Candidates for the EP elections are talking about everything under the sun except the real issues they have control on
As the European parliamentary campaign gains momentum, one must be impressed by the fact that most candidates in Malta are getting away with populist rhetoric on issues over which the European parliament has a relative lack of power.
To give two recent examples, the fact that hunting is Malta is now subject to an abrogative national referendum only confirms that the European Parliament is relatively powerless on enforcing legislation. So using pro and anti-hunting arguments in the European parliamentary campaign is nothing but empty rhetoric.
And the fact that the government reached an agreement with the European Commission over the cash-for-citizenship scheme confirms that the massive opposition of the European Parliament to Malta’s scheme was merely symbolic. In the final instance, the neoliberal approach of the European Commission gave its blessing to discriminatory legislation in line with the ‘Fortress Europe’ framework, and Malta adopted the scheme.
On the other hand, the European Parliament has a strong degree of influence over the EU budget, and also in the adoption or amendment of proposals coming from the European Commission, where it acts as co-legislator with the European Council. Unfortunately, very few Maltese candidates are speaking along these lines.
A clear example in this regard is the process leading to a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA. If approved, this will have a huge impact on policy matters across the two economic blocs, paving the way for increased big business dominance and commercialisation.
The TTIP deals with investment and public procurement, market access of goods and services, regulatory issues and rules on matters such as intellectual property rights, social and environmental standards and so forth. Both the European Parliament and the European Council have both given their consent for a negotiating mandate for the TTIP process. The European Commission is negotiating on behalf of the EU and its Member States, and the European Parliament is entitled to be regularly informed on the process in question.
However, in accordance with the EU Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Article 207(3) and Article 218 of the TFEU), the final TTIP agreement can only be concluded by the European Council and the Member States if the European Parliament gives its consent.
Some controversies have already come about. For example, as regards audio-visual services, the European Parliament and the European Council do not want it to be included in the TTIP, even though the US and the European Commission would like its inclusion. The latter can however make recommendations in this regard, which, however, require unanimous agreement of the Member States to proceed.
Another controversial area includes agriculture and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The EU has tougher regulation than the USA on GMOs, especially since many consumers are wary on their consequences in relation to health and the environment. It should be of no surprise that environmentalists are critical of having commercial interests ride roughshod over ecological concerns in this and similar matters.
According to the European Economists for an Alternative Economic Policy (EuroMemo Group), which comprises around 300 economists from different EU countries, the TTIP can lead to lack of democratic accountability on various policy areas, if regulatory competence is transferred to unaccountable and unelected technocratic structures.
Besides, the dominance of commercial interests on various public and essential services can lead to lower standards to the detriment of public health, public safety, workers’ and consumers’ rights and environmental protection.
On education, teachers and students across the EU have also expressed concern on the TTIP, with the European Students’ Union being highly critical of having public education being treated as an ordinary economic service, where commercial profit becomes more important than quality education.
It would only be fair to have the TTIP subjected to a comprehensive impact assessment and debate across Europe before proceeding. I also believe that the liberalisation of public services such as health, water, culture, social services and education should not be allowed, as this could be of great detriment to the possibility of a stronger European social model.
A European referendum on the TTIP can also be considered. But apparently, European referenda – and their results – are only deemed valid when it suits the interests of the European ruling classes.
In the meantime, the electoral circus proceeds in Malta. And no one is discussing the TTIP.
This blog appeared in Malta Today, 2nd April 2014 - http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/37583/meps_not_talking_about_the_relevant_issues#.UzvmWDOKDIU