The European Court of Justice on Wednesday overruled the European Commission’s decision to dismiss Stop TTIP’s European Citizen Initiative calling for an end of the transatlantic trade talks. As a northern liberal free trader, I rarely side with the sceptics of globalisation. But this time, Stop TTIP is right. That does not mean that I agree we should end negotiations with the Americans. In fact, we need TTIP more than ever. A deep and comprehensive trade agreement with the United States would strengthen transatlantic relations and would be the best injection to both our economies and would boost growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. But I applaud Stop TTIP’s innovative use of the citizen initiative to stop something that they do not like.
In a representative democracy we do not need citizen initiatives. Our representatives are elected to speak for us and make tough decisions that affect us all on our behalf so we can go about our everyday business. Voters exercise their checks and balances in regular general elections. Attempts to spice up the representative system with elements of direct democracy only enhance tendencies for populist simplicity. Citizen initiatives can only be signed, but never debated and amended. They tend to be one-sided and lacking in complexity, instead of broad and inclusive as deliberations in parliament. But now that we have the European Citizen Initiative, why should citizens not be able to use it to stop legislation? The problem ordinary people perceive with the EU is not that too little legislation is coming out of the machine in Brussels. In fact it is rather the opposite. Now that we have it, the citizen initiative should be used more often by those who want the EU to keep out, to prevent legislators from meddling too much with things they should simply let people decide for themselves. Why not start a citizen initiative to stop the social pillar, Eurobonds or the financial transaction tax.
Sceptics of globalisation, free trade and private ownership have given birth to a heated debate on free trade in general and in particular on TTIP. They argue that the investor state dispute settlement will undermine, and slowly dismantle democracy, and give more power to big corporations. Moreover, the same group of sceptics have argued that we will see a lowering of our health, environment and food standards. They are wrong and of course a well-informed politician would know the claims are nothing but myths and lies.
The attempts to stop the negotiations with the Americans should not be stopped with technical twists and turns from unelected Commission officials. It should be stopped by representatives of the people using fact based arguments. We have to explain why it is more important than ever to strengthen the ties between two of the world’s largest democracies in a global environment that is more insecure than ever before in the post-Cold War era. We have to explain that free trade supports growth, creates more and better jobs and lowers consumer prices. That what we seek to achieve with our trade agreements is basically to expand the single market that is the biggest success to date of the European project.
Stop TTIP is right on procedure, but wrong on the fundamentals. We need to liberalise the trading regime between Europe and the United States. That does not mean that the Commission should try to counter their attempt to stop TTIP by limiting the scope of the European Citizen Initiative. Citizens should be able to use the instrument not only to ask for more legislation, but also to stop overregulation.