Töns: We must get away from the idea that Europe is the 'good cop' and America the 'bad cop'

Interview with Markus Töns, Member of the Landtag of North Rhine-Westphalia and rapporteur on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

Ahead of the upcoming Plenary Session, magazine "Regions and Cities of Europe" met with Markus Töns, CoR rapporteur on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Markus Töns is member of the North Rhine-Westphalian Landtag where he is SPD-Spokesman for the Committee on European Affairs. In the Committee of the Regions he is 1st Vice-Chairman of the Commission for Economic and Social Policy (ECOS).

 What is the background to this own-initiative opinion of the CoR on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?

The TTIP will have major implications for cities and regions and it is now important for the CoR to discuss it. So far, the Commission has not involved the Committee of the Regions in its deliberations. This in itself gives the Committee good reason to set out its positions, expectations and any concerns in relation to the TTIP.

Why is the TTIP important for cities and regions? And what are your concerns?

My first question is what implications the TTIP has for individual citizens. My initial impression is that opinion on the TTIP is polarised. This is because people are very aware that Europe is more than a purely economic community. The EU sees itself as a community of values, representing shared values such as promotion of social equality, combating social exclusion and improving the quality of the environment. So people ask whether this trade and investment agreement between the EU and the United States really helps to underpin these values. I believe that many citizens have concerns.

And how would you respond to those concerns?

You know, I am very fond of the cinema, especially French films. But that doesn't mean I only see things in black and white. We must get away from the idea that Europe is the "good cop" and America the "bad cop". That is why I tend to take the position of "yes, but" on these negotiations. I say yes to deeper trade, yes to dismantling tariffs, yes to transparency. And definitely yes to a trust-based partnership with the United States. But not at any cost: not at the cost of hard-won standards and certainly not at the cost of cohesion in our societies.  

What would you not accept?

I will name just a couple of points here, things that are relevant to the cities and regions. To begin with, the issue of maintaining the constitutional system of local authorities in the sphere of public services: we absolutely must ensure that local authorities retain their freedom to deliver, organise and finance public services. Another issue is that there should be no lowering of standards, e.g. in relation to labour law or consumer protection. And it is also important that there should not be any special arrangements for investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS. There seems to be no point in such arrangements between two fully developed systems based on the rule of law. In short: the TTIP may open up opportunities for economic growth in Europe, but we must not on any account sacrifice our achievements in Europe on the altar of free trade.

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