In the shadow of the coal mines

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On November 22, in Warsaw, in a country dependent on coal for its energy supply and known for its opposition to any more ambitious European climate policy, the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) in the framework of international negotiations on climate change ended. No real measures or legally binding targets for limiting global warming have been adopted. Only some voluntary initiatives have emerged to allow companies to continue to pollute as if nothing had happened(1). The only advance is that of the influence of companies and their lobbyists.

EU-US free trade and investment agreement, prepared in secret, promises to serve private commercial interests first and foremost 

The UN member states, meeting each year, are accompanied by « stakeholder » organizations, categorized into nine groups, such as environmental organizations, youth organizations, or industrialists. The latter continues to receive the most attention, with Poland beating all records of connivance this year: for the first time, COP19 was sponsored by 13 major companies (Alstom, ArcelorMittal, BMW, Emirates, General Motors, Leroy Merlin, IKEA among others). All of them have economic activities with a high environmental impact and have used this opportunity to enhance their image by covering certain organizational costs (ArcelorMittal providing the structures housing the international meeting, BMW cars, Emirates discounts on flights, etc). 

The Polish government unabashedly invited the multinationals to a preparatory meeting the month before. At this conference, he co-organized two parallel events aimed at the fossil fuel industry and other friends of the climate in order to promote « business as usual » techniques such as « clean coal ». These talks, which should be motivated by the urgency of curbing climate change, are looking more and more like trade shows. On the other hand, it is a good hunting ground for all kinds of swindlers offering false solutions that will allow them to continue to fill their pockets. 

The capture of public institutions and democratic processes by big business and its lobbies is unfortunately not an exclusively Polish reality. The privileged access and overrepresentation of large companies in legislative mechanisms has also long contaminated the European institutions. Prior to the opening of the official TTIP (or TAFTA EU-US free trade and investment agreement) negotiations last summer, the European Commission (EC) had 130 meetings with « stakeholders », 93% of which were with companies only. 

This agreement, prepared in secret, promises to serve primarily private commercial interests. Thanks to a preparatory document leaked at the end of the year, we learn that the EC wants to set up a system of « regulatory convergence » to give more power to companies to: stop or modify a legislative project in progress that is detrimental to their interests; renegotiate existing laws; make European and American legislation « compatible », and this by institutionalizing the participation of « stakeholders » from the very beginning of the legislative process (i.e. even before the law is presented to parliamentarians). These stakeholders would sit on a Regulatory Cooperation Council which, in addition to privileged access to the decision-making process, would allow them to use a warning mechanism and « dialogue » structures to alert the EC as soon as possible to any problems with a draft law in preparation. 

It also provides for mandatory cooperation between regulatory agencies on both sides of the ocean to authorize the marketing of products at the same time in both regions of the world. Unfortunately, these agencies are also known to be under the permanent influence of these same companies (conflicts of interest, low standards of scientificity, insufficient internal resources, etc.). 

This type of mechanism already exists in some free trade agreements (USA-Australia is the most advanced) and allows lobbies to co-write the laws in both countries! Even if this Council were open to all « stakeholders », including not only large companies but also SMEs, consumer associations, trade unions and others, the experience of the EC expert groups shows that this system will only favor organizations that have the financial means to cover the many costs associated with these activities, such as staff attending meetings in Brussels, high-level experts, a legislative watch service, etc. This mechanism is all the more strategic because it could make it possible to call into question all the regulations that have been adopted up to now, to put an end to certain norms such as the precautionary principle and to put an end to the negotiation of trade treaties in favour of permanent institutional processes that are opaque and far removed from any electoral responsibility. 

Moreover, this device would be added, in TTIP, to another already promising device: the « protection of investors », which would allow companies to sue states before international arbitration tribunals for any legislative project that jeopardizes the present and future profitability of their investments… 

With such plans, public enthusiasm was likely to be lacking and the EC had therefore decided to put in place a communication strategy around the TTIP in an attempt to control any hint of contestation. Unfortunately for her, this document was also leaked and turned out to be a public relations disaster: it boasted, for example, that she had managed to control the dominant narrative of the negotiations in the mainstream media. The EC, outraged, violently attacked us in a press release, claiming without fear of ridicule that we would be against trade. The opportunity to tell them about this new « mandate for an alternative trade policy » that several NGOs in Europe and the US, including CEO, adopted a few weeks ago, describing what could be a trade and investment policy at the service of the environment and human beings; negotiated publicly between elected parliaments rather than secretly between irresponsible technocrats. Revolutionary, right? 

Bruno Nicostrate

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