Cities, civil society, social partners are natural allies for a global fair trade system.
Mid-July was an interesting time in Brussels. The beginning of the week saw a big gathering of civil society organisations joining forces against TTIP, TISA & co. They met in an Ixelles based, rather poorly equipped NGO headquarter, their outfit was casual and relaxing, discussions were open minded and inclusive. Some things were chaotic, like the WIFI would not work properly all the time, but that did have no impact whatsoever on the quality of discussions in real time. This impressing 2-days-meeting with 200 activists was followed by yet another one of these perfectly orchestrated „EU stakeholder meetings“ on TTIP, as the main negogiators met in the same week in Brussels, grey/black suits and perfect PPPs galore. In the light of this interesting week, it is worth to look at the question why the strategic alliance of cities, civil society and social partners in a multilevel political and even transatlantic context is so important to influence and even change global trade relations.
Local authorities might loose governance capacity through TTIP & co.
I had the chance to be invited as one of the few Brussels based city/regions representatives and to be the only speaker on behalf of a city in the plenary. Organisers had heard that the City of Vienna, the Austrian association of cities and towns, the nine federal States had already made critical statements with regard to TTIP and wanted me to share this with the audience. Other European cities, namely in Germany, France and other EU member states have expressed similar concerns as well or even declared themselves „TTIP-free“. And also European regional and cities´ networks, like the Committee of the Regions and Eurocities, are preparing position papers. As much as civil society organisations fear to loose the fight for better environmental standards, or social partners, especially the labour movement, must reject any agreement based on the violation of union rights, as much do cities have concerns with regard to their integrated way to manage the wellbeing of their citizens.
Why cities must be against TTIP & co.
Many cities in Europe have sadly experienced the social costs of liberalisation and privatisation in the past. Not my city, Vienna, luckily. But all of these cities appreciate the power of local self-government as a value in itself. Being able to steer, to define, to organise, to finance the well functioning of the conditions of well being is a precondition for social cohesion and thus for economic, sustainable and inclusive development in any society. This is not a crazy left-wing vision, these are the guidelines of the IMF and the World Bank since many years, by the way. The rule of law is part of that approach, this is why Vienna and many other cities have expressed concern towards the ISDS as a deeply undemocratic way to settle disputes and creating by-pass informal „courts“ behind closed doors. Most of the critique stated by local governments is in clear alignement with the overall dispute about the secretive, untransparent negotiation process. But – lessons have been learned from GATS & co. – possible negative effects on procurement rules and overall standards in environment, consumer protection, social standards are a matter of rejection as well.
What is the alternative? Fair, not free trade.
Positioning oneself against TTIP & co. is not enough, of course. Cities should not be against trade agreements as such, that would be naive and short-sighted. Cities and their economies need to be in good exchange with the world around them. Asking, working, pushing for fair, not „free“ global trade relations would support the efforts many cities undertook in the past, e.g. in the field of public procurement. As a citizen, I would not want my city administration to buy goods or services which are produced or delivered under unfair, unjust conditions. No children working, no women harrassed, no workers excluded from unions, no environmental damage, no threat to health.
TTIP and even more TISA will influence the way cities can organise themselves in these areas. A fair trade system would be a boost not only for the producers in the development countries, but also a help to all those in cities like Vienna, who believe that public services and public procurement shall be organised in a socially, environmentally and financially sustainable way. This is why we need to join forces with all those who are partners in these issues, not only in Europe, but especially across the borders of our continent. This is why we need to build sustainable relationships based on mutual respect and confidence between cities and their networks, civil society and the labour, human and women´s right movements – on local, regional, national, European and international level.