Is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) a ‘game-changer’ and threat to democracy?

Ferdi De Ville (Ghent University) & Gabriel Siles-Brügge (University of Warwick)

After a period of relative obscurity, EU trade policy has experienced a surge of interest, driven in large part by the negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Presented by its advocates as a boon to growth and jobs and a means of cementing transatlantic leadership of the global economy, and by its detractors as a threat to democracy itself, it has sparked a furious and very polarized debate amongst commentators and in the public sphere. This motivates the authors in this third JEPP debate section (after debates on Brexit and EU democracy) to focus on whether TTIP truly represents a ‘game-changer’ of a trade agreement and to what extent it undermines democratic decision-making. It begins with a contribution by Ferdi De Ville and Gabriel Siles-Brügge, who argue that TTIP is not only novel but that it also represents a subtle threat to democratic decision-making. Drawing on a constructivist theoretical tradition, they illustrate how the agreement is set up to entrench certain regulatory practices and discourses that see public interest regulation as a barrier to free markets. Dirk De Bièvre and Arlo Poletti, in contrast, draw on existing interest-based political economy explanations to argue that much of TTIP is ‘good old trade politics’. They also take issue with the argument that the agreement represents a threat to democracy, arguing that the prospective agreement respects the regulatory autonomy of the EU (and the US), since a supermajority is required to adopt any change to the EU regulatory status quo. Moreover, the agreement would be likely to lead to regulatory upgrading worldwide. Leif Johan Eliasson and Patricia García-Duran round off the debate by arguing that TTIP represents a geopolitical game-changer because it is the first time that a bilateral agreement (rather than the WTO) may provide the global public good of common standards for an economically interdependent world. They also suggest that the fears of opponents of TTIP are largely driven by their misplaced concern that the agreement will allow the US to impose lower standards on the EU.