One topic seems to have dominated the EU's trade policy agenda in recent months - the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - but it is certainly not the only major trade deal in negotiation. As a member of the International Trade committee of the European Parliament, I am following approximately 30 sets of negotiations between the EU and third countries.
With much public attention, MEPs recently completed an important stage in the process of democratic scrutiny of the TTIP negotiations, which culminated with the adoption of a non-binding resolution on the negotiations in July. This resolution sets out MEPs' concerns on key aspects of the ongoing negotiations with the US: a crucial opportunity for MEPs to influence the direction of EU trade policy.
Now the same process will start for several of the other negotiations underway - and again I find myself in a strategic position in the committee as Socialist lead MEP on the 'plurilateral' Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), as we endeavour to conclude a resolution in the coming months.
Launched in 2013 between the EU and 25 other 'parties', TISA is an attempt to update global rules on the trade in services, notably to take into account advances in digital services since those global rules were concluded in 1995.
The trade in services cannot be separated from jobs and growth. In the EU, services employ 68% of the labour force. Trade in services provided a surplus of €173.2 billion for the EU in 2013. As a result the EU member states consider services to be a priority offensive interest in trade for the EU as European service providers are highly competitive in the global market place.
However, by their nature, high quality services depend on good working conditions and fair market rules. This is where global rules have a key role to play in setting standards and protection. However, our rules are outdated - for instance, the scale of the internet in 1995 was such that, there are currently very few rules today regulating e-commerce at global level, and consequently guaranteeing little consumer protection and raising concerns about data protection and privacy. Equally we need to ensure that trade in services does not provide cover for worker exploitation.
I am a convinced multilateralist and believe that global rules are the 'first best' choice to regulate globalization. However since the WTO has been stalled for a decade, 'plurilateral' negotiations have emerged on a number of subjects where groups of countries want to move forward with the intention of making any deal global once a critical mass of participants has be reached. Therefore, these negotiations remain open to new participants. One of the key concerns for European negotiators is that the US seems to be blocking the participation of China - an action which effectively blocks the route back into the WTO towards a global agreement. MEPs have been highly critical of this.
As the TISA spokesperson of the 191-strong Socialist and Democrats group in the EP, my aim is to maintain the critically-constructive approach to international trade we have successfully initiated with the TTIP negotiations.
We need to seize any opportunity we are given to regulate globalisation, this means engaging in the debate rather than grandstanding.
While it may be tempting to treat all current trade negotiations as a package, TTIP and TISA are very different beasts. TTIP is a bilateral deal between the EU and US, while TiSA is a plurilateral negotiation between 25 parties, the EU counting a one. TTIP covers a very broad scope, touching upon trade in goods and services, as well as investment. TISA only deals with services. What is a reality is that these negotiations are going on in parallel and have multiple impacts on each other. How public services are affected is a prime example.
In the EP's July resolution on TTIP, MEPs unanimously called for all public services to be fully excluded from the negotiations. I will be strongly advocating for the same language in the forthcoming TISA resolution. This would mean that regardless of how the services are funded, organised or operated (including but not limited to water, health, social services, social security systems and education), they should be excluded. The re-nationalisation and re-municipalisation of a once outsourced public service must be safeguarded. I want to ensure that national and local authorities retain their full right to introduce, adopt, maintain or repeal any measures with regards to the commissioning, organisation, funding and provision of public services in Europe. There is not as much public attention on the TISA negotiations as we have seen on TTIP, which is a danger to consistency around questions like public services.
Despite the focus on TTIP in the last few months, I have been actively monitoring the activities of the European Commission in the TISA negotiations, and have clearly signalled that Socialist MEPs will not agree to trade away our public services, our privacy or our workers' rights. We now have the opportunity to make these demands the whole Parliament's demands. In the coming months, I will be engaging with my fellow MEPs from other countries and political parties in full transparency to try to convince them of the relevance of our concerns - please help me. Together we can make Europe the driver of change at global level.