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open source, open genomics, open content



Updated: 2018-01-19T12:39:15.385+00:00

 



Incoming: Spare Slots for Freelance Work in 2018

2018-01-08T20:30:51.200+00:00

p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }a:link { } I will soon have spare slots in my freelance writing schedule for regular weekly or monthly work, and major projects. Here are the main areas that I've been covering, some for more than two decades. Any commissioning editors interested in talking about them or related subjects, please contact me at glyn.moody@gmail.com (PGP available).  I am also available to speak on these topics at relevant conferences.Surveillance, Encryption, Privacy, Freedom of SpeechFor the last two years, I have written hundreds of articles about these crucial areas, for Ars Technica UK (http://arstechnica.co.uk/author/glyn_moody/), Privacy News Online (https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/blog/author/glynmoody/) and Techdirt (https://www.techdirt.com/user/glynmoody). Given the challenges facing society this year, they are likely to be an important focus for my work in 2018.ChinaAnother major focus for me this year will be China. I follow the world of Chinese IT closely, and have written numerous articles on the topic. Since I can read sources in the original, I am able to spot trends early and to report faithfully on what are arguably some of the most important developments happening in the digital world today. Free Software/Open SourceI started covering this topic in 1995, wrote the first mainstream article on Linux for Wired in 1997 (https://www.wired.com/1997/08/linux-5/), and the first (and still only) detailed history of the subject, Rebel Code (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebel_Code) in 2001, where I interviewed the top 50 hackers at length. I have also written about the open source coders and companies that have risen to prominence in the last decade and a half, principally in my Open Enterprise column for Computerworld UK, which ran from 2008 to 2015.Open Access, Open Data, Open Science, Open Government, Open EverythingAs the ideas underlying openness, sharing and online collaboration have spread, so has my coverage of them. I wrote one of the most detailed histories of Open Access, for Ars Technica (http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/06/what-is-open-access-free-sharing-of-all-human-knowledge/).Copyright, Patents, Trade Secrets The greatest threat to openness is its converse: intellectual monopolies, which prevent sharing. This fact has led me to write many articles about copyright, patents and trade secrets. These have been mainly for Techdirt, where I have published over 1,500 posts, and also include an in-depth feature on the future of copyright for Ars Technica (http://arstechnica.co.uk/tech-policy/2015/07/copyright-reform-for-the-digital-age/).Trade Agreements - TTIP, CETA, TISA, TPPAnother major focus of my writing has been so-called "trade agreements" like TTIP, CETA, TPP and TISA. "So-called", because they go far beyond traditional discussions of tariffs, and have major implications for many areas normally subject to democratic decision making. In addition to 51 TTIP Updates that I originally wrote for Computerworld UK (http://opendotdotdot.blogspot.nl/2016/01/the-rise-and-fall-of-ttip-as-told-in-51.html), I have covered this area extensively for Techdirt and Ars Technica UK, including a major feature on TTIP (http://arstechnica.co.uk/tech-policy/2015/05/ttip-explained-the-secretive-us-eu-treaty-that-undermines-democracy/) for the latter.EuropeAs a glance at some of my 318,000 (sic) posts to Twitter, identi.ca and Google+ will indicate, I read news sources in a number of languages (Italian, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, Greek, Swedish in descending order of capability.) This means I can offer a fully European perspective on any of the topics above - something that may be of interest to publications wishing to provide global coverage that goes beyond purely anglophone reporting. The 30,000 or so followers that I have across these social networks also means that I can push out links to my articles, something that I do as a matter of course to boost their readership.[...]



UK and US Citizens: Please Request Your Personal Data Held By Cambridge Analytica

2017-10-22T13:42:26.857+00:00

By now, many people have probably heard about the company Cambridge Analytica.  By its own admission, it played a major role in the success of Donald Trump.  There are also numerous indications that it was involved in the Brexit campaign.

Because Cambridge Analytica is intimately bound up with the London-based company SCL it is possible to make a subject access request in order to find out what information is held about you.  This applies to both UK and US citizens. 

I therefore urge as many people as possible to ask for that data - it only takes a few minutes, and can be done with a simple letter.  Obtaining this information will help us understand what exactly has been happening. Here's what I have sent; please feel free to use and/or modify it:

SCL Group Ltd
c/o Pkf Littlejohn 2nd Floor,
1 Westferry Circus,
Canary Wharf,
London,
United Kingdom, E14 4HD

22.10.17

Dear Sir,

Subject Access Request

I have read numerous reports in the press that you and/or your subsidiaries in the UK or elsewhere hold data on UK/US voters, which may include information about me.

In accordance with the UK Data Protection Act, I am writing to ask you to supply me with a copy of  the information you hold about me, please.

If there is a fee or you require more information in order to fulfil my request, please let me know.

Thank you for your help.

Yours faithfully,

Glyn Moody

You may also wish to make a contribution to this crowdsourced initiative to dig even deeper.  I've given, FWIW.

The stakes here are incredibly high: it is really no exaggeration to say that our democracy and freedom are at play.  I therefore hope you can spare a few minutes to help shed some light on what has happened here.



Urgent: Please Write to MEPs to Stop Awful Copyright Proposals

2017-05-31T14:35:14.817+00:00


Bad things could happen in the European Parliament next Thursday, when an important committee of MEPs votes on proposals for updating copyright for the digital age:

Today it was revealed that MEP Pascal Arimont from the European People’s Party (EPP) is trying to sabotage the Parliamentary process, going behind the negotiators of the political groups and pushing a text that would make the Commission’s original bad proposal look tame in comparison.

As that post from the Pirate Party MEP, Julia Reda, explains, there is an attempt to make two aspects of the copyright proposals even worse, using procedural tricks. The main threat is the imposition of blanket upload filters, with Internet sites essentially obliged to act as copyright police for everything. 

The other is to introduce a new ancillary copyright for publishers that would mean that they could demand licensing fees for using even tiny snippets from their articles for 50 years after they were published. Both of these would destroy the Internet as we know it.

I therefore urge you to write to all your nation's MEPs on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee. You can find their names and nationalities here with links to pages that have ways of contacting them. Here's what I've sent:

This is just a quick email to ask you not to support Pascal Arimont's proposed amendments to the copyright directive. Leaving aside the general issue that they would undermine the authority and role of the IMCO committee, they would cause huge harm to the Internet in Europe and to EU startups in that field.

The amendments to Article 13 are, despite claims to the contrary, incompatible with recent CJEU rulings, and go against the E-commerce directive that has served the EU so well over the years. The proposals would be costly to impossible to implement, and would see startups flee the EU for more hospitable investment environments.

Similarly, the amendments to Article 11 make a bad idea even worse by extending the duration of ancilllary copyright, and narrowing the exceptions. The experience in both Germany and Spain has demonstrated beyond doubt that publishers will be harmed by such a move, especially smaller ones. The proposed amendments will make the damage to both them and to the Internet itself even more serious.

I therefore urge you to reject all of Pascal Arimont's proposed amendments, and to support Catherine Stihler’s compromise amendments on the copyright file.




Tell the UK Government: No Backdoors in Crypto

2017-05-18T17:33:43.636+00:00

The UK government seems to be pressing ahead with its idiotic plans to backdoor crypto. There is a (secret) consultation on the subject that closes tomorrow - write to investigatorypowers@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk.  Here's what I've just sent:

I am writing in connection with UK government proposals to force tech companies and Internet providers to create government backdoors to encrypted communications.

Speaking as a journalist who has been writing about every aspect of computer technology for 35 years, and about the Internet for 20 years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyn_Moody), I cannot emphasise too strongly that this would be a very unwise and dangerous move.

There is no such thing as a safe backdoor that is only available to the authorities.  If a weakness is created in a program or service, it can be found be third parties.  That is hard, but not impossible, especially for well-funded state actors.

Even more likely is that details of backdoors will be leaked.  The recent experience of the WannaCry ransomware attack, which is based on an NSA exploit that was leaked earlier, show how devastating this kind of subversion can be.

There is another powerful reason not to force companies operating in the UK to weaken their security.  First, US companies may simply water down protections for UK users, while protecting those in the rest of the world.  Obviously that would leave UK users particularly vulnerable to attack, and make them prime targets.

Secondly, if British companies are forced to provide backdoors in their products, then no government or company elsewhere in the world will use UK software, since there will always be a risk that it contains intentional security flaws.  This is the surest way to sabotage the UK software industry, and to ensure that computer startups are located anywhere but in the UK.

As well as being harmful, moves to weaken the security of encrypted products are also unnecessary.  As recent events have confirmed, terrorists rarely use encryption, and when they do, they make mistakes that allow the security services to access communications.  Indeed, there are many ways to obtain access and information even when encryption is used, as a recent paper explained (https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/03/new_paper_on_en.html).

To summarise, the many and mighty harms caused by weakening encryption vastly outweigh any illusory benefits.  The UK government would be ill-advised to take this route.



The Copyright Industry's So-Called "Value Gap" Is Actually an Innovation Gap

2017-04-12T17:08:24.934+00:00

The is a crucial year for the Internet in Europe, because 2017 will see key decisions made about the shape of copyright law in the EU. That matters, because copyright is in many ways the antithesis of the Net, based as it is on enforcing a monopoly on digital content, whereas the Net derives its power from sharing as widely as possible. The stronger copyright becomes, the more the Internet is constrained and thus impoverished.There are three key areas in the proposed revision to the EU's Copyright Directive where the Internet and its users are under threat from attempts to strengthen copyright. First, there is the panorama exception, which allows people to take pictures in the street without needing to worry about whether buildings or public objects are subject to copyright. Despite this being little more than common sense – imagine having to check the legal status of everything in view before taking a photo – copyright maximalists are fighting to stop a panorama exception being added to EU law.The second point of contention concerns the link tax, also known as the snippets or Google tax. The last of these explains the motivation: publishers want Google to pay for linking to their articles using snippets of text. Despite the obvious folly of charging for the ability to send traffic to your site, the copyright world's sense of entitlement is such that two countries have already introduced a link tax, with uniformly disastrous results.When Spain brought in a law that required search engines to pay publishers for the use of snippets, Google decided to close down its Google News service in the country, which led to online publishers losing 10% to 15% of their traffic.Similarly, in Germany, which also introduced a link tax, publishers ending up giving Google a free licence to their material, so great was the law's negative impact on their business when Google stopped linking to their publications.The snippet tax is so manifestly stupid that it is unlikely to appear in the final version of the revised Copyright Directive. But the third area of concern stands a much better chance because of the clever way that the publishing world is dressing it up as being about a so-called "value gap." It's a very vague concept – see this new video that explores what it is - but it boils down to publishers being resentful because digital newcomers came up with innovative business models based around legal access to online music, and they didn't.An interesting speech on the topic by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's CEO in 2016 laments the fact that the "value" of the global music industry has recently declined 36% over 15 years. That's not really surprising: during this period the recording industry did everything in its power to throttle or stall new ways of providing access to music on the Internet.What the so-called "value gap" is really about here is the long-standing innovation gap among recording companies, and their refusal to adapt to a changing world. Imagine if they had embraced the P2P music sharing service Napster in 2000 instead of suing it into the ground. Imagine if they had set up sharing and streaming servers themselves a decade and a half ago; imagine how much money they would have made from subscriptions and advertising, and how much their value would have grown, not fallen.If this evident innovation gap only harmed the copyright companies themselves, it would not be a problem, so much as just deserts. But they are now lobbying to get the laws around the world changed in important ways purely in order to prop up their old business models in an attempt to compensate for this failure to embrace the Internet. In the EU, they are using the fallacious "value gap" concept to call for mandatory upload filters for all major sharing sites – effectively large-scale surveillance and censorship.Given that one of the most important consequences of the Copyright Directive could be th[...]



Please Write to Your MEPs About Next Week's Critical - and Final - CETA Vote

2017-02-11T15:07:15.695+00:00

Next Wednesday, the European Parliament will have its final vote on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA. If you were hoping to influence your UK MP on this, it's too late: last week, the government sneaked through a vote on CETA without anyone noticing.  It passed, of course, but given the absence of real democracy - or an opposition party - in the UK, that's no surprise.But there is still a chance to stop it in the European Parliament by writing to your MEP, and asking them to vote against ratification next week.  You can contact your MEP using the wonderful free service WriteToThem.  Here's what I've sent to mine:I am writing to you to ask you to vote against CETA ratification next week, because it has minimal benefits, and a great many risks that have not been estimated, but are likely to be large.Despite vague claims to the contrary, CETA offers almost no benefits for the EU.  According to the joint study commissioned by the EU and Canada  (http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2008/october/tradoc_141032.pdf): "The annual real income gain by the year 2014, compared to the baseline scenario, would be approximately €11.6 billion for the EU (representing 0.08% of EU GDP)".The study's title is "Assessing the costs and benefits of a closer EU-Canada economic partnership", but it offers no formal estimate of the costs associated with CETA.  This is an extraordinary deficiency: even the smallest business would carefully weigh up the costs and the benefits before agreeing a deal.  And yet the European Parliament is being asked to ratify CETA without being told the true costs.These are likely to be high in many areas.  For example, the "new" Investment Court System (ICS) will open up the EU to being sued by thousands of US companies that have subsidiaries in Canada.  For most member states, this will be the first time that US companies are able to use investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals to claim millions – or even billions – of euros over laws and regulations which they claim harms their investments.  ISDS claims alone could wipe out the tiny €11.6 billion GDP gain that CETA is predicted to produce according to the official study.Despite the fact that ICS is supposed to address the avowed problems with the current ISDS system, it actually fails to do this because it still gives companies a means to put pressure on governments to rescind laws, even if it cannot force them to do so.  Faced with potentially huge fines – one ISDS award was for $50 billion (http://www.shearman.com/en/services/practices/international-arbitration/yukos-arbitral-award) – governments are very likely to choose to withdraw regulations rather than pay out such vast sums.It is also worth bearing in mind that a 2014 EU consultation on ISDS drew an unprecedented 145,000 negative responses calling for the system to be dropped from trade agreements (http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1234&title=Report-presented-today-Consultation-on-investment-protection-in-EU-US-trade-talks).  Making a few cosmetic changes and re-branding ISDS as ICS rides roughshod over the public's views on this important matter.  Moreover, there is no reason to include ISDS/ICS at all.  Canada's legal system is one of the fairest in the world, and so providing companies with additional privileges not available to governments or the public is simply unjustified.There are further, more subtle problems with CETA.  For example, the regulatory chapter stipulates that parties have to ensure "that licensing and qualification procedures are as simple as possible and do not unduly complicate or delay the supply of a service or the pursuit of any other economic activity" (Article 12.3).  It is easy to foresee companies challenging requirements for public input, environmental assessments and archaeological studies as no[...]



Please Write to MEPs on the ENVI Committee About CETA *Today*

2017-01-11T11:46:25.373+00:00

There's an important vote by MEPs on the ENVI committee tomorrow about CETA, the trade deal between the EU and Canada. Background on why CETA is so bad for the environment is available, as is a list of all MEPs on the ENVI committee.  If one of them is your MEP, please write to them *today* - the vote is tomorrow.  Here's what I've just sent to mine:I am writing to you in connection with the ENVI vote on CETA tomorrow.  I would like to urge you to support the draft opinion of the ENVI committee, given by rapporteur, Bart Staes.As a journalist, I have been writing about CETA since 2012 (https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120709/07420719630/actas-back-european-commission-trying-to-sneak-worst-parts-using-canada-eu-trade-agreement-as-trojan-horse.shtml), and have followed its long and complicated history closely.  I noted in 2015 that CETA has already harmed the EU's environmental policies (http://arstechnica.co.uk/tech-policy/2015/05/eu-dropped-plans-for-safer-pesticides-because-of-ttip-and-pressure-from-us/):"One of Canada's key negotiating aims was to promote the use of its tar sands in Europe. In 2012, the EU's Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) proposed that tar sands should be given a 20 percent higher carbon value than conventional oil. This reflected the greater pollution caused by its production and was designed to steer companies away from using this particular form of fuel in the EU. However, a few weeks after CETA was concluded, the final version of the FQD had been watered down and lacked the earlier requirement that companies needed to account for the higher emissions from tar sands, effectively neutering it—exactly as Canada had demanded."Environmental policies will be under attack thanks to the little-known requirement in CETA that parties have to ensure "that licensing and qualification procedures are as simple as possible and do not unduly complicate or delay the supply of a service or the pursuit of any other economic activity."  It is easy to foresee company lawyers arguing that environmental requirements go beyond "as simple as possible", and that they "complicate or delay" the supply of a service.However, the greatest threat to the EU's environment comes from the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, now re-branded as the Investment Court System.  Despite the change of name, and some minor tweaking of the process, the problem remains the same: foreign investors are given unique powers, not available to domestic investors, that place them above national and European law. That's problematic enough in itself, but even more troubling is the fact that the area where ISDS/ICS has been used most is against environmental legislation.  Also worth remembering is that CETA allows non-Canadian companies that have operations in Canada to take advantage of this supranational right: that will enable thousands of US companies that have subsidiaries in Canada to sue the EU.Finally, it's worth noting that the EU's official economic modelling of CETA finds tiny benefits: €11.6 billion, representing 0.08 percent of EU GDP (http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2008/october/tradoc_141032.pdf.)  That gain could easily be swamped by a flood of ISDS/ICS suits demanding "compensation" for stringent environmental regulations.Because of these threats, and the vanishingly small benefit that CETA is expected to bring, I urge you to support the ENVI rapporteur's draft opinion, and to encourage your colleagues to do the same.[...]



Spare Slots for Regular Freelance Work Soon Available

2017-01-04T11:55:03.087+00:00

p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }a:link { } I may soon have spare slots in my freelance writing schedule for regular work, or for larger, longer-term projects. Here are the main areas that I've been covering, some for more than two decades. Any commissioning editors interested in talking about them or related subjects, please contact me at glyn.moody@gmail.com (PGP available).Digital Rights, Surveillance, Encryption, Privacy, Freedom of SpeechDuring the last two years, I have written hundreds of articles about these crucial areas, for Ars Technica UK and Techdirt. Given the challenges facing society this year, they are likely to be an important area for 2017.ChinaAnother major focus for me this year will be China. I follow the world of Chinese IT closely, and have written numerous articles on the topic for Techdirt and Ars Technica. Since I can read sources in the original, I am able to spot trends early and to report faithfully on what are arguably some of the most important developments happening in the digital world today. Free Software/Open SourceI started covering this topic in 1995, wrote the first mainstream article on Linux, for Wired in 1997 and the first (and still only) detailed history of the subject, Rebel Code, in 2001, where I interviewed the top 50 hackers at length. I have also written about the open source coders and companies that have risen to prominence in the last decade and a half, principally in my Open Enterprise column for Computerworld UK, which ran from 2008 to 2015.Open Access, Open Data, Open Science, Open Government, Open EverythingAs the ideas underlying openness, sharing and online collaboration have spread, so has my coverage of them. I recently wrote one of  the most detailed histories of Open Access, for Ars Technica.Copyright, Patents, Trademarks, Trade Secrets The greatest threat to openness is its converse: intellectual monopolies. This fact has led me to write many articles about copyright, patents and trade secrets. These have been mainly for Techdirt, where I have published over 1,400 posts, and also include an in-depth feature on the future of copyright for Ars Technica.Trade Agreements - TTIP, CETA, TISA, TPPAnother major focus of my writing has been so-called "trade agreements" like TTIP, CETA, TPP and TISA. "So-called", because they go far beyond traditional discussions of tariffs, and have major implications for many areas normally subject to democratic decision making. In addition to 51 TTIP Updates that I originally wrote for Computerworld UK, I have covered this area extensively for Techdirt and Ars Technica UK, including a major feature on TTIPfor the latter.EuropeAs a glance at some of my 244,000 (sic) posts to Twitter, identi.ca, Diaspora, and Google+ will indicate, I read news sources in a number of languages (Italian, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, Greek, Swedish in descending order of capability.) This means I can offer a fully European perspective on any of the topics above - something that may be of interest to publications wishing to provide global coverage that goes beyond purely anglophone reporting. The 30,000 or so followers that I have across these social networks also means that I can push out links to my articles, something that I do as a matter of course to boost their impact and readership.[...]



Please Write to Your MPs Asking Them To Support Fossil Fuel Divestment

2016-12-17T14:57:42.342+00:00

It's is now clear that the incoming Trump government will be the most environment-hostile, and fossil fuel-friendly US administration in history.  As this perceptive post points out, this is no incidental feature, it is the defining feature of Trump and his plans:Trump has surrounded himself with more oil industry and oil industry connected people than any president in history (even George W. Bush). You can’t understand what’s going on with Trump unless you understand the oil industry… and you can’t understand the oil industry without understanding climate change.That's the bad news.  The good news is that we can fight this in a way that neither Trump nor the fossil fuel industry can block.  Given that it is unlikely that any progress in tackling climate change will be made on the political front, with the US blocking thwarting everything it can, we must turn to economics using divestment from fossil fuels as our main approach.This is already happening on a massive scale, even if most people are unaware of that fact:The value of investment funds committed to selling off fossil fuel assets has jumped to $5.2tn, doubling in just over a year.The new total, published on Monday, was welcomed by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who said: “It’s clear the transition to a clean energy future is inevitable, beneficial and well underway, and that investors have a key role to play.”We must do everything in our power to accelerate that move away from fossil fuels.  Once the business world gets the message that investing in fossil fuels is not just a bad idea, but potentially disastrous, the shift to renewable energy will happen rapidly, regardless of what Trump does.Here in the UK, there's an opportunity to encourage a key group of decision makers to tell their pension fund to divest from fossil fuels: MPs.  In fact, there's an entire campaign to encourage them. If you are a UK citizen, I would like to urge you to contact your MP asking them to support this campaign.You can either do this using the link above, or directly using the indispensable WriteToThem site.  Here's what I've just sent my MP:  p { margin-bottom: 0.25cm; line-height: 120%; }a:link { } I am writing to ask you to support a call for the MPs' pension fund to divest from fossil fuels (details here: http://gofossilfree.org/uk/divest-parliament/). There are two main reasons for this. The first is that it is clear that climate change is the greatest threat we face – not just because of its direct effects on the environment, but also because of the knock-on effects – for example in creating millions of climate refugees, or threatening the world's food supplies. Confronted by an incoming US administration that is the most environmentally-hostile ever, it is clear we cannot expect the US to lead here – indeed, it seems likely actively to obstruct efforts to address climate change through international agreements. Divestment from fossil fuels is the most effective way to counter that threat, since it is something we can all do, both as individuals and as groups. The net effect is to divert investment away from the technologies that are exacerbating the problem of global warming, towards those that help solve it, creating new jobs in the process. Fossil fuel divestment is already taking place on a massive scale: a report published last week now puts the figure at $5 trillion (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/12/fossil-fuel-divestment-funds-double-5tn-in-a-year). If the MPs' own pension fund divested, this would both strengthen that movement and set a good example for others to follow. The other reason why I would urge you to support divestment is that the "carbon bubble" is likely to burst soon, and will take with it any pensions that still have large-scale investments in fossil f[...]



TTIP Is Dying; Here's How to Help Finish It Off

2016-04-24T13:35:39.233+00:00

TTIP is dying:According to the research, "In the United States [today], opinion is split, with 15 percent in favour [of TTIP] and 18 percent against." In 2014, 53 percent of Americans were in favour, and 20 percent were against TTIP. In Germany today, "33 percent have a negative opinion of TTIP, with only 17 percent considering it a good thing." Two years ago, 55 percent of Germans were in favour, with 25 percent against.There are no comparable figures for the UK, but they probably wouldn't be as good: the almost total lack of media coverage on TTIP and CETA might make cynics suspect a conspiracy, and many people in the UK have never heard of it.  If asked, they would probably say they were in favour of a trade deal with the US - indeed, some surveys carried out for the European Commission ask precisely that question, and get generally favourable answers.  That's not surprising, since the problem is not so much with US trade deals in general as TTIP in particular: when people find out exactly what is in TTIP they are generally pretty appalled at what is being done in their name.Given the reluctance of mainstream media to provide objective information - if any - there's not much we can do other than post to social media.  One other thing we Europeans can all do is to contact our politicians expressing our concerns, and asking them some questions about their knowledge and support or otherwise for TTIP.Linda Kaucher, the main organiser of the Stop TTIP movement in the UK, has put together a useful sample letter for UK citizens to send to their MPs to do precisely that.  It could easily be modified for other EU countries.  Ideally, you could take the letter and edit it to make it more personal, but the most important thing is to send it to your political representatives so that they appreciate the strength of public opinion on the topic of TTIP and CETA.  Here's the letter:Dear [politician],I have these concerns and questions about the EU so-called ‘trade’ agreements and I would appreciate a response at your earliest convenience.The US/EU TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is of huge public concern as it is clearly for the benefit of transnational corporations while it threatens our health and safety standards, our public services (despite attempted ‘reassurances’), and our democracy and sovereignty.Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and the Trade Commission’s latest version of this, Investment Court System (ICS) will give rights to transnational and foreign corporations to sue EU governments, thus threatening regulation in the EU and in the UK. The planned Regulatory Cooperation Body, by any name, will be supranational, assessing all regulation, existing and future, on criteria of ‘trade’ rather than social values, with big business input from both sides of the Atlantic from the earliest stages.Of immediate concern is the EU/Canada CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). It has many of the same components as TTIP and is in some aspects even worse eg 100% negative listing of services.  It is very much a ‘back door’ for TTIP, both as a model for such deals and in allowing US corporations to utilise ISDS (ICS) against EU governments, including our own, via their Canadian subsidiaries.Supposed economic ‘gains‘ for both TTIP and CETA , even according to the official studies, have  been exposed as minimal and it is indicative that the European Commission no longer refers to them  – so, no ‘jobs and growth‘ after all.These trade agreements should be blocked and the UK government can do this in the European Council. Will you urge the Cameron government to do this?In addition to these concerns about these agreements, I have these questions and requests about process:It appears from th[...]



Please Write To MPs To Call For More Time To Debate Investigatory Powers Bill

2016-03-06T15:36:56.848+00:00

Last week, the UK government published a revised Investigatory Powers Bill, aka the Snooper's Charter.  Surprisingly, it took no notice of the the serious criticisms made by no less than three Parliamentary committees; indeed, in some respects, it has made the Bill even worse.

The UK government is now trying to force the Bill through Parliament quickly, so that there is very little scrutiny.  As a priority, we need to get more time allocated for the debates. To achieve that, UK citizens can write to their MPs using WriteToThem, asking them to support efforts to allow more time.  Here's what I've just sent to my MP:

This is just a quick note to ask you to support efforts to allow more Parliamentary scrutiny for the Investigatory Powers Bill.  Although views may differ on the contents of the Bill, surely everyone can agree that something as important and as complex as this deserve rigorous examination by MPs. 

As a journalist, I have looked through the Bill and several of the Codes of Practice, so I know from first-hand experience how much is contained in the 800 pages they represent in total.  With only a cursory examination by MPs, it is highly likely that there will be aspects that could cause huge problems later on – for the intelligence services and police, the public, UK computer companies and specific groups like journalists, lawyers and MPs.

I therefore urge you to join with your colleagues to ask the government to allocate more time for the Bill to be discussed.  The fact that there is a sunset clause in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act is not a good reason to rush through a flawed Investigatory Powers Bill to replace it.




TTIP Update LI

2016-01-02T19:54:04.410+00:00

It's been a couple of months since my last TTIP update.  That hiatus reflectes the talks themselves, which feel strangely suspended.  That's not to say nothing is happening: indeed, there's an air of desperate busy-ness beginning to creep into the proceedings as even the most fervid supporter of the agreement realises that TTIP is not going to be finished by the end of 2015, and people rush around vainly trying to do something about it.  That's pretty astonishing when you remember that the original plan was to finish it by the end of 2014:"If we're going to go down this road, we want to get it on one tank of gas," [chief US negotiator] Froman said earlier this year.For now, one tank of gas for both sides means reaching a deal before the current European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, finishes its term at the end of 2014.That deadline has come and gone, and even end of 2015 is looking unrealistic.  That's serious, because in 2016, the political madness that is the US Presidential race begins - and Obama will not want to have to force through an increasingly unpopular trade agreement and thus blight the chances of whoever the Democrat's candidate turns out to be.  That's become an even more important concern in the wake of introduction of the US Trade Promotion Authority bill, also known as "Fast Track" a couple of weeks ago.Fast Track essentially gives Obama full authority to negotiate trade agreements like TTIP and its sister treaty, the TransPacific Partnership agreement (TPP), with only a single, yes or no vote at the end of the process.  This is exactly what happens here in the EU, where the European Commission has the authority to negotiate trade agreements, which are then presented to the European Parliament for ratification.The big problem - for the public, at least - is that not a single comma can be changed at this stage: it's a classic take it or leave offer.  This is a kind of political blackmail, since MEPs will be unwilling to be seen to reject a package that might contain some good measures - for example, potentially boosting employment - because it also contains bad things like the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).  The hope - of both the European Commission and Obama - is that lawmakers will simply swallow the bad bits in order to keep the good bits.But politicians are now much more aware of how unsatisfactory this blackmail is, and are trying to avoid getting into that situation.  Some, like Senator Ron Wyden, who is co-sponsor of the Trade Authority bill, want to place certain conditions on the granting of fast track authority so as to make the final agreement as acceptable as possible.  But many others, both Democrats and Republicans, are unwilling to grant Obama the trade authority at all, albeit for different reasons.  The Democrats are concerned about the bad things in TPP, whereas the Republicans simply don't want to give extra powers to their ideological enemy, Obama.Whatever the reason for their revolt, US politicians are not lining up to support the Trade Promotion Authority, and it seems that its passage hangs in the balance, with its chances shifting on an almost daily basis.  That has huge implications for TTIP as well as TPP.  If Obama is unable to obtain fast track, it's quite possible that TPP will collapse, since the other nations involved will be unwilling to make their best offers since the US cannot guarantee that its politicians won't try to alter the "final" text of the agreement.The same applies to TTIP.  If Obama fails to secure Trade Promotion Authority, all of the US offers to the EU will be provisional, since the US politicians will have the power to throw out any element of the TTIP text that t[...]



TTIP Update L

2016-01-02T19:44:24.882+00:00

In the last TTIP update I wrote about two important leaks, both dealing with regulatory matters.  One of those came from the Greens MEP Michel Reimon, and he's released another important document, this time concerning dispute settlement [.pdf].  Once more, it has been re-typed from the actual leaked document in order to minimise risk for the source (to whom thanks....)It's an important chapter, since, as it says at the start:The objective of this chapter is to establish an effective and efficient mechanism for avoiding and settling any dispute between the Parties concerning the interpretation and application of this Agreement with a view to arriving, where possible, at a mutually agreed solution.That is, it covers the entire TTIP agreement, whatever that may turn out to contain.  It describes in some detail how an arbitration panel consiting of three people will be used to resolve disputes regarding TTIP between the EU and US.  Significantly, the proposed text says:The ruling of the arbitration panel shall be unconditionally accepted by the Parties.Here are the requirements for those arbitrators:Arbitrators shall have specialised knowledge and experience of law and international trade. They shall be independent, serve in their individual capacities and not take instructions from any organisation or government, or be affiliated with the government of any of the Parties, and shall comply with the Code of Conduct set out in Annex II to this Agreement.When it comes to the arbitration proceedings, which would take place in either Brussels or Washington:Only the representatives and advisers of the Parties to the dispute may address the arbitration panel.That is, there are no representatives of the public.  However, the latter is graciously permitted to make written submissions to the arbitration panel:Unless the Parties agree otherwise within three days of the date of the establishment of the arbitration panel, the arbitration panel may receive unsolicited written submissions from natural or legal persons established in the territory of a Party to the dispute who are independent from the governments of the Parties to the dispute, provided that they are made within 10 days of the date of the establishment of the arbitration panel, that they are concise and in no case lon ger than 15 pages typed at double space and that they are directly relevant to a factual or a legal issue under consideration by the arbitration panel.Perhaps hoping to ward off any criticisms, the European Commission's proposal for dispute resolution includes the following in the remarks section:This text for the dispute settlement chapter including the relevant annexes (Rules of Procedure, Code of Conduct and Mediation) is practically identical to all the texts for dispute settlement chapters (incl. its annexes) that the EU put forward in all recent bilateral negotiations of a trade agreement.In other words, nothing to see here, move along please.  And, indeed, the logic seems inarguable: trade agreements need dispute settlement procedures to sort out disagreements, this is what we've used innumerable times before, so no one can possibly object.  But here's the big problem with that syllogism: TTIP is not (just) a trade agreement.The European Commission's own (hugely-optimistic) modelling of TTIP assumes that 80% of the benefits will flow not from pushing to zero all trade tariffs, of which there are few, but by removing "non-tariff barriers".  And as I noted in my last column, those "non-tariff barriers" are things like regulations and standards.  They are essentially *cultural* expressions of a nation, and help to define what kind of society[...]



TTIP Update XLIX

2016-01-02T19:20:28.134+00:00

As is widely appreciated by now, TTIP is about regulatory harmonisation rather than about lowering tariffs, since the latter are already extremely low.  That raises the central question: how can TTIP harmonise without lowering standards, which the European Commission has stated categorically will not happen with TTIP?  An early update, back in 2013, hinted at a resolution of this conundrum.  TTIP would not, in itself, lower standards, but it would create a machinery that would progressively lower standards after TTIP had been ratified.  That would allow the European Commission to claim - truthfully - that TTIP did not lower standards, while at the same time setting in train a process that would both bring in harmonisation, and lower standards.In December 2013, we had a leak of a position paper on "regulatory coherence" [.pdf] that hinted at what was to come.  And now, thanks to the Greens MEP Michel Reimon, we have our first real TTIP leak on the subject .  It even comes with a nice cloak-and-dagger angle, since it has been re-typed from the original leaked document to protect the source.Specifically, it's the EU's paper on the regulatory co-operation on financial regulation in TTIP [.pdf].  This is one of the many really hotly-contested areas, and one where US regulations are stricter than those in the EU.  EU corporations therefore want to use TTIP as a way of undermining US laws (de-regulation is a threat for both the EU and the US.) Here's the basic aim:The Parties commit to engage in a process towards convergence of their respective regulatory and supervisory frameworks for financial services.And here's how they aim to do that:The Parties hereby establish the Joint EU/US Financial Regulatory Forum ("the Forum"). The Forum is in charge of regulatory co-operation between the Parties in the domain of financial services.What's troubling is the following:The Joint EU/US Financial Regulatory Forum shall agree on detailed guidelines on mutual reliance adapted for each specific area of financial regulation no later than one year from the entry into force of this agreement.It's deeply worrying that European politicians and governments will be asked to sign up to TTIP where one of its most important mechanisms - the Financial Regulatory Forum - is left undefined.  As Michel Reimon rightly says in his blog post accompanying the leak (original in German):Thus a Parliamentary resolution [to accept TTIP] would become a blank cheque: we would create a body whose way of working we don't know, and would only learn a year later, when we would have to implement it.  Every MEP that agrees to this proposal is giving up his or her independent mandate.This is an important leak, because it gives us a first glimpse of how TTIP is likely to frame the regulatory co-operation, at least in the financial sector.  By an interesting coincidence, another leak in the same area has just appeared on the Corporate Europe Observatory site, which concerns the overall approach to regulation.  The document runs to ten pages [.pdf], and is written in fairly opaque terms; I recommend reading the Corporate Europe Observatory's excellent analysis instead.  Here are some of the main points.According to the proposal, as soon as a new regulation is in the pipeline, businesses should be informed through an annual report, and be involved. This is now called “early information on planned acts”, until recently called “early warning”. Already at the planning stage, “the regulating Party” has to offer business lobbyists who have a stake in a piece of legislation or regulation, an opportunity to “provide input”. This input “shall be taken i[...]



TTIP Update XLVIII

2016-01-02T19:13:54.167+00:00

As I've noted many times before, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism has long been the most contentious aspect of TTIP, and that was reflected in the unexpected decision to hold a consultation on the area last year.  The hope seems to have been that this would keep critics quiet, and allow the European Commission to come up with a few minor tweaks to its proposals while claiming that the public had been allowed to air their views.It didn't quite work out like that.  An unprecedented 150,000 replies were received - and this was on a hitherto obscure aspect of a traditionally boring trade agreement.   That number alone bespeaks a  new relationship between the public and the politicians who are supposed to serve them.  And so the results of that consultation have been eagerly awaited: how exactly would the European Commission manage to turn the ultimate lemon into lemonade?Now we know: they didn't.  The 140-page analysis [.pdf] is almost entirely statistical, providing useful but rather dry summaries of how many people said what kind of thing. Here's the Commission's potted version:The vast majority of replies, around 145,000 (or 97%), were submitted through various on-line platforms of interest groups, containing pre-defined, negative answers. In addition, the Commission received individual replies from more than 3,000 individuals and some 450 organisations representing a wide spectrum of EU civil society, including NGOs, business organisations, trade unions, consumer groups, law firms and academics. These replies generally go into more detail on the proposed approach. (See MEMO) Broadly speaking, the replies can be divided into three categories:     replies which indicate opposition to or concerns around TTIP in general;     replies opposing or expressing general concerns about investment protection/ISDS in TTIP;     replies which provide detailed comments on the EU’s suggested approach in TTIP, representing broad and divergent views; The many replies in the first two categories are a clear indication of the concerns that many citizens across Europe have concerning TTIP generally and about the principle itself of investment protection and ISDS.More important than that analysis is the European Commission's attitude to the results, and what it intends to do now.  Here's what the Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström is quoted as saying:“The consultation clearly shows that there is a huge scepticism against the ISDS instrument”, said Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Trade, in a comment. “We need to have an open and frank discussion about investment protection and ISDS in TTIP with EU governments, with the European Parliament and civil society before launching any policy recommendations in this area. This will be the first immediate step following the publication of this report. I also note that there were constructive proposals in the consultation on areas that can be reformed.Specifically:In the first quarter of 2015, the Commission will organise a number of consultation meetings with EU governments, the European Parliament, and different stakeholders, including NGOs, business, trade unions, consumer and environment organisations, to discuss investment protection and ISDS in TTIP on the basis of this report. As a first step, the consultation results will be presented to the INTA Committee of the European Parliament on 22 January. Following these consultations during the first quarter, the Commission will develop specific proposals for the TTIP negotiations.Yes, the response to the consultation’s overwhelmingly negative outcome [...]



TTIP Update XLVII

2016-01-02T18:16:24.074+00:00

As long-suffering readers of this column wil have noticed, the dominant theme of the discussions around TTIP so far has been the investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS).  We are still waiting for the European Commission's analysis of the massive response to its consultation on the subject - it will be fascinating to see how it tries to put a positive spin on the overwhelming public refusal of ISDS in TTIP.  The issue that crops up most often after ISDS is probably transparency - or rather the complete lack of it.  Yes, it's true that there have been some token releases of documents: initial position papers in 2013, and some more in 2014; but these don't really tell us much that we didn't already know, or could guess.  The main obstacle to greater openness was Karel De Gucht, the European Commissioner for Trade when TTIP was launched.  As he showed time and again during the ACTA fiasco, he had little but contempt for the European public and its unconscionable desire to know what the politicians whose salaries it pays are up to in Brussels.  That made his retirement at the end of last year an important moment and opportunity.His successor, Cecilia Malmström, is cut from a very different cloth, as was apparent from this announcement right at the start of her tenure of De Gucht's post:'TTIP is an immensely important agreement,' said Commissioner Malmström, 'with huge potential to create jobs and growth and to set standards. Yet, even though the TTIP talks are the most transparent and open the Commission has ever conducted, there are still a lot of doubts around what is being negotiated.' 'That's why we want to consult even more extensively on TTIP, and go even further in terms of transparency. Increased transparency will enable us to show, more clearly, what the negotiations are about and to de-mystify them. We will use this as a basis to engage further with a broad range of stakeholders and the public,' said Malmström.The Commissioner outlined two main proposals for boosting transparency. First, to extend access to TTIP texts to all Members of the European Parliament, beyond the currently limited group of Members of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee. Second, to publish texts setting out the EU's specific negotiating proposals on TTIP.As I've discussed many times, TTIP does not have "huge potential to create jobs and growth", even under the most optimistic assumptions, but it's certainly important, so Malmström's promise of consulting "even more extensively" is extremely welcome.  Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised last month to experience first-hand just how extensively she means to consult:Whether that meeting actually happens, remains to be seen.  But Malmström's two main proposals for "boosting transparency" have now been implemented.  The first of them - providing access to MEPs - happened immediately.  The second, publishing actual negotiating texts - happened earlier this week:The European Commission today published a raft of texts setting out EU proposals for legal text in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) it is negotiating with the US. This is the first time the Commission has made public such proposals in bilateral trade talks and reflects its commitment to greater transparency in the negotiations.Specifically, here's what is being made available:The so-called 'textual proposals' published today set out the EU’s specific proposals for legal text that has been tabled in the proposed TTIP. They set out actual language and binding commitments which the EU would like to see in the parts of the agreemen[...]



TTIP Update XLVI

2016-01-02T18:07:05.430+00:00

Not much has been happening on the TTIP front during the holiday break, but there's one extremely important report that came out a little earlier that I'd like to explore in this update.  It's called "The hidden cost of EU trade deals: Investor-state dispute settlement cases taken against EU member states", and has been put together by Friends of the Earth Europe.  As that title makes clear, it's about an aspect of the ISDS mechanism that has so far been overlooked: the fact that the EU has *already* suffered as a result of the inclusion of ISDS in other agreements.  As such, they give a foretaste of what's likely to happen if ISDS is included in TTIP (and CETA):One of the European Commission’s arguments supporting the inclusion of the mechanism in those trade deals is that EU member states have already signed thousands of trade and investment agreements, which include such investor-state dispute arbitration. Investor-state arbitration has become a consistent feature bilateral investment treaties (BITs), with EU member states being party to some 1,400 BITs including ISDS since the late 1960s. So the European Commission says it should be part of the agreements now under negotiation.What the European Commission rarely mentions is how often this mechanism has been used against EU member states, and how much this mechanism has cost EU taxpayers. The ongoing negotiations of trade and investment agreements – including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the Transpacific Partnership, and negotiations between the EU and the US respectively with China – are unprecedented in size and scope, and would drastically expand the extent of foreign direct investments covered by investor-state arbitration. Such an expansion would risk seriously undermining governments’ ability to regulate for the protection of people and the environment.Here are the report's key findings:127 known ISDS cases have been brought against 20 EU member states since 1994. Details of the compensation sought by foreign investors was publicly available for only 62 out of the 127 cases (48%). The compensation sought for in these 62 cases amounts to almost €30 billion.The total amount awarded to foreign investors – inclusive of known interest, arbitration fees, and other expenses and fees, as well as the only known settlement payment made by an EU member state – was publicly available for 14 out of the 127 cases (11%) and amounts to €3.5 billion. The largest known amount to be awarded by a tribunal against an EU member state was €553 million in the Ceskoslovenska Obchodni Banka vs. Slovak Republic case (1997).The report is valuable not just for bringing all these figures together for the first time, but for providing details of several of the most significant cases.  They're all well-worth reading, since they flesh out the otherwise rather dry ISDS concept.  I'd like to focus on one, which raises some particularly important issues.  Here's the report's summary of the case:The Micula brothers invested in the North West region of Romania – setting up multiple food processing, milling and manufacturing businesses. In 2005, the claimants initiated a dispute against Romania seeking compensation to the tune of €450 million. The case emerged following a series of decisions taken by Romania, which altered or withdrew a number of investment incentives (ie: exemptions from custom duties and certain taxes) that had previously been offered to the Micula brothers in support of their investment in a disadvantaged region of Romania. Romania argued that the regulatory changes they made we[...]



TTIP Update XLV

2016-01-02T18:02:43.868+00:00

The TTIP negotiations are in trouble.  After 18 months of talks, the EU and US have precious little to show.  And external factors such as the imminent Presidential race in the US means that time is running out to get the deal signed and sealed.  Against that background, there is signs of a (rather feeble) attempt to put “rocket boosters” under the negotiations, as David Cameron likes to phrase it - although he forgets that rocket boosters can also explode on take-off, destroying their cargo completely.For example, earlier this week the UK government published a Web page entitled "Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP): benefits and concerns".  Rather surprisingly, it consists entirely of re-heated numbers that I've debunked in earlier TTIP Updates.  Is that really the best they can do? Curiously, TTIP proponents are calling for a political debate based on "facts" and "hard evidence".  I say: bring it on, because the facts are actually pretty damning for most of the hyperbolic claims made by the European Commission as pro-TTIP governments like the UK's.Always in search of facts about transatlantic trade, I was delighted to come across a publication [.pdf] from the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union among others, detailing the transatlantic economy 2013. These are figures from a strongly pro-trade group, and surely represent precisely the kind of "facts" and "hard evidence" that supporters of TTIP are calling for.  So let's take a look at some of the key areas.US-EU merchandise trade totaled an estimated $650 billion in 2012, up 68% from $387 billion in 2000.In other words, transatlantic trade is already huge, and growing.  So the idea that we desperately need TTIP to make that happen seems curious to say the least.  What about US investments in Europe?  Some figures from the report:The US and Europe are each other’s primary source and destination for foreign direct investment.Europe has attracted 56% of US global foreign direct investment (FDI) since 2000.On a historic cost basis, the US investment position in Europe was 14 times larger than the BRICs and nearly 4 times larger than in all of Asia at the end of 2011.Here's European investment in the US:European investment in the US, on historic cost basis, was $1.8 trillion in 2011, 71% of total FDI in the US.even in bad year 2011 Europe’s investment flows to the US were 7 times larger than to China.In 2011 total assets of European affiliates in the US were an estimated $8.6 trillion. UK firms held $2.2 trillion; German firms $1.5 trillion; Swiss and French $1.3 trillion each; and Dutch firms $959 billion.So, the "facts" and "hard evidence" suggest that transatlantic trade is booming; in particular, transatlantic investment is at dizzyingly-high levels - and all of that has taken place in the absence of ISDS.  The argument that TTIP "must have" ISDS in order to keep the investment flowing is not just wrong, but an insult to our intelligence.Another area where I would like to see some facts and hard evidence involves claims about the alleged boost that TTIP will give to the EU and US economies.  I've debunked the 119bn euros figures regularly trotted out by the European Commission - but without explaining that this is a best-case result in 2027 - on a number of occasions.  I've also noted that there is criticism of the basic modelling technique used in the CEPR study paid for by the European Commission, something known as "Computable General Equilibrium" (CGE).  But I have recently come across a fascinating do[...]



TTIP Update XLIV

2016-01-02T17:41:59.905+00:00

The TTIP negotiations have started in earnest - before, meetings were largely preliminary, aimed at establishing the general positions of both the EU and US.  And yet, curiously, very little seems to be happening, at least publicly.  The next official round is not until early February next year, although it seems likely that informal meetings are still taking place behind closed doors.  One reason for this hiatus is that there has been a change at the top.  Karel De Gucht has relinquished his post, which has been taken by the Swede Cecilia Malmström.  She is adopting a very different style, not least in terms of her attitude to the public.  Faced by the growing scepticism about TTIP's benefits, and anger over its complete lack of any meaningful transparency, Malmström has taken a conciliatory approach, promising more openness, some of which has now been announced.But Malmström is still trotting out the same old misinformation about TTIP.  In a recent opinion piece she published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the paragraph about ISDS is particularly pernicious.  Malmström says that European member states have signed a total of 1400 agreements that include ISDS; this is presumably to "prove" that ISDS is completely normal and totally harmless.  Neither is true.Those 1400 agreements were overwhelmingly with developing nations.  The ISDS clauses were there to protect European investments in countries where the judicial systems were perhaps less than fair and reliable.  In a sense, these were one-way ISDS chapters, since companies from those emerging nations almost never invested in Europe, and thus were unable to avail themselves of the ability to sue for alleged expropriation there - that's why European nations have rarely been sued under these trade agreements.Moreover, just seven of those 1400 agreements were with the US.  The countries involved were former Soviet states, plus Poland.  Even though in retrospect the terms of those agreements were pretty bad, they looked good as a way of escaping the clutches of Russia, and of encouraging the US to support the countries signing them.  Like the other ISDS chapters with developing countries, they are unrepresentative of what will happen with TTIP.  For a start, US investment in those ex-Warsaw Pact countries is relatively low, which means the opportunities for it to use ISDS clauses are very limited.  Compare that with the whole of the EU, where there are around 50,000 subsidiaries of US companies, representing very substantial investments, and you can see that the risks of the EU or a member state being sued under ISDS in TTIP are vastly greater than was the case for those 7 earlier examples.  So Malmström's claim that ISDS wasn't a problem then, and so won't be a problem now, is simply false.She then goes to admit that the current ISDS chapters are problematic, but that the EU has already addressed that objection by reforming ISDS in CETA, the trade agreement with Canada.  Specifically, she claims that in CETA:Nations always have the freedom to decide about health systems, minimum wages and environmental protection.That sounds good, but when you analyse the detailed wording of CETA's ISDS provisions, as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has done in its excellent, in-depth exploration of the final text, "Making Sense of CETA", this is what you find is actually the case as regards that supposedly strengthened "right to regulate":The ‘right to regulate’ is mentioned three times i[...]



TTIP Update XLIII

2016-01-02T17:27:41.603+00:00

On Monday, I attended an interesting meeting at the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, in Berlin, with the intriguing title of "re:negotiate (ttip)".  This was valuable for two reasons.  First, because I had a chance to hear the arguments advanced by senior figures in the pro-TTIP world (surprisingly weak, even after all this time), and secondly, because I was asked to talk about "TTIP and global data transfer".  That's not something I've written much about here, so this gives me an opportunity to set down what I learned as I prepared for my session in Berlin.The official negotiating mandate from the European Commission [.pdf], released recently (but very belatedly), does not mention words like "e-commerce, electronic services, telecommunications providers, cloud computing, data protection" at all, which is pretty extraordinary given their importance.  However, the section covering Trade in Services states:The aim of negotiations on trade in services will be to bind the existing autonomous level of liberalisation of both Parties at the highest level of liberalisatio n captured in existing FTAs, in line with Article V of GATS, covering substantially all sectors and all modes of supply, while achieving new market access by tackling remaining long - standing market access barriers, recognising the sensitive nature of certa in sectors."GATS" is the overarching General Agreement on Trade in Services   The above paragraph would therefore seem to require that all kinds of e-commerce and online services should be covered by TTIP.  The Commission's mandate makes another reference to GATS here:The [TTIP] Agreement will not preclude the enforcement of excep tions on the supply of services justifiable under the relevant WTO rules (Articles XIV and XIVbis GATS).That's crucially important, because Article XIV includes the following exception:nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to prevent the adoption or enforcement by any Member of measures:(c)      necessary to secure compliance with laws or regulations which are not inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement including those relating to:(ii)     the protection of the privacy of individuals in relation to the processing and dissemination of personal data and the protection of confidentiality of individual records and accounts;That seems to provide the basis for the following statement in the European Commission's TTIP FAQ:Will TTIP mean US data privacy standards prevailing over or undermining EU standards on the same? No.  The EU and US have long since recognised that we each regulate data privacy in a different way.  The TTIP negotiations are not the right place to address these differences though.  We have already developed suitable ways of handling transatlantic data flows - for example, the Safe Harbour Agreement.  In addition, we are currently in talks with the US on access to data by enforcement authorities.  The aim is to get an 'Umbrella Agreement' on data protection to strengthen our joint efforts to combat terrorism and serious crime.  These talks will not be affected by the TTIP.Of course, the Safe Harbour Agreement is a joke.  It basically lets US companies take personal data out of the EU, and do what they like with it by "self-certifying" that they are jolly nice people, and that they wouldn't dream of doing anything nasty with all our data, oh no, sir.  But thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that once the data is out of the EU and ac[...]



TTIP Update XLII

2016-01-02T17:17:54.098+00:00

The problems of TTIP are so many - total lack of meaningful transparency, the unnecessary inclusion of an ISDS chapter, the threat to Europe's high standards governing health, safety, the environment, labour etc. - that the agreement's supporters have been forced to fight back with the only thing they claim to offer: money.  TTIP, they argue in multiple ways, will take us to the land of milk and honey, boost the GDP massively, and lead to lots of extra dosh for every family in the EU.But as I've explained, none of this is true.  Even the European Commission's own research shows that the most ambitious outcome - that is, one that is already totally unrealistic given the resistance that TTIP is meeting - would produce a boost to Europe's GDP of 0.5% - just 119 billion euros.  However, as I and many others have pointed out, this is after ten years, and therefore represents a *cumulative* boost to GDP, which therefore works out at around 0.05% GDP boost per year on average.  Here's someone else joining that chorus:at the end of the simulation period in 2027, GDP would be 0.5 percent higher in a TTIP scenario than the baseline, non-TTIP scenario, implying negligible effects on annual GDP growth rates.That comes from an important new study by Jeronim Capaldo from the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University in the US.  It also points out the obvious fallacy with the European Commission's claim that EU households would gain 545 euros more every year:these estimates are misleading since the studies provide no indication of the distribution of income gains: they are simply averages. With EU wages falling as a share of GDP since the mid-nineties, it is far from certain that any aggregate gains will translate into income increases for households living on income from wages (as opposed to capital).Or, to put it more bluntly, claiming that any benefit from TTIP would be shared out equally among all families in the EU is only going to happen if communism sweeps across the continent - and about as likely.Capaldo's study begins by pointing out the glaring flaws in the Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) model used by the studies invoked by the European Commission.  This CGE approach includes the astonishing assumption that employment will not change as a result of TTIP, because somehow the inevitable job losses in some industries will be magically balanced by job creation in others.  Morever, as I have discussed before, another huge flaw in the CGE approach is that it ignores the costs it brings.  As Capaldo puts it:the strategy chosen to simulate a “TTIP future” has a strong impact on the results. Ecorys assumes that so-called "Non-Trade Barriers" impose a given cost on trade and that TTIP can remove up to one half of them. CEPR and CEPII borrow this approach, but assume a lower share. These barriers can include what other stakeholders refer to as consumer and environmental regulations. Phasing them out may be difficult and could impose important adjustment costs not captured by the models.In an effort to avoid these and other problems, Capaldo uses a different model:  To obtain a more realistic TTIP scenario, we need to move beyond CGE models. A convenient alternative is provided by the United Nations Global Policy Model (GPM), which informs influential publications such as the Trade and Development Report. The GPM is a demand-driven, global econometric model that relies on a dataset of consistent macroeconomic data for every[...]



TTIP Update XLI

2016-01-02T16:54:27.366+00:00

p { margin-bottom: 0.25cm; line-height: 120%; }a:link { }In my last update, I noted that the highly-contested investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) chapter remains the centre of attention, with rumours swirling around that the President-elect of the new European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, would pull a rabbit out of his hat by announcing that ISDS would be dropped.  That didn't happen, and it seems that once more, the UK is to blame.A group of 14 EU nations - including the UK, Spain, Ireland and Denmark - sent a pointed letter to Juncker on the subject of TTIP and ISDS.  Here's the key part [.pdf]:One of the issues that has attracted criticism is investment protection.  The Commission is currently analysing the results of a public consultation on this issue and we look forward to the Commission's response.  The consultation was an important step in ensuring that we strike a correct balance to ensure that governments retain their full freedom to regulate, but not in a way that discriminates unfairly against foreign firms.  It is important that the outcome of this consultation runs its course and we carefully consider the views expressed by our stakeholders before reaching firm decisions on the way forward.  The Council mandata is clear in its inclusion of investor protection in the TTIP regotations; we need to work together on how best to do so.That one paragraph includes a number of very interesting points. First, there's the strange insistence on the importance of the public consultation on ISDS.  We know that the overwhelming majority of submissions were against ISDS, so it's odd to see the UK government and its allies place such great emphasis here.  This suggests to me that we are about to witness a stitch-up - for example, we might see 149,000 of the 150,000 submissions counted as just *1* or something similarly outrageous.  The outgoing trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, has already hinted some trick along these lines might be adopted.Then of course we have the line about ensuring "the correct balance" between governments' right to regulated and investors' rights to make profits.  As I've written before, there should be no  balance here, because clearly the sovereignty of governments is paramount: to suggest otherwise amounts to a silent coup against democracy.  But even more ridiculous is the letter's insistence that TTIP must ensure that foreign firms are not discriminated against.  That's downright laugable, because ISDS would give foreign firms extra rights that local firms *don't* have: foreign investors could use national courts and ISDS tribunals, whereas local companies could only use the former.  So it's the national companies who will actually be discriminated against under ISDS: foreign ones will gain huge new powers.Finally, the letter says that the TTIP mandate [.pdf] is "clear in its inclusion of investor protection mechanisms", but it omits to mention the very important caveat there:the inclusion of investment protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) will depend on whether a satisfactory solution, meeting the EU interests concerning the issues covered by paragraph 23, is achieved.Paragraph 23 includes the following key section:should be with out prejudice to the right of the EU and the Member States to adopt and enforce, in accordance with their respective competences, measures necessary to pursue legitimate public policy objectives[...]



TTIP Update XL

2016-01-02T16:24:50.656+00:00

p { margin-bottom: 0There's a rumourgoing around that ISDS may be coming out of TTIP: Incoming Commission president Jean Claude Juncker is said to have decided to remove the controversial investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) from TTIP, citing that it is “too late” to win on the issue, and to send a clear signal to EU citizens that he has “heard them" a new news report says According to the Dutch journalist Caroline de Gruyter, writing for NRC Handelsblad, Trade Commissioner-elect Cecilia Malmström had threatened to resign over Juncker’s plans to exclude ISDS, but to date, this has not happened. The news sheds further light on the tug-of-war taking place within the Commission regarding investor rights in international trade agreements, as was demonstrated in Malmström's parliamentary hearing in September. Well, that's certainly plausible, but I'd like to see this confirmed before I start rejoicing. And even if ISDS were taken out of TTIP, it's important to remember that the threat of corporations suing nations directly, over democratic developments that harm future corporate profits, will not have disappeared. That's because ISDS is most definitely still in the trade agreement between the EU and Canada, known as CETA. That means that any US company with ‘substantial business activities’ in Canada - that's all that the text of CETA requires - can sue the EU using the new agreement. And just to make things a little harder, it was announcedtoday that another major EU free trade agreement with ISDS has been concluded: The European Union (EU) and Singapore have concluded the negotiations of the investment part of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA). This marks the successful conclusion of the negotiations of the entire EUSFTA, following the initialling of the other parts of the agreement in September 2013. As that makes clear, it was precisely the chapter dealing with investment - and hence the highly-contronversial ISDS provisions - that was holding up the agreement with Singapore. We finally have that investment chapter (pdf). Two things are striking. First, that once again, any company that has "substantive business operations" in Singapore will be able to use the new agreement - known by the unlovely abbreviation "EUSFTA" - to sue European governments and the EU itself. The other thing that is noticeable is that zero notice has been taken of the 150,000 (mostly negative) submissions to the European Commission's consultation on ISDS. This isn't the only example of the Commission showing its contempt for the European public and democracy. As I mentioned in a previous update, plans to organise a European Citizens' Initiative, a formal petition against both TTIP and CETA, were blocked by the European Commission, which flatly refused to allow people even this, largely symbolic, way of expressing their views on TTIP and CETA. However, the organisers realised that they didn't actually need permission from Brussels to run this pan-European petition, and set up the site stop-ttip.org, where people were able to sign in a wide range of European languages. Even though this was only launched last week, it's been a stunning success: at the time of writing, over 637,000 signatures have been gathered (please do add your name if you haven't already.) That's two-thirds of the nominal million that would have been needed for the ECI, but the way things are going, I think the total will go wel[...]



TTIP Update XXXIX

2016-01-02T16:18:46.052+00:00

As previous updates - and many economists - have pointed out the huge economic gains claimed for TTIP are largely illusory.  The 119bn euros boost for the EU not only turns out to be under the most optimistic assumptions, clearly impossible to obtain now given the growing resistance to TTIP's de-regulation, but refers to 2027, and is the difference between an EU economy with TTIP and without.  That means the claimed 0.5% GDP boost is actually a ten-year cumulative figure, and amounts to the rather less impressive 0.05% extra GDP on average - in mathematical terms, indistinguishable from zero given the very approximate nature of the models used to make these predictions.That's been quite widely known for a while.  But it turns out that there is another extraordinary fact buried within the main CEPR study, which was paid for the European Commission [.pdf]. I've discovered this thanks to an illuminating post about TTIP by Martin Whitlock, published in the UK edition of The Huffington Post.  I'll cover his main point later on, but first I want to explore the extremely important piece of information that he mentions almost incidentally.  It goes some way to explaining the European Commission's obsession with cars: whenever they give an example of an industry that could benefit from TTIP, it's always cars.  And when asked about harmonisation of standards, it's again always about the different rules that apply to cars on each side of the Atlantic.  Here's what Whitlock writes:cars form a big part of the E.U.'s case for TTIP. They account for 47% of the increase in exports and 41% of the increase in imports in the best case scenario, with well over three times as many vehicles braving the Atlantic storms in one direction or the other than at present.When you think about it, that's staggering.  Indeed, so staggering that I checked what the CEPR study says to make sure those figures were correct.  For those of you following at home, it turns out that the relevant numbers are on pages 68 and 69 of the report.In the most ambitious scenario, and in 2027, CEPR expects there to be a positive change in bilateral exports from the EU to US of 186,965 million euros (that's obviously a ridiculous precise figure - no model can provide six significant figures of accuracy about aspects of the world economy in 2027.)  Of that, fully 87,358 million euros are predicted to come from the motor industry.  The works out as 47%, as Whitlock writes.  Similarly, the table on page 69, CEPR expect there to be a positive change in bilateral exports from the US to EU of 159,098 million euros, which 65,903 million euros come from the motor industry, representing 41% of the total.So that confirms Whitlock's figures.  But let's just think about what those CEPR predictions mean.  In rough terms, they say that in 2027, nearly 50% of TTIP's boost to transatlantic trade will come from one industry: cars.  Not only that, but CEPR further claims that the transatlantic exports for both the EU and the US industries will be boosted by roughly the same amount.  In other words, TTIP will lead to more cars being shipped from the EU to the US, but also for almost the same number of extra cars to be shipped back across from the US to the EU.Since the number of cars travelling in each direction across the Atlantic more or less cancel out, this means that TTIP's net effect will be[...]



TTIP Update XXXVIII

2016-01-02T16:13:46.479+00:00

In my last update, I mentioned plans to organise a European Citizens' Initiative, a formal petition against both TTIP and CETA.  I think everyone assumed that the European Commission would just ignore this, but in fact it has done something rather more spectactular - and stupid: it has refused to allow the ECI to go ahead at all.In its rejection of the ECI, the European Commission claims that the negotiating mandates on TTIP and CETA are not legal acts but internal preparatory acts between EU institutions and therefore not contestable via an ECI. “The Commission’s view that only acts with an effect on third parties are permissible for an ECI is obviously a legal error. The negotiating mandate of the Commission is a formal decision of the Council and therefore a legal act. If the Commission’s legal opinion had any substance, then in plain English this would mean that Europe’s population is excluded from participation in the development of any kind of international agreements – information that is as frightening as it is scandalous,” according to Efler. What’s more, the Commission claims that it cannot make negative ratification proposals and therefore cannot comply with the ECI demand not to conclude the CETA and TTIP negotiations. “Contrariwise, this means that citizens can only applaud international negotiations carried out by the Commission, but not criticize them,” said Efler.The group behind the petition have realised that they don't actually need the European Commission's permission anyway, and so are simply going ahead without it:We reject the Commission’s attempt to silence us and will carry out our European Citizens’ Initiative anyway, without approval from Brussels. We are currently preparing an online signature gathering tool as well as paper signature forms and will start collection in early October. At the same time, we will challenge the Commission in court by appealing to the European Court of Justice. In the past couple of weeks our campaign has gathered support from over 240 civil society organisations in 21 EU member states. It is somewhat ironic that the European Commission, which often complains about the “lack of a European public”, is trying to stop this truly European movement in its tracks. We will continue to speak out against the Commission’s total lack of transparency in the negotiations and favouring of corporate interests over the common good. We will stay very public and very European in our opposition to TTIP and CETA!This refusal even to allow a largely symbolic petition to proceed is indicative of the contempt with which the European Commission regards any expression of the public's view on these matters, which it seems to think are the exclusive domain of bureaucrats and politicians (and lobbyists).  That was underlined even more strongly last week, when the official text of the trade agreement with Canada, CETA, was finally released.  However, at precisely that moment, the European Commission was also "celebrating" the conclusion of the talks, with the implication that no further changes can be made.  So after telling everyone that the public would have its chance to comment on the CETA text later, it turns out that in fact it can only see the document not change it.  The European Commission has an interesting concept of what democracy means.Interestingly, the meeting between the European Com[...]