After a remarkable few months, countless twists and turns, the EU Parliament finally has a position on TTIP (the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).
Published in The Herald 11 July 2015
I am deeply unhappy with this position and that the SNP voted against it. From the very beginning I have said that I am in favour of free trade but commerce and democracy are not mutually exclusive; nor should they ever be traded against each other.
First, to provide some reassurance, TTIP is not a done deal. The final text that will make up the treaty has yet to be completed, far less voted upon and we have many years to try and improve or defeat it.
The European Parliament, however, has been busy producing its own position on TTIP. Named the Lange report after the MEP responsible, it lays out the position of the Parliament. As MEPs we are not directly involved in the negotiations; nor will we be able to vote upon individual clauses. But we will have a vote on the entire text of TTIP once it is completed.
At this point it will be a simple case of voting yes or no. The Lange report is therefore significant as it serves as a guide to the Commission directing them towards what is important to the Parliament.
The entire history of the Lange Report has been a tale of a compromise too far. It was initially meant to be voted upon in June by the entire Parliament. This was to be the SNP's first vote on the document but the vote was pulled by the President. This was ostensibly due the large volume of amendments but it was for no such reason. Indeed, we eventually voted upon the report with around the same number of amendments, showingthere really was no problem. In reality, the parliamentary "fixers" whose job it is to ensure votes pass felt they could not get the result they wanted. By withdrawing the report and sending it back to the trade committee they bought themselves time.
When the report returned to the Parliament it was largely unaltered. Admirably, calls for the protection of the cultural sector but beyond this it is a messy, inadequate compromise that does little to protect our public services or European standards. Amendments on public services, the NHS, agriculture and food safety were all voted down despite SNP support. The final text does not lay out a clear set of red lines for the Commission as I had hoped it would. The Tories and Liberal Democrats supported the report and Scottish Labour was split.
The SNP were the only progressive Scottish voice standing up for Scotland. Now we must take stock. Trade is not something to be afraid of and, done correctly, TTIP could be of great benefit to Scotland; after all, the US is still our largest trading partner outside the EU. My colleagues and I will continue to apply pressure in Brussels, London and Edinburgh to secure an outcome beneficial to Scotland. Our red lines are clear and we will not compromise upon them. The NHS and other public services must be clearly carved out, European standards must not be compromised and corporations must not be given any special rights to sue governments that pursue policies they disagree with.
The single most heartening factor so far has been public engagement. The thousands of emails I have received are a testament to the new politics in Scotland. It is all the more remarkable considering the lack of exposure in the media, though there has been some excellent coverage within Scotland. I urge readers to continue to write to your representatives and the media. The more engaged you are, the more difficult it will be for the other UK political parties to support a deal along the lines of this report. This engagement will be key if we are to secure a treaty that looks different to the Lange report or get enough support in the Parliament to oppose TTIP as proposed at present.
I hope the Commission will produce a treaty that we can support but, if it bases its position on the Lange report, then we will vote against it.
Alyn Smith is SNP member of the European Parliament for Scotland.