The attempted assurances from EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrong to Lord Livingston that we have nothing to fear for the NHS from TTIP are quite empty. She tries to say that existing rules give EU nation states the right to exclude services from EU procurement and competition rules: “we reserve the right for governments to operate monopolies and grant exclusive rights for selected providers, whether these are public or private operators”. Yet recently the Kings Fund think tank said that even if a Labour government tried to make the NHS the “preferred provider” they would not be allowed to under EU rules. It centres round the issue that if some health services are open to the market, as is true of the NHS, then protection is automatically lost. Labour disputes this and I won’t go into the detailed arguments as that’s not relevant to my point. I just wanted to illustrate the fact that even those with access to expert advice on current EU rules can’t agree what they mean in practice.
So how can we trust them about what TTIP will or will not mean for the NHS? All discussions about TTIP have been hypothetical, since the negotiations are taking place in secret.
If our elected representatives want to read any TTIP documents they have to go through the type of security that would not be out of place in a spy film, as described by Green MEP Molly Scott Cato, and be sworn to secrecy. That means that no one can tell you what is actually in the TTIP negotiations.
So we have to base our assessment on how much we trust the statements of the likes of Maelstrom. Lets look at whose interests are represented here. According to Cato 92% of those involved in the consultations have been corporate lobbyists. Of the 560 lobby encounters that the commission had, 520 were with business lobbyists and only 26 (4.6%) were with public interest groups.
If protections under existing known rules are uncertain then how can we have any confidence that EU officials, heavily lobbied by corporate interests, will write proper protections for our public services into TTIP?
The Government uses standard straw man arguments – and so does Malmstrom’s letter – that critics of TTIP are saying it will lead to privatisation of NHS. Critics of TTIP recognise that the NHS is already being privatised – this Government and previous ones have already set that process in motion very effectively. However the main concern about TTIP’s impact on UK, and especially English, health services is that its ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) provisions could make privatisation irreversible. ISDS sets up extra-territorial secret tribunals of corporate lawyers whereby corporations can sue nation states for millions in damages for legislation which could affect future profits. It’s easy to see how this could include attempts to renationalise NHS services.
There is precedent – a Dutch health insurance firm called Achmea sued the Slovak government for millions because the latter wanted to replace private with public health insurance. Achmea lost, but the point is that they were exercising their rights under ISDS, and the whole process was a costly waste of time that no government should have to go through when it wants to change the way it organises its health services.
See this excellent article by George Monbiot for more information about the negative impact of ISDS in international trade deals on the ability of nation states to legislate for the benefit of their populations. In many cases governments have been successfully sued for millions and even reversed legislation.
Malmstrom dismisses concerns about ISDS but if, as she says, there is already UK law protecting investors’ property rights why on earth do the proponents of TTIP want tribunals above and beyond national jurisdiction to arbitrate on these issues? What is wrong with our sovereign courts?
And if TTIP won’t have any effect on the NHS then why is it included in negotiations? If it won’t make any difference then why not fully reassure the British public by demanding NHS exemption – something our government could do right now? If they continue to refuse to do this we have to ask why.
The National Health Action Party would go further and demand that the whole of TTIP is thrown out as it risks causing untold damage to our most precious regulatory protections including those affecting food, chemicals, agriculture, the environment and medicines while at the same time risking the loss of thousands of jobs. See these links to an interview with John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, which explains in detail the concerns about TTIP and to a paper by Tufts University which projects TTIP leading to a contraction of GDP, personal incomes and employment in Europe.
Letters such as Malstrom’s and Bercero‘s, another EU official who wrote a similar “reassuring” letter last summer, which make out that everything is for the best and we have nothing to worry about are all part of a huge charm offensive by the proponents of TTIP to head off the growing movement across Europe and in the United States against TTIP. Given how secret it all is it is remarkable that civil society has been able to achieve so much in exposing this deal to public scrutiny. People who do so are not “scaremongering” but performing a valuable civic duty – something that unfortunately we can’t trust our Government or EU officials to do.