Education International
Education International

Loud opposition by unions to secretly negotiated trade and investment agreements

published 4 May 2016 updated 23 May 2016

Whether in Germany or Belgium, education unionists have clearly reaffirmed their opposition to the possible serious impacts to the education sector and other public services through its inclusion in new trade and investment agreements.

Germany: massive demonstration

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, including education unionists, filled the streets of Hannover, Germany, on 23 April to oppose the EU-Canada deal (CETA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU. This was just one day before German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama opened the Hannover trade fair.. There, they highlighted their support for the EU-United States (US) Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement and highlighted that it is still possible to  finalise it before the US President leaves office in early 2017.

Members of the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft(GEW), affiliated to Education International (EI), participated in the Hannover demonstration against the TTIP dealand the EU-Canada deal (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). The Alliance, “Stop TTIP and CETA”, announced that around 90,000 people took part in the event, i.e. a broad coalition of trade unions, environmental, social and cultural associations calling public authorities to “Stop TTIP and CETA - For  fair global trade”. This follows on a previous similar demonstration against the agreements in October 2015, when a quarter of a million people took to the streets of Berlin.

Video about the demonstration against TTIP and CETA:

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement is concerned with the reduction of trade barriers, particularly with regards to trade in services, said Andreas Keller from the GEW. If TTIP advocates hope for increased economic growth, opponents fear that only large corporations will benefit from it and the democratic decision-making process will be severely undermined, he said. “They also expect a reduction in environmental, social, consumer and worker standards,” Keller added.

The GEW firmly rejects both TTIP and CETA, as the agreements threaten public services in Germany and Europe as it could have the effect of locking in and intensifying the pressures of privatisation and commercialisation in the sector.

Belgium: increasing inequality

In Belgium, Eugène Ernst, General Secretary of another EI affiliate, the CSC-Enseignement, said that, “even if CETA is not widely known by the general public, it is in fact just as dangerous as TTIP”. He made his comments during a public hearing on CETA and TTIP at the French Community’s Parliament on 18 April. He added that his union emphasises the need to safeguard quality education by carving out education and other public services from the scope of the trade and investment agreements.

He also noted that it seems that Belgium does not consider it important to protect its education sector as there is no limitation taken by Belgium on education in CETA. Accordingly, Belgium has made significant commitments in privately-funded education services. Belgium is therefore effectively opening the door to foreign for-profit education providers and thereby extending new rights to private investors that go beyond any existing trade commitments. Trade rules on market access could restrict the ability of Belgium to limit the entry and regulate the quality of private for-profit schools and institutions.

“We are currently witnessing a situation of increasing inequality within and between countries and, in this context, public services, including education, are more important than ever,” Ernst said. Free high-quality education for all is essential to fostering economic and social development and cohesion, equal opportunities, job creation, as well as the fair distribution of income and wealth, he added.

A resolution on CETA by the Belgian Walloon Region further demands that the Belgian government should refrain from signing the CETA agreement during upcoming EU-Canada summit in October.

EI: threat to high-quality public services

Education International has “grave concerns about the new generation of trade and investment agreements” currently being negotiated by national governments and supra-national bodies such as the EU, and which do not incorporate legally binding protections for public services, nor any enforceable labour chapter, said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. He condemned a lack of transparency and proper democratic oversight surrounding the negotiations. In addition, he reiterated his belief that these agreements pose potential serious threats to the provision of high-quality public services, including education, in particular through restricting governments’ capacity to regulate in the public interest and expanding the rights of multinational corporations.

Greenpeace’s TTIP leaks: the aim of ever-increasing levels of liberalisation

This week Greenpeace published 248 pages of internal documents from the TTIP negotiations. While most of the media coverage has centred around environmental and food safety issues, the TTIP leaks confirm the potentially dangerous impact that the TTIP deal could have on the education sector and other public services.

According to these new TTIP leaks, there is no protection offered to education and other public services. Instead, there is a general exception for services under ‘governmental authority’, which is far too narrow to safeguard public education. In fact, most public services are not covered under ‘governmental authority’, including education, health, as well as network-based and universal services, explained Professor Krajewski in a recent study on Model clauses for the exclusion of public services from trade and investment agreements.

The Greenpeace revelations stress that TTIP aims to reach ever-increasing levels of liberalisation, as demonstrated by the fact that the EU and the US agree to “lay down the necessary arrangements for the progressive reciprocal liberalisation of trade in services, the liberalisation of investment, and for the facilitation of e-commerce”. One way of ensuring ever-increasing levels of liberalisation in the future through trade and investment agreements is to put a straitjacketon governments’ ability to adopt laws or regulations in such a way that they will be obliged to adopt only laws and regulations increasing the level of liberalisation.

The 13th TTIP round of negotiation took place from 25 April to 1 May. The CETA agreement has been finalised and is scheduled to be signed by the EU and Canada in October during  the EU-Canada Summit.

Click here for more information (in German), videos and pictures of the Hanover’s demonstration.

You can also download the EI trade update here