This post was originally posted on Bristol's MEP, Molly Scott Cato's Facebook page. Click here to stay up-to-date with Molly's work:
With so much gloom around it’s great to be able to share news of a historic move against tax evasion and financial crimes. And Greens were instrumental in bringing this about.
This morning the economic and legal committees in the European Parliament jointly voted to support the strengthening of the anti-money-laundering directive. This is a piece of European law that requires financial and legal companies to be transparent about how rich people are moving their money from country to country. It also includes the proposal for a ‘beneficial ownership register’ meaning that rich people cannot hide their money in closed trusts so that nobody knows who benefits from what.
Some wealthy people have earned their money legitimately. But the title of the law makes clear this is about clamping down on illegal flows of money and global gangsters getting away with murder. Since much of this ‘dirty money’ is cleansed through the London property market I was delighted that a Green proposal to strengthen controls on that activity was passed.
Greens have led on this agenda. Strangely, we get really excited about these technical, legal, economic files! So much so that Green MEPs and advisors were all at the committee meeting at 8am this morning, bright as buttons, eager to start voting! Most of the Green proposals to strengthen the legislation went through, with the right wing losing the majority of votes for a change. Our legal advisor Aleksys was crouched on the floor behind me, punching the air and shouting ‘Yes!’ from time to time. Yes, really!
While checking how the different groups were voting I noticed how empty were the seats reserved for far right and even farther right MEPs. Their votes were literally in all directions and it was clear they didn’t have a clue what was going on.
This was legislation to ensure that taxes are paid so that health and social services can be properly funded. They didn’t turn up and didn’t understand how to vote. As they spend their staff budgets on people working in the constituency to destroy the EU perhaps this is not surprising. But it is deeply disappointing to the many people in the UK and across Europe who put their trust in them.
The so called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed agreement between the European Union and the US. It is currently being debated in the EU. Its apparent aim is to promote yet more 'free trade' between the US and the EU. In reality it will be a Trojan horse allowing large American corporations unfettered access to European and UK markets, and in particular will allow any US corporation to sue EU governments, including the UK, if they have policies which a corporation thinks will discriminate against it commercially. It will indeed drive a Trojan horse and coaches through all the good things which the EU has done to protect our environment and to improve our quality of life. Needless to say, the Green Party opposes it.
The US Journal Public Citizen says: "In the official document outlining TAFTA*, the Obama administration has made clear that TAFTA will not primarily target trade, but "behind-the-border" policies such as health, environmental and financial protections. U.S. and European corporations call these safeguards on which we all rely "trade irritants," and have asked that they be eliminated via TAFTA". The agreement's bad consequences are not all one way: they flow from the EU to the US as well as the other way round: "European banks have openly targeted U.S. financial regulations enacted after the 2008 financial crisis to rein in Wall Street, calling the new financial stability policies "barriers to trade" that should be watered down via TAFTA." It is large corporations on both sides of the Atlantic which are driving TTIP and this explains why the EU commission has been covertly supporting it, under pressure from its own EU corporations.
This is why the TTIP agreement was going through the EU almost unnoticed. It was being negotiated secretly by the EU secretariat without the EU parliament and MEPs even being aware of its existence or importance. The lid was blown off this sort of agreement late in 2011 when American tobacco producer Philip Morris's Asian branch took the Australian government to the international Permanent Court of Arbitration, saying Australia's decision to bring in mandatory plain packaging for cigarettes was unfair. The company did this by using the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS) which was in Australia’s trade agreement with Hong Kong. Similar Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Instruments are to be included in the proposed EU - US TTIP agreement. In 2013, an agreement between the US and Canada, also similar to TTIP, was used to sue the Quebec government for $250m over its implementation of a moratorium on fracking - a double whammy as far as Greens are concerned, opposed as we are to both fracking and TTIP. There have been other instances too. This is why TTIP should worry us all. Even worse, these agreements are starting to span the globe like a spider's web, mostly emanating from the USA. A very unwelcome type of world wide web, the true ugly face of transnational corporatism. Glyn Moody puts the dangers succinctly:
"The fear is that both TPP* and TAFTA*/TTIP will cast a chill over policy making around the Pacific and across the Atlantic, as businesses take advantage of the punitive damages available to bully governments into scrapping existing or proposed regulations in key consumer areas like food, health, safety and the environment." (note 1).
There is a particular danger to the NHS. As we know, the NHS is already under attack from the Conservative and Liberal Democrats who jointly passed the widely ConDemned Health and Social Care Act 2012. A major consequence of this Act is that it opens up NHS healthcare to privatisation, because under the Act the Clinical Commissioning Groups (who now hold the NHS money) must put health care services out to tender to any 'qualified' provider. If they don't, they risk being sued by any private companies which may wish to tender to provide healthcare. Bristol West Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams voted in favour of the 2012 Act, as did Bristol North West Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie.
Because the Health and Social Care Act opens up the NHS door to private companies, TTIP will therefore present the same risk to the NHS as to any other public policy decisions, opening them to challenge in the courts by private companies if they feel they have not been allowed to compete for contracts. This is the reality of the interaction between TTIP and the Health and Social Care Act.
At the TTIP debate at the Wills Building on 8th November last year, Molly Scott Cato, the recently elected Green MEP for the South West, wiped the floor with all the other politician panellists (Charlotte Leslie, Kerry McCarthy and Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams) and demolished their arguments in support of the TTIP. Williams got really rattled as Molly got overwhelming support and cheers from the hall which was full (capacity about 700), especially when she made the link between TTIP and the dangers for the NHS under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Labour's Kerry McCarthy looked very uncomfortable and could only utter a sort of non-committal response about Labour’s policy on TTIP.
The Lib Dems support TTIP of course – ‘free trade’ - as do the Tories, although they say (how surprising!) such talk is scaremongering and that there will be ‘cast iron’ guarantees to protect the NHS (they don’t say how of course).
The Labour Party also support TTIP, with qualification. Unfortunately for them, the Labour Party are naive if they think simply getting rid of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Instruments which are to be tacked onto the proposed agreement will protect the NHS. They still adhere to the Blairite principle that private companies have a place in the NHS, and will not repeal the whole Health and Social Care Act, whatever they say. Their own website says: "We will put right the worst of the changes the Tories have made", (note the word worst) and "we’ll remove enforced competition" - the key word here is 'enforced'; in other words, they are still wedded to allowing privatisation of the NHS. As long as they do, TTIP will still be a threat to the NHS if it goes ahead.
In the wider context, implementing the TTIP agreement, even without the ISDS mechanism allowing companies to sue governments directly, will still mean that the EU (and so Britain) will become yet more open to the US style of corporatism, and US companies will be able to market their products and services more easily, especially products and services which are less regulated in the US than in Europe. This will inevitably drive down environmental and health protection standards here and increase the lobbying and economic power of the big transnational corporations. In supporting the TTIP agreement, as it does, this is what the Labour Party is signed up to.
The Greens are the only national political party opposed to TTIP in its entirety, and to the privatisation of the NHS.
*TPP - Trans Pacific Partnership; *TAFTA - Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (as TTIP is called in the US).