etc., which are still very specifically regulated here in Switzerland, and rightly so. This is a threat to our public services.
What are the consequences?
If that’s true, what has been leaked recently – even if the Federal Council asserts that school and health care are excluded – in fact a private provider, a private school, has to get the same subsidies like a public school.
Can we trust the Federal Council in this regard?
No, I don’t think so. If the Federal Council says schools are excluded then this is tactics because it would not be acceptable today. You just wait another 10 years, until then the population has been softened up and the pressure by lobby groups will have become huge. For example, by the Hirslanden group which is an extreme lobbyist in our country today. Actually, it is a real estate company and nothing else. The pressure will be very strong under the dogma: “Private is good, and state is evil.” This completely contradicts the fundaments of our state.
The public sector would be severely affected.
Yes, our entire public service is a fundamental part of our successful model. No one in Switzerland must make profits on basic goods that are necessary for survival. The profit of an institution goes to 100 % to the population, which is also the owner, and not to a few. It is no coincidence that water, electricity, health, education, public transport, security, and even banking services are produced as common services. Just like in most other country in the world. These basic goods for hundreds of years have been considered to fall under the principle of common goods; since Morgarten. This basic principle is a constituent element of Switzerland and of Swiss direct democracy. There is a close interdependence. With TiSA the overall benefits will be privatised and the service will become more expensive, since you must deliver the private owner profits on goods that must be consumed.
... and this also applies to such sensitive areas such as health and education …
Yes, why do I need to pay for profits of a hospital if I am being treated there? Why do I need to pay for profits of a school to get education? There is no reason. The government takes care. This is one of our biggest advantages of our location; this is the prime success factor of Switzerland. Let’s look at England, to get access to a good private school you need to have deep pockets, the same is true for the US, France and increasingly also for Germany. Here we are unique in Switzerland. This uniqueness is central to our Swiss system, which is our soul that must not be altered. The successful model Switzerland consist of a strong public service in which no one has to pay for profits in order to consume basic primary goods. That principle must not be touched. All of our efforts must go into that direction.
In summary it can be said that both agreements would deeply intervene in the Swiss political system and limit the sovereignty of our country massively.
It is the death of sovereignty for each state who participates there. No – actually, it would be suicide, because you take part voluntarily.
So what is to be done?
I would be very happy if there were solidarity from right to left. All this would probably be graver than any EU accession. The FDP and the économiesuisse already say loudly that we do need that now, for example, because of the strong Swiss franc. They misuse the abolition of the minimum exchange tariff for their own political agenda. Until today, free trade is a religion for économie-
suisse. What is missing is a critical consideration on how to shape free trade in a way that makes sense. We must stop this development that is incompatible with democracy and especially with our Swiss political system.
National Councillor Mrs Badran, thank you for the interview. •
(Interview Thomas Kaiser)
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