“We would have to adopt future legislation automatically”

“We would have to adopt future legislation automatically”

Interview with National Councillor Roland Rino Büchel, SVP (Swiss People’s Party)/SG, Vice President of the Foreign Affairs Committees

Current Concerns: What are TTIP and TiSA about?

National Councillor Roland Büchel: TTIP is the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the US, that has by now been negotiated behind closed doors for about two years. TiSA is a service agreement between 23 negotiating parties.

The TiSA negotiations are also secret. How long have they been going on?

For the past three years. The main parties are the EU and the US. The negotiating parties further include Switzerland, Japan, China, Turkey and other countries such as Panama and Paraguay. It is mainly a question of the liberalization of services.

Is it the usual procedure to conduct secret negotiations in this way?

At an early stage, negotiations are often kept secret. What does appear very strange to me is that the negotiation results are not to be made public until five years after the conclusion of the talks. And that is to be so irrespectively of whether the agreement will ever come into force or not.

Why is such high secrecy maintained?

In both rounds of negotiations, there are specific points of substance with which democratic participation would apparently “disturb”. That is why such (public, democratic) views are to be brought into the process as late as possible.

Isn’t that a problem?

Oh yes, this is very tricky. It corresponds to the Swiss understanding of democracy that citizens want to know what negotiations are about. And that is a good thing, too. It is important for the citizens to be involved in time. And that even more so when it comes to processes which have such far-reaching consequences.

What are the sectors for which it is not desirable to be publicly discussed?

In TiSA the issues are the internet, education, postal services, legal services, public transport, etc. As you can see when you look at the criticism, which mainly comes from leftist circles, that there might be a reduction in public supplies involved.

What happens to the enormous amount of gathered information?

I have serious misgivings when it comes to the exchange of electronic data. It is believed that there will be a data flow to an extent nowhere near anything we have experienced before. It is most notably large US corporations that have a strong interest in this agreement.

Can we say that much of what Switzerland has accomplished in the area of public utilities will be thrown on what we call “the Market”?

One can assume that our unique infrastructure would be called into question. Especially where really radical changes are concerned, we should in each case be free to decide whether we want this - or not. In plain English: We must refrain from accepting an international agreement at any cost whatsoever.

Let us return to TTIP: What does it mean for Switzerland if the US and the EU sign such an agreement?

At first glance, not much. But the fact of the matter is that those two negotiating parties are quite ready to open the platform to Switzerland, to Canada and to other states. In consequence, we would be faced with a problem we have already been experiencing with the EU to some extent: We would automatically have to adopt future legislation.

What does that mean in concrete terms?

On the occasion of the basic decision, the democratic process would still work. Parliament and probably also the people would be entitled to vote on whether we want to join the agreement or not. Yet democratic participation would end no later than with the adoption of the treaty. The citizens would then be excluded from participation in any further development.

Is this comparable with parts of the Bilateral Contracts that we have with the EU?

Yes, let’s take the Schengen Agreement as an example. Since the vote 10 years ago, we have had more than over 100 law adaptations here, in which the people had no longer any say. If we participated in TTIP, we would have this same problem, no longer only with the EU, but also with the US.
Since it is a question of free trade, this would logically mean that the major economic blocs in the US and the EU would determine Switzerland’s economy.

Can we look at it this way?

That is a realistic approach. We’re talking about the Big Boys, the major multinational corporations. They have a huge interest in the agreement, especially so the mega-corporations from the United States. So much is already evident.

Can it be said then that politics will no longer take the decisions, but it will be the economy, that decides which policies are to be pursued?

This objection is heard often from leftist circles. I cannot claim that the critics are not correct.

In the context of TiSA, the question is now whether there is an attempt to liberalize areas now which were excluded from the bilateral agreements with the EU?

This is well possible.

The Federal Council is taking part in the TiSA negotiations. Is this backed by a mandate to it or is it acting on its own?

Apparently the Federal Council is invoking the services part of the WTO-Doha mandate. One positive aspect: Our government is the only of the numerous parties participating showing at least some transparency; at a very humble level, however.

Are other countries even less transparent than Switzerland?

Other countries are not even deconsidering a minimum of transparency necessary. It is not part of their political culture. The citizens have no information. This is certainly not a democratic procedure as we cherish it in Switzerland. If anything gets known publicly there, it is based on leaks.

Of course this stealth strategy creates suspicion.

Negotiations can never be completely open. But a bit more openness would be appropriate for Switzerland. A lack of openness of the other states towards their citizens is actually benefiting the Swiss diplomats. They can hide behind the others so that they do not have to communicate their own steps.

We have different businesses like e.g. the electronic patient file where the question of confidentiality is the issue, as well as other issues related to healthcare which are on the political agenda. Don’t we have to see all these developments from this aspect, thus exercising the utmost restraint?

I am expecting of the persons involved that they devote their full attention to this point. If we see, however, how strong the interests are towards a completely free information exchange, we must be very watchful.

Is the parliament up to its task here?

Hardly. We are facing a large information deficit here. At this time, too many parliamentarians can hardly tell the difference between TiSA and TTIP. Thus it is hardly surprising that they are not able to assess the effects for our state and its citizens.

Why is that so? Why are the media not reacting?

The final results are still far away. The issue is currently not really part of the political process. It is part of a technical process, managed by persons who frequently consider themselves as superior in comparison to the “common” people and the politicians. They think they know better – and act accordingly.
One could be tempted to say that also Federal Council’s agricultural politics is moving in the same direction, i.e. towards free trade and liberalisation.
With respect to TTIP, the agreement between the US and the EU, the agriculture representatives in various countries like Poland, Germany or France have reacted very critically. But they are facing the same problem as other interested parties – they hardly get any information.

If there is resistance even in these countries, how much more will we be affected, particularly in our agriculture?

If even the French, the Poles and the Germans are afraid of the “big” US, then it is plausible that our farmers are starting to get nervous. We have to be realistic: Our small Switzerland with its way of doing agriculture will be in much more trouble than the large European countries.

What should be the next steps in politics, especially in the parliament, to make sure that the negotiations either go in the right direction or are halted because they are not compatible with our economic policy?

With regard to TTIP, it seems to be very important to create public awareness. With respect to TiSA we need to claim in the responsible commissions that we will be kept fully informed. We need to talk critically about the agreement, again and again, and must not be satisfied with anything but the full information.

Isn’t it highly unusual that the Federal Council is acting so passively towards a commission?

It is difficult to say if the Federal Council is uninformed or if it is not willing to share its information with the parliament or the responsible commission.
The people also have to be involved; they are affected by all political decisions.
Definitely. I think there will definitely be a referendum if it does not fail in parliament before. With TTIP we will see if, when and how we will join.

Will we need a referendum there, too?

Definitely. But then it will be very late already. The discussion needs to be a broader one. This is now more the case with TiSA. There especially the left is speaking out very critically, based on leaked information. But also the other groups should see that there is a lack of information and a need for action.

National Councillor Büchel, thank you very much for this interview.    •

(Interview Thomas Kaiser)

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