EU Must Prioritize U.S. Trade Talks

The political establishment in the EU is grasping for some positive news in the election fallout. It is still too early to say definitively what the consequences will be, but my first conclusion, namely that Euroepan democracy was dealt a blow, still stands. The anti-democratic flanks of the political spectrum gained ground at the cost of centrist parties. The one silver lining is that democratic, Euro-skeptic parties like the UKIP did very well and will increase their influence on the European scene.

As I also pointed out in my last article, the election has put Europe at a fork in the road: either the continent makes a turn toward a better future, with less EU-level government and a general move in the libertarian direction, or the anti-democratic collectivists – in the shape of communists, Nazis and aggressive nationalists – will gradually gain more power and push the EU in a very dangerous direction. If the EU political establishment is smart, they will extend an olive branch to democratic Euro skeptics like Nigel Farage from UKIP and Morten Messerschmidt from the Danish People’s Party.

Based on post-election media reports thus far, it is by no means certain that the Eurocracy will make the right choice here. As an example, consider this report from EUBusiness.com:

European Union leaders agreed Tuesday to take a fresh look at the bloc’s policy priorities, after a stinging vote setback across Europe that saw dramatic gains by radical anti-establishment parties. Meeting for a post-mortem summit in the wake of the dismal European Parliament election results, the bloc’s 28 national leaders gave European Council chairman Herman Van Rompuy a mandate to fine-tune policy goals on issues from jobs to energy. … He said that now that Europe was emerging from economic crisis, there was a need for an agenda of growth, jobs and competitiveness. He also stressed that “a strong response” was needed to the climate change challenge and “a push” towards energy union and to lessen energy dependency.

Not a word about the need to reconsider the growth of the Eurocracy. Not a word of self reflection over what the EU has become. To be blunt, if this is how the mainstream parties in the European Parliament are going to respond to last week’s elections, the chickens are going to come home to roost, marching in lines behind either a hammer and a sickle, or a swastika.

It is still unlikely that this will happen, but it definitely cannot be ruled out. The question is if the Europhile parties in the Parliament have it in them to slow down the EU project and be more reflective than Herman van Rompuy. The EU Business again:

Projections give the conserv ative European People’s Party (EPP) 213 seats out of 751, with the Socialists on 190 and the Liberals 64. That will give the centre-right, centre-left and Liberals a solid working majority. … The anti-EU camp will have about 140 seats though analysts say it will be difficult for the disparate groups to operate in a coherent fashion.

It would be foolish of the Europhile parties to use this arithmetic as a basis for their policies. Nevertheless, there is a great risk that this is how they choose to read the voter mandate from last week’s elections. A story from Euractiv concurs:

The Eurosceptic election victory, notably in France, the UK and Denmark, should not drastically affect the work of the European Parliament. With 140 MEPs in the next legislature, Eurosceptic parties will still represent a minority out of the 751 MEPs in the EP. “Their influence will be low. They will only have a slow-down effect on proceedings,” said Henri Weber, an outgoing French MEP. “They will obstruct more, and turn up to sessions with their national flags, as did Nigel Farage’s UKIP party during the last mandate,” he continued. Law-making should only be marginally affected by the increase of Eurosceptic MEPs, as most plenary session voting in Strasbourg is taken by absolute majority. With 751 MEPs from 28 EU member states, the Eurosceptic vote cannot reach the absolute majority alone (376 seats). “The National Front is definitely not the dominant political party in Europe. The party that came out on top in these elections was the EPP, followed by the PES and ALDE” stated Nathalie Griesbeck, French centrist MEP.

Yes, but they lost seats right and left. However, if there is one positive touch to this, it is that the Eurocracy will probably move ahead with some items that could actually help the European economy. One of those items is the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, which has strong support in the EU political leadership as well as in the European business community. Back in February, EU Observer reported:

The ‘honeymoon phase’ of talks aimed at brokering a landmark EU-US trade deal are over, business leaders have warned. Speaking at a meeting of business leaders in Athens to coincide with a meeting of EU trade ministers on Friday (28 February), Markus Behyrer, the director general of lobby group BusinessEurope, led calls for EU leaders and the business community to tighten their communications strategies to retain public support. “The honeymoon phase of the negotiations appears to be over,” said Behyrer. “Now the phase when negotiators will need our support and encouragement…we will have to prove that this is not a race to the bottom but a race to the top.” At a press conference later Karel de Gucht commented that “the debate should be based upon the facts – not just speculation and fear-mongering.”

There was one caveat in that article:

Finland’s Europe minister Alexander Stubb warned that “selling” the talks would be “a really tough case”. “We are grappling with people who are anti-free trade, anti-American, and anti-globalisation,” he said.

The anti-free trade, anti-American, anti-globalization crowd made big inroads into the European parliament this election. They will do what they can to stop or delay the TTIP. Fortunately, as the Daily Telegraph reports, the determination was strong as late as last week, on both sides of the Atlantic, to bring the trade negotiations to completion:

US and EU trade representatives have had a “productive” fifth round of talks, but hard work lies ahead, US trade representative Michael Froman says. “We’ve moved from discussing a conceptual framework to defining specific ideas for addressing the majority of the negotiating areas,” Froman said as the talks ended. He said there was “a lot of work ahead” but “steady progress” was being made and there was now “a firm understanding of the key issues that need to be resolved”. Froman’s chief negotiator in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Dan Mullaney, called the week’s talks “challenging”. Completing the world’s largest free trade agreement “will require a lot of creativity and a lot of persistence,” he told reporters. Ignacio Garcia-Bercero, chief negotiator for the European Union, underlined that the overall goal was “highly ambitious” but that progress had been made through “intensive” discussions this week on labour, environment and sustainable development issues. The US and European Union aim to expand what is already the world’s biggest trade relationship by dismantling regulatory barriers that force companies to produce different products for the US and European markets.

This would be a huge boost for trans-Atlantic trade and have a cost-lowering effect on many consumer and industry products. Let’s hope the Eurocrats prioritize this as they move forward, but that they also learn to listen to Euro-skeptics when it comes to the relations between the EU and its member states. If they don’t, the authoritarian flanks of the European political scene will continue to grow at the expense of democracy, political stability – and economic freedom and prosperity.