By – Stephen O’Brien
The civil society organisation this paper will critically evaluate is the Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions and Aid to Citizens Ireland (ATTAC). ATTAC Ireland was established in the country back in 1999. The organisation believes in equality, environmental sustainability and in the power of grassroots movements to push for change, while standing in solidarity with those struggling for social justice throughout the world. (ATTAC, 2016 & ATTAC Ireland, 2015)
The Coalition Across Boarders: Transnational Protest and the Neoliberal order define civil society organisations as; “movements [that] have mobilised across borders, a transnational civil society is emerging in which activists and citizens are developing common grievances, organisation, and identities of resistance” (Bandy & Smith, 2005).
ATTAC‘s values are very fitting of this definition, and is a global network operating in over 40 countries. ATTAC was formed in 1998, partially as a result of the prevailing neo-liberal ideology that dominates western society today. Originally the organisation was called ‘Action for a Tobin Tax to Assist the Citizens’, formerly a single issue movement, which sought the introduction of Tobin Tax on currency speculation. (Moberg, 2001)
The name had derived from the Nobel Prize winner James Tobin who devised the Tobin Tax in 1972, although he has since distant himself from the organisation. “In recent decades, we have seen the resurgence of a globalising liberal capitalism in the form of neo-liberalism, and along with it we have witnessed the growth of opposition in civil society.” (Bandy & Smith, 2005)
This article will be a critique of ATTAC Ireland and its stance on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP). It will firstly examine the inception and historical background of the civil society organisation, subsequently analysing their tactics, strategies and goals, while highlighting various examples of global connectivity orchestrated by this civil society organisations.
The ATTAC’s Irish wing of the organisation was re-launched in 2014, and as of April 5th, they began numerous campaigns and projects. (ATTAC, 2015) They are currently in collaboration with numerous groups to halt the TTIP and Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).
Current Free Trade Agreements
The TTIP is free trade agreement (FTA) between the United States and Europe. The talks for this free trade agreement came out of the breakdown of the Doha round, which began in 2001. (WTO, 2001) These trade talks are carried out by the World Trade Organisation. (WTO)
Conventionally, free trade agreements, such as this are negotiated in secret by the WTO, although TTIP, CETA and TISA negotiations are a result of the global souths rejection of the Doha round of talks. (Jones, 2015)
TTIP is a set of negotiations currently under discussion in secret and is one of many free trade deal under scrutiny. The bi-lateral trade agreement TTIP is an agreement which strives to reduce non- tariff barriers (NTBs), thereby harmonising and/or reducing the regulatory standards/ burdensome barriers for big business in regards to environmental legislation, banking regulations, food safety laws, cosmetic goods regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations. (Puccio, 2015)
All information available to the public has only been released by leaked documents and Freedom of Information requests. (Williams, 2015) Civil society organisations such as ATTAC have specific issues with aspects of these agreements pertaining to the inclusion of Regulatory Cooperation and Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism.
ATTAC Ireland is part of a global organisation known as ATTAC, which was first set-up in France in December 1998, after the media outlet Monde Diplomatique published an editorial entitled ‘Desarmer les marches’ (Disarm the markets). Subsequently this resulted in the creation of an association to promote the Tobin tax. (Moberg, 2001)
The editorial by Ignacio Ramonet called on the formation of an association which sought the introduction of the Tobin Tax. The newspaper was inundated with letters from around France in favour of the idea, which began to spread like rapid fire globally. (Lemaire, 2016)
The organisation was one of the first to draw a link between the increasing powers of the WTO, the neo-liberal direction of EU integration, and the growing influx of foreign ownership of French companies, pension funds and the stock market. (Moberg, 2001) The organisation expanded very rapidly into the rest of the world with an ATTAC network around an international charter set up in 1999.
Global activity against FTAs
The association has thrived with over one thousand local groups and hundreds of organisations supporting the network. (ATTAC, 2016) The German section of ATTAC launched a petition in 2014 called the European citizens’ initiative; ‘STOP TTIP/CETA’, which has currently amassed 3,423,019 signatures thus far. (Pederson, 2014) The Irish subsidiary of ATTAC is actively part of the TTIP Information Network, which was set up to raise awareness of TTIP/CETA. (TTIP.ie, 2015)
TTIP was intended to be the blue print for all future FTAs around the world. Today, the US and EU share a large dynamic and symbiotic trade and economic relationship currently with tariff barriers remaining under a low average of under 3% when trading. (Contributor, 2015)
This agreement will be focused on reducing non-tariff barriers to trade between the two trading blocs. The two different markets account for nearly half of the world’s gross domestic product amounting to 30% of global trade. This relationship has given way to investment of more than $3.7 trillion in each other’s economies. (Akhtar & Jones, 2014)
The aspirations for TTIP was to create the biggest trading bloc in the world between two economic powerhouses in the form of the EU and the US. Stakeholders from both continents have asserted that the full potential of economic improvement due to stagnating growth, job creation, and increased competition from emerging markets have renewed focus on addressing remaining barriers to US and EU trade and investment. (Akhtar & Jones, 2014)
ATTAC is an alter-globalisation movement that opposes the neo-liberal globalisation. Its activists are united together in the quest for emancipation of humankind and access to basic needs, which cannot be brought by global economic competition and free markets, proposing that these issues can only be solved by worldwide solidarity and global financing to guarantee these rights.
Other important issues which the organisation are actively involved with are “the preservation of our planet, which cannot be attained through technologies advances and the commercialisation of natural resources, vying for a radical redefinition of economic development absent of productivism and consumerism.
That implies that the common goods of humanity (health care, education, water, climate, biodiversity) must be given an international status, which insures their protection, and that their preservation must be achieved by devoted financing through global taxes.” (ATTAC, 2016) Everything ATTAC stands for is currently under threat, due to the negotiations of various FTAs.
The Irish wing of the organisation was established in 1999 it currently has grossed over one thousand likes on Facebook. (ATTAC Ireland, 2015) The organisation that is operating in Ireland are at the forefront of opposing TTIP/CETA nationally. The organisation have actively tried to open up the realms of discourse on this issue through various methods. ATTAC Ireland currently are campaigning on issues, such as; Regulatory Cooperation and Investor State Dispute Settlement/Investor Court Settlement (ISDS/ICS).
ATTAC has sought to open debate on this issue through various means, such as; social media posts, blogging, information sessions, protests, whilst also organising events with other organisations who oppose these FTAs. ATTAC Ireland previously orchestrated a speaking tour on CETA/TTIP with a number of notable guest speakers, such as; Maude Barlow, Patricia King and John Reynolds.
ATTAC Ireland were involved with two protests against these FTAs and were involved with Ireland first colloquium on the issue. They are quite active on their website and their social media channels, generally posting between 3-5 pieces of content daily on various issues the organisation is involved with.
ATTAC internationally has progressed from a single issue movement delving into a wider range of issues related to globalisation, monitoring the decisions of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Today the organisation is active in 40 countries, with over a thousand local groups and hundreds of organisations supporting the global network. ATTAC attends the meetings of the G8 with the goal of influencing policymaker’s decisions and offering an alternative form of globalisation. ATTAC supports globalisation policies that they characterise as sustainable and socially just, while critical of the inherently flawed neoliberal ideology which dominates economic globalisation. (ATTAC, 2015)
ATTAC Ireland is nationally involved in raising awareness on issues centred on TTIP/CETA they are part of the TTIP Information Network. (TTIP.IE) This information network is a coalition of seventeen different civil society organisations who are actively planning and strategising different events, while also actively updating their information, as a resource for any individual in Ireland who would like to inform themselves of the threats posed by the introduction of TTIP and CETA.
ATTAC Ireland’s campaigners have previously spoken on Newstalk and Near FM radio stations highlighting some of the key elements of these free trade agreements. ATTAC Ireland has previously provided TTIP campaigners and guest speakers to numerous events, which they have helped in organising or co-hosted.
2016 was an exciting year in the quest to halt TTIP and CETA as Dublin’s Trinity College, hosted the first colloquium in Ireland on deciphering TTIP.
ATTAC Ireland has provided their TTIP campaigner to multiple events, such as; NUI Maynooth’s, while also offering a wealth of knowledge and insight into the issue at an event in Clare regarding TTIP. Subsequently, Clare has been established as the first ‘TTIP free zone’ in Ireland. (Contributor, 2016)
ATTAC Ireland’s engagement with a variety of organisations, councils and universities act as a platform for debate on this issue and their involvement in expanding awareness is a service to society. Cork followed suit and has publicly stated that it shall also be a ‘TTIP free zone’.
The Irish branch of ATTAC is actively involved in the quest to halt TTIP/CETA, which is exemplified through their involvement in raising awareness and actively debating these issues. Consequently, this has led to the organisation engaging with their supporters and members to actively partake in showing their distaste by protesting these FTA’s negotiations.
An article from the Irish wing of ATTAC discussed the detrimental impacts of provisional application in relation to CETA, which was not discussed by the national mainstream media. The issue is centred on the introduction of the ISDS mechanism, one of their biggest concerns, and its undemocratic introduction, which is being sought by the commission. The German wing of ATTAC, on a more global scale, have actively been involved in the fight against TTIP by creating the European Citizen Initiative to ‘Stop TTIP and CETA’. ATTAC Ireland’s website offers a wealth of knowledge in regards to different aspects of the deal.
The inclusion of ISDS or its rebranded name ICS has been objected by ATTAC Ireland, which subsequently led the organisation to signing a statement in conjunction with 280 other civil society organisations. The statement voiced their concern at specific issues, such as; the exclusive rights given to foreign investors, thereby discriminating against domestic investors, private interests cannot undermine public policy objectives and neither ISDS nor ICS are subject to democratic principles and scrutiny. (ATTAC, 2016)
ATTAC Ireland’s objection was reiterated by the German association of judges who criticised ICS in a letter, stating; “There is neither a legal basis nor an actual need for such a court.” The association regard the creation of a second court for a specific group of litigants, as a mistake, which essentially would limit the legislative powers of the member states and the EU to an unacceptable extent. (Sagener, 2016)
The association of German judges and ATTAC have questioned the very validity and need for these types of courts, which is understandable considering ISDS was highlighted as most problematic issue by Europeans. This led to the creation of ICS, due to the high number of respondents that aired their dismay at its inclusion when consulted by the European commission.
“CSOs are formed for a number of reasons, but a central motivating factor is a belief that the state, or the government, is failing in some respect, this is especially the case with NGOs”. (Hutter & O’Mahony, 2003) The evolution of ATTAC internationally from a single issue movement centred of the introduction of Tobin Tax was a result of Le Monde’s article calling for its creation principally due to the failing of the state.
This evolution from a single issue movement has seen the organisation change and conform in certain aspects, but essentially has given rise to multiple campaigns, which are being carried out on a global scale. Subsequently this gave way to the creation of the Irish wing of ATTAC who now lead the quest in halting the latest threat to global democracy and Europe’s high standards – the TTIP and CETA.
In conclusion, ATTAC Ireland is part of global civil society for a multitude of reasons. As highlighted through extensive evidence and examples above, one the organisation’s clear missions is the fight against the TTIP, a growing in-real-time movement. Seeking justice in trade and globalisation. The interconnectivity of global civil society has led to a lot of strategizing and planning, which has culminated in branches of ATTAC leading the quest to halt TTIP/CETA through their involvement in initiatives, such as; the European Citizens Initiative to ‘Stop TTIP/CETA.’ The organisation at its inception and to this day, strongly opposes the prevalent neoliberal ideologies in society today which began taking prominence in the 1970s.
When considering this it is understandable that TTIP/CETA stand for everything, which ATTAC Ireland oppose in regards to trade. Many academics have stated that the creation of new civil societies and campaigns is motivated by the resistance of individuals to Neoliberalism “As movements have mobilised across borders, a transnational civil society is emerging in which activists and citizens are developing common grievances, organisation, and identities of resistance.” (Bandy, Smith, 2005)
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