GLOBAL trade unions accused the European Union of “brutal neocolonialism” yesterday as leaked documents exposed the bloc’s drive to privatise services in Third World countries.
Secret demands being made by the European Commission as part of the shadowy Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa) — an international trade treaty being thrashed out by the EU, United States and allied countries — were released yesterday by the WikiLeaks whistleblowing website.
Union federations Education International, the European Public Service Union, Public Services International (PSI), the International Union of Food Workers, UNI Global Union and the International Transport Workers Federation issued an immediate call for Tisa talks to be halted in the wake of the exposé.
PSI said the EU’s call for negotiating countries to “remove subnational and local government from policy space exclusions” would “dramatically restrict the ability to safeguard local services … [opening] up services delivered at a local level such as water, waste [disposal], healthcare and education to the profit-making incentives of multinational corporations.
“The EU is home to some of the world’s largest private service operators who have used other trade agreements to expand their market dominance and aggressively safeguard their profits,” it pointed out — adding that it was ironic that EU demands being made as part of Tisa would restrict countries from reversing failed privatisations, when European cities such as Paris and Berlin had recently been bringing services such as water supply back into public hands.
General secretary Rosa Pavanelli said the “EU position ignores the potential danger of exporting aggressive privatisation policies to the developing world, when they have already been shown to be the cause of social and political instability in many EU countries.”
Other EU demands include the deregulation of financial services, despite an absence of regulation being widely blamed for the global economic crisis of 2008.
PSI also argues that the definition of public services used in the treaty negotiations, supposedly so they can be protected from privatisation, is too narrow and will be easy for corporations to get around.
“The EU trade negotiators’ definition of public services is drastically out of touch with how the people see public services: as a common good to be safeguarded, not opened up for profit-making,” Ms Pavanelli said.
European Federation of Public Service Unions leader Jan Willem Goudriaan said forced privatisation of services in developing countries would “kick away the ladder to development.”
And UNI Europe secretary Oliver Roethig said the assault on other countries’ public sectors meant the EU sought to “deny others what we have relied on and enjoyed ourselves,” namely “public services [to which] all citizens have a universal right.”
The unions are calling on all 23 parties to Tisa to publish in full the demands they are making of each other and begin consultation with civil society organisations and the public over the controversial plans.
They spoke out as British campaign War on Want warned that European MPs are threatening to try to rush through the notorious Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) between the EU and Canada, which will expose public services within the EU to foreign takeovers.
Ceta is on the ropes following a bid by the parliament in Wallonia, Belgium, to prevent its country’s government from signing up to the deal.
But War on Want senior trade campaigner Mark Dearn said an attempt by MEPs to force ratification by December was a “scandal” and the treaty — under which US and Canadian corporations will be able to sue European taxpayers for lost profits — “threatens workers’ rights, public services and the foundations of our legal system.”