Why the Commission should set red lines in trade negotiations

On Wednesday 3 February, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) including our recommendation for the full exclusion of public services from EU trade deals. Should we be satisfied with the commitment made by European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström that she “will certainly take [the Members of European Parliament’s] views into account as much as possible as the negotiations progress”?

Personally, I have my reservations. What if “as much as possible” does not include the red lines set by the European Parliament regarding public services? I fear that the current EU principle of ensuring universally accessible, quality, affordable services – as enshrined in the treaty – could be jeopardised.

“As much as possible” isn’t enough for me, because if the Parliament’s red line is not respected it could change the definition of services of general interest (SGIs); as the current definition of SGIs stands, these services – such as health, education, care and social services – are not provided with the aim of making a profit. Ignoring the Parliament’s red line could also mean that some services will disappear if they are deemed to be less profitable, for example, services provided to disadvantaged users and those living in rural areas. What would this mean for the principles of universal access, quality and affordability?

“As much as possible” is also worrying democratically speaking. Shouldn’t the Parliament’s call for the exclusion of public services, made also in its vote in July on the EU’s ongoing trade negotiations with the United States, automatically be a red line for the Commission, too? We reinforced the Parliament’s demands in a press release with a broad coalition of civil society organisations, public service providers and workers. The accountability of the Commission in these trade negotiations should be a key concern for this “last chance” Commission.

We have met with Commissioner Malmström to share our concerns with her, and we know that she is well intentioned. However, in the end the only thing that will matter is what is written on paper in the EU’s trade agreements. This is why we will be keeping a scrupulous eye on negotiations in the coming months.

Let’s engage!

Pierre Baussand, Director