East Midlands Green Party Blog


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Greens concerns over Bilateral Trade Agreements

At the recent Green Party Conference I attended a workshop on what on the face of it might sound like a not very exciting subject – Bilateral Trade Agreements, with particular reference to the TTIP. By the end of the workshop I realised what a minefield these agreements can be, often leaving Governments open to costly legal action by multinational corporations.
There are many different trade agreements or treaties between different countries. These treaties are agreed between two or more countries to help trade and bring in investment. The negotiations are all confidential and here in the UK they are dealt with by the unelected officials at the Foreign Commonwealth Office. Because of so called commercial confidentiality, little information gets out to the public or even to Parliament.
One of the big concerns of these agreements if that they allow Corporations or companies from one of the countries to sue the government of other country if they occur any losses due to changes of regulations. So if for example a country wanted to stop a company polluting a river, the polluting company could sue the Government for loss of profit. Also if a company believes that it has been treated differently to similar national company or organisation such as the BBC or NHS, it can demand the right to provide the service or sue for loss of profit. If the Government wanted to change the tax regime for business – increasing corporation tax on big business to help pay for public welfare for example, it would be open to a law suit. The disputes that arise between the foreign corporations and the Government are resolved by three arbitrators (one from each side and the third agreed by both), these are corporate lawyers discussing the claims behind closed doors. These cases are not heard by qualified Judges, they are outside the normal legal system which is not recognised by these arbitration tribunals. Yet their decision can cost the tax payer millions of pounds. One of these cases involved an oil drilling company, Occidental that sued Ecuador for losses after the Government demanded that they clean up a river they had polluted; the arbitration tribunal ruled that the government had to pay Occidental $1.77 billion for loss of profit. Scary and scandalous, isn’t it?
The EU is currently negotiating with the US the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement. This is a bilateral trade agreement, but the biggest ever negotiated and set to make the world’s biggest trading block. Please note that these negotiations are yet again kept confidential by the unelected European Commission. Some Green MEPs from Germany have recently leaked a document outlining the proposed agreement, which has raised considerable concern. The documents suggest that the Commission is about to sign over Europe’s right to set regulations around environmental, health and safety, economic, cultural and social issues. The rights of the Corporations will stand above those of the citizen.
What does this actually mean? For example, if the EU bans a drug due to health risks but a US company has been selling this drug in the EU, the company can then sue the EU for any losses they might occur. In the UK the treaty will give American companies the right to bid for any Government contract, its bid based on the expectancy that the regulations here will be ‘harmonised’ with those of the US. If the Government tries to keep higher standards, or to keep the service provision under its own control, it is open to being sued. This has big implications for the NHS and for state education.
We have endless examples of how badly these trade agreements can impact on our future. I feel confident in saying that the majority of British people would be horrified if they knew the full implications of TTIP. But strangely enough, this is not widely discussed. The Tories, Labour, LibDems and even UKIP are supporting this.
I was recently invited to speak on fracking to the Independent Group seminar of the Local Government Association. The group consisted of Independent, Green and UKIP councillors. I mentioned the TTIP, only the Green Councillor had heard of it, nobody else. I would have thought that at least UKIP would be against signing the UK’s sovereignty over to unelected bureaucrats.
I do not wish to have a future where decisions about our laws, tax and financial funding are being decided in private boardrooms. I do not want to see tax payers money being paid to multinational corporations to protect their profits. This would mean the end of democracy, all in the name of the so-called free market.
I already had some awareness on the controversial TTIP, and I have shared the Green’s serious concerns about losing our UK sovereignty. However, this workshop taught me that in the last decade many countries have already been signing up to similar treaties, and often even the Governments haven’t fully realised the implications of the deals that they are signing up to. TTIP will not be good for the the majority of people in the UK or in Europe, the Green Group in the European Parliament will oppose it. Vote Green on May 22nd to strengthen the Green’s opposition to this undemocratic proposal.

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Money, Money, Money – Must be funny

All pain no gain GP postertax bankers not bedrooms

This month East Midland’s Greens are putting banking and debt under the microscope. There are more posts to follow with this one giving an overview. In this age of globalised markets and globalised debts we need to re-examine the nature of money. In the USA there is a partial government shutdown as Republicans and Democrats battle out what to do about mounting debt. Their decisions may be behind closed doors and across the ocean but waves will be felt near and far.  Here in the East Midlands, at the time of the harvest we examine our national economic harvest of the year and the forecast ahead. Did you know for example that under the coalition government in the 2012 -2013 financial year borrowing had gone up £300 million, while at the same time the total debt had risen to 75.2% of our gross domestic product (GDP), up from 71.1% of GDP at the end of May 2012? These figures were reported by among others, BBC News Business, on 21/06/13. Such figures did not lead to a good economic yield at the year’s Autumn.

75 % of the UK economy is debt as borrowing rises. That is not a good harvest, with most of the crop spoken for. Much of this extra borrowing is subsidising banks and big business. Meanwhile public services are being cut and in certain areas shredded. Bankers bonuses are back in the billions while our national and personal debts are rising. Many people rely on payday loans with typical  apr at 3000 – 4000 % and more.  Amelia Gentleman’s article ‘Buy Now Regret Later? The Secret of Brighthouse’s Success’ The Guardian, Friday 4 October 2013 illuminates this culture of a society fueled, not by credit, but by debt.

Far from getting ourselves out of debt we have an economic system based on debt.  Our ability to pay off personal debts is being undermined. Thanks to savage cuts there are less full-time or secure jobs and more zero hours contracts, particularly for young adults, offering the most uncertain present and future. Students start their  working lives with huge debts and less employment prospects. It is no coincidence that one of the largest and ever growing proportion of homeless population are young people. Another group with rising debts and homelessness is families. Bedroom tax hits low income families, among many others, as do skyrocketing house prices. Austerity is increasing debt, with the cost of living far greater than a growing number of people’s ability to pay for even the most basic costs of shelter and survival. The Charity Crisis reports a 31% rise in homelessness in 3 years. This is attributed to rising debts, due to benefits cuts and rising house prices and living costs. Broken homes can become more common, along with domestic abuse. In the Independent 03/09/13 and The Mirror on 04/09/13 article accuse The Police (operating on decreased numbers and funds) of referring less domestic violence cases to Crown Prosecution  Service while allegation numbers rise by 10 % and prosecution dropped by 11.1% last year. This is one example of the harvest of our broken economic system, with police force targets having to be met under a 20% decrease in funds and a new level of red tape; Police Commissioners dictating regional priorities. There is toxic irony in the Tory’s rhetoric on family values when they are delivering policies across the board which raise the debts and threats to the majority of families, both in and out of paid work.

These insane policies are enabled by the Liberal Democrats, with inadequate opposition in Labour policies, with the nation remaining controlled by rising debt and a failing banking system. Credit Union Empowerment, measures to encourage responsible lending and banking reform are core Green Party policies.  The Green Party and Green Group Europe have long called for financial reform, including a Robin Hood Tax, or financial transaction tax which means bankers would help pay for high risk banking practices. This would encourage a more responsible approach and one in which cost of failure is not predominantly levied on citizens as it so far has been. This sensible taxing of bankers is something the coalition government are working against in both the UK and Europe. The government are not protecting a stable economy. They are ensuring one of high risk, imbalance and increasing debts and insecurity for most people. Citizens are being pushed into paying national debt by getting into more personal debt and it is not working.

The Green Party do not believe the poorest should be getting poorer while the rich get richer , nor that this is inevitable but a symptom of a broken system that needs fixing. One that has not been fixed by successive governments, each too lacking in vision and courage. Austerity is failing in its promise to build productivity in the private sector; small and medium sized businesses are not secure or significantly growing.  Foodbanks are growing. Rajesh Mirchandani reported for BBC Newsnight on 11th July 2013 that ‘the Trussell Trust, which runs food banks, reported a 21% rise in the number of people who said they did not have enough money for food because of problems with benefits. “A clear link” exists between the reforms and the increasing popularity of food banks, the Trust’s boss said. Conservative minister Lord Freud has said the two factors are unrelated.’

harvest

The Financial Times articles are often scathing about Government’s blinkered Economic Policy. One such article by Trevor Greetham is dated  02/09/13. Greetham states that ‘in encouraging a housing boom the government are forcing the next generation into debt in the hope the government can improve its own financial position.’ I personally wonder if it is so radical to suggest that a government should serve the interests of its citizens? We appear to have an inverted system under current policies. Trevor Greetham notes the failure of the government’s economic policy to recover the private sector and predicts people will have greater debt, not less, when recession does end. This will guarantee future turmoil.  The article recommends jobs creation and improvement of infrastructure to overcome the ‘economic stagnation’ caused by delays in recovery and unemployment.

Austerity is costing jobs and creating unemployment and an atmosphere of despair and blame.  The Green Party have long been calling for a Green New Deal of job creation, protecting and building valuable skills, sustainable infrastructures and lessening levels of unemployment  instead of increasing unemployment then using those without paid work (or not enough to live off)as scapegoats. We are calling for risky practices by bankers to be taxed in order to discourage and absorb  shocks and imbalances in the financial sector. The debt must not continue to rest on the shoulders of those least to blame and least likely to be able to carry the burden.  Current government policies are increasing debt for most people now and ensuring debt for most people in the future. We need not be tied to a cycle of debt. There is an alternative and the Green Party is at the heart of it. Be part of it.

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The Voice / Soundtrack – just for fun:

Forbes is among the publications that has drawn parallels between the Great Depression and today’s crisis. There is a song from those bygone days by Bob Miller that is disturbingly appropriate today. This inspired me to write a soundtrack to banking reform.

Soundtrack for Calling for Bank Reform:

  • Bank Failures – Bob Miller
  • The Man that Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – Music Hall Classic
  • I Need a Dollar – Pixie Lott (original Aloe Blacc)
  • Umbrella – Rihanna
  • Hands – Jewel
  • Stand and Deliver – AntMusic
  • Money, Money, Money – Abba
  • With a Little Help From My Friends – Beatles


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The EU debate, democracy, and economic localisation – some thoughts

Eu-flag-vector-material2

So David Cameron has finally come out with his big Europe speech. And yes, it’s clear his policy is a mess of competing interests, many of which will be somewhat unsavoury to green tastes, from the little Englanders on his party’s right to his banker friends in the City of London. It’s also likely that the referendum he talks about will never ultimately come to pass, most obviously if ungrateful voters should for some curious reason choose not to reward his spectacular governmental record with a clear majority at the next election.

But actually, in theory I have nothing against either the repatriation of selected powers, or with a referendum on whether we should be a part of the EU. Certainly I’m extremely reluctant to throw in my lot with those who argue we can’t hold a referendum on the grounds that the uncertainty may spook the market. I’m afraid democracy is inherently uncertain. This is not an argument against it, it’s an argument against the free market forces that increasingly try to dictate the limits of what is democratically acceptable.

Unfortunately, it’s those same free market forces that Cameron et al (and that et al includes Miliband et al) want to enshrine as the very heart of the European project. This is very far from the green position. The powers we must most urgently reclaim are those which have been granted to market forces (or more precisely, to an international financial elite who make daily decisions about billions of pounds of investments) and have thereby been removed from democratic accountability anywhere. We must reclaim the powers needed to pursue the re-localisation of our economy, and with it, a real empowerment of society at a grassroots level. This is what green politics is all about.

But I deliberately say we must ‘reclaim’ these powers rather than ‘repatriate’ them, because it may well be the case that in some areas extra powers have to granted to international institutions in order to challenge the rule of the market – paradoxically we may need to internationalise in order to be able to localise. Certainly the alternative route to localisation, a unilateral throwing up of trade barriers, from capital controls to tariffs to import quotas, is distinctly unattractive. The green localisation agenda is emphatically not about cutting ourselves off from the world and throwing away the benefits of international co-operation. Without international co-operation we will never be able to effectively regulate international financial markets; we will never be able to stop the super-rich playing one state off against another in a global race to the bottom on taxation, environmental standards and much more. Similarly without international cooperation we stand no chance of ever being able to fight the profound threat of climate change.

We should also recognise that localisation in no way implies that absolutely all economic activity can or should be carried out locally. For example certain raw materials may only be available in limited geographical areas and must be traded globally or done without, or to give another example, renewably sourced electricity may be much more viable with an electricity grid that covers the whole continent of Europe and even further afield, this geographical spread would held to even out production of intermittent renewables, such as wind and solar energy. Another case is food security – for all the clear benefits of food sovereignty, it is also clear that without the ability to fall back on a functioning international food market, any country or region is at much greater risk of acute food shortages in the event of localised crop failures, which are only likely to become more common with ongoing global warming.

All these challenges can be best faced if we work together with other countries. Obviously the EU isn’t perfect. There is too much of an urge to centralise power in the EU for centralisation’s sake. Power should only be exercised at an international level where it will essentially be ineffective at a more local level. Also, if the EU itself isn’t democratically accountable then there’s little benefit it granting it powers to challenge the market in democracy’s name – and at present the EU is clearly not democratic enough. And the EU does do some good work even at present, for example much valuable legislation on workers and human rights has been passed at European level (just one of the reasons the Tory right wing dislikes it so much!) But regardless of what you think of the current set-up of the EU, we must recognise that voting to leave it would not be seen as a clarion call for a better kind of EU to be created, it would simply be seen as a turn inwards, away from the rest the continent, and that we cannot afford to do. It is only through participating in the EU and in other international organisations that we can hope to change them, and only by doing that can we begin to hope to change the world.