During a trade policy workshop on 19th November 2019, experts discussed how trade agreements put public services at risk and what options there are to align trade policy in such a way that sustainable and public services can be guaranteed for all. The workshop, jointly organised by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), AK EUROPA, the Austrian Trade Union Federation Europe office (ÖGB) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), thus linked experts across national and European borders.
Canadian expert Scott Sinclair started the workshop by explaining the links of green change and just transition with the necessity of strong public services. According to his analysis, only the use of public services can effectively advance and democratically shape these major changes. The opportunities to make society fairer and more open to everyone, would need the support and the active input of the public services sector. The restrictions due to the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS and ICS), which are in particular expensive for the State, present a similar obstacle as the rules on market access. Hence, Sinclair demands that especially investment arbitration against climate-relevant measures is abandoned and to better protect public services against privatisation pressure.
AK Expert Oliver Prausmüller pointed out that one of the biggest problems of the EU’s “new generation” of trade and investment agreements with third countries is their expansion to ever more areas of life. This results in more pressure on regulations in the public interest, including in particular public services. He explained, for example, what risks for liberalisations might be entailed through the backdoor within the scope of agreements such as CETA, TiSA or Australia and New Zealand. Hence, it is even more important to succeed in a complete and legally certain exemption of public services from trade and investment agreements. A joint study by AK EUROPA und EPSU offers a relevant legally sound model clause for the protection of public services. After all, public services are a core element of the welfare state and have to be democratic and accessible for the benefit of all.
In the opinion of Lucile Falgueyrac, Expert at the European Parliament, the European Parliament does not yet pay enough attention to these aspects. Apart from the problem of the toothless sustainability chapters and the investor protection clauses, which restrict the active control by the State, in particular in the current climate crisis, questions arise in particular on human rights and trade within the scope of corporate due diligence. In the coming months, apart from the particularly controversial Mercosur Agreement, above all negotiations on e-commerce, national regulations of services and the future of multilateralism within the scope of the World Trade Organisation WTO will also play an important role in trade policy. She believes that the appointment of Phil Hogan as new Trade Commissioner-designate will not change much in respect of which direction European trade and investment policy will choose.
However, the workshop made it clear that in the future, EU trade policy has to make a contribution to a just transition, a good life for all and to overcoming the climate crisis. Against this background, public services too must be protected against privatisation pressure to - in particular - be able to develop their potential as an active force concerning the imminent green change. That this is possible if all forces work together has been successfully demonstrated by the European Citizens’ Initiative “Right2Water” .