In his 2013 State of the Union address, U.S.  President Barack Obama announced that he would submit a request to start formal negotiations with the Europe Union on a Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA), also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  --  Such an agreement has been under discussion for some time, and could boost trade between the U.S. and the E.U. by as much as 50%, according to its advocates.  --  On Thursday, two voices on the French left spoke out against such negotiations.  --  In interviews published by the French news website Mediapart and translated below, Jean-Luc Mélenchon said that TAFTA would be "the realization of the 'clash of civilizations,'" while  Yves Jadot warned that it would mean "the extension of the American model of society" to Europe.[1]  --  BACKGROUND:  Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 61, is a co-founder of the Parti de Gauche and co-president of the Front de Gauche who won 11% of the 2012 presidential vote in France, and Yannick Jadot, 45, is an environmentalist with Europe Écologie.  --  Both are elected members of the European Parliament....




By Lucovic Lamant

Mediapart (France)
April 25, 2013 (subscription required)

For the French left in power, these discussions are risky.  In a recent interview on Mediapart, Nicole Bricq, minister for foreign trade, described the government's position:  it will be a "yes, but."  Yes to the overall accord, which will be make it possible to get growth going again in Europe.  But only if "red lines" are drawn, like the cultural exception, which would be off the negotiating table.

In order to initiate discussion, we invited two Eurodeputies critical of the French positions to speak:  Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Front de gauche ['Left Front'] leader, and Yannick Jadot, from Les Verts ['The Greens'] to speak.  Both of them are urging Paris to block the opening of negotiations in June, and both doubt Europe's capacity to negotiate on an equal footing with the United States.  But their argumentation diverges on the basics.  The interviews:

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* Nicole Bricq defends the agreement's objective, while proposing a series of "red lines" for negotiation.  What do you think?

JEAN-LUC MÉLENCHON:  The point of departure isn't Nicole Bricq.  This agreement has been in the works for ten years.  In the beginning, it was supposed to come to fruition in 2015.  And no one was talking about it.  That has changed, it's Barack Obama who brought it up, at the beginning of his second term.  And the process, which until then went totally unremarked, has come into the light.  On the heals of Obama, Angela Merkel (German chancellor --Ed. note) and José Manuel Barroso (president of the European Commission --Ed. note) explained that they were on board.  This great trans-Atlantic market is the outcome of the strategy of generalized deregulation that the North Americans have sought.

* What do you think of the French strategy?

JEAN-LUC MÉLENCHON:  There will not be any resistance on the French side.  They've been involved in the negotiations for ten years, and the social democrats have always voted in favor.  Including elected officials like Benoît Hamon, who, when he was a Eurodeputy, voted in favor of a resolution on the subject.  François Hollande, though, never mentioned it during the presidential campaign.  He had talked before about the reorientation of Europe, but he didn't do anything.  But there he didn't even say a word about these negotiations.  Yet this changes everything:  if they do that, there will no longer be a European sphere.

* No European sphere ?

JEAN-LUC MÉLENCHON:  If we open Europe on every side, and if we create this trans-Atlantic market, Europe is diluted.  We'll form a big economic zone in which the dollar will be dominant.  Little by little, the economic plan is catching up with the political design:  it's the realization of the "clash of civilizations," with the formation of a great Western block.  The English, the Americans, they are at least consistent.  They have visions.  They're not yielding anything.  We, the French, are frivolous, Disneylandish.  Care Bears.  In the end, we are losers.

* The defenders of the project on the European side say that the agreement, if it is negotiated well, will offer an opportunity to raise world standards in trade questions -- a form of free-market reform from above.

JEAN-LUC MÉLENCHON:  I disagree completely.  It will align with what the North Americans have been practicing for twenty years.  They make us hope for miracles, but there's no chance of it happening.  Look at what the United States have done with Canada and Mexico, when they devised NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994 --Ed. note).  In the discussion, there was a list of 300 protected products:  their own.  And all the other products were deregulated:  those of others.

* The French succeeded in getting Karel de Gucht, the trade commissioner, to specify that the cultural exception will be protected.

JEAN-LUC MÉLENCHON:  Great!  So now, we're supposed to be happy not to have everything taken from us.  On the pretext of keeping an exception, they'll make us swallow the rest.  Madame Bricq can tell herself stories, but they're not going to be worth anything when we're up against the North Americans.  These Parti Socialiste types are little children who don't understand anything about geopolitics.  They're demonstrating a Pavlovian Atlanticism.  In any case, the Germans will drop us in favor of the Americans.

* So if you were in power, what would you do?

JEAN-LUC MÉLENCHON:  I would block the opening of negotiations.  But I would do it politely.  I would explain to Europe that we need more discussions, for two or three years, about how the mandate for the negotiations is defined.  And I would submit the question to a vote:  in parliament, and, why not, by organizing a popular referendum.

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* Does the French strategy convince you?

YANNICK JADOT:  No.  I appreciate Nicole Bricq's wish to create coalitions within the Council on trade matters.  But the French position is not the right one.  It sounds like the timid position of one of the Union's little countries.  We've already lived through a period when France, when it comes to the European budget, reduced its ambitions to defending the common agricultural policy.  And now to say:  "Don't worry, we'll fight on the cultural exception," doesn't seem up to the mark.

* The cultural exception doesn't matter?

Of course I support the cultural exception, which is extremely important for the culture.  But it's a marginal part of this agreement.  The government has not grasped what's at stake.  It says nothing on the way you modernize the European economy, the way you define an ambitious industrial policy, the way you equip yourself with commercial tools that are up to the situation.  So we're off to a very bad start in the negotiation with the Americans. 

* Concretely, which subjects do you want to put on the table?

YANNICK JADOT: But I don't think we need to negotiate with the Americans right now.  To enter negotiations now with the United States, when they have a clear trade policy that supports their industrial policy, and which also supports their agricultural policy, while on the other side, Europe believes only in the virtues of free trade, is not the way to proceed.

Let's take steel.  In the United States, there's the "Buy American Act."  In Europe and France, there's Mittal that's imposing its steel restructuring agenda.  Take the photovoltaic industry.  A year ago the United States imposed customs duties up to 250% on panels coming from China.  In Europe, we're still asking ourselves whether we should do it or not.  Another example:  Nicole Bricq is right when she says she wants to support small business.  But the European Union supports completely deregulating public markets, whereas in the United States 23% of its markets are reserved for small business.

So clearly, you have on the American side a regulatory framework and firepower for trying to expand their model to Europe, to form a better counterweight to the Chinese.  You have a power that knows what its offensive interests are.  On the other side, you have a Europe that still believes in the virtues of free trade.  When we're told that our public European markets have been deregulated, and that we therefore have to encourage others to do the same, I have the impression that were approaching the subject backwards.  What's at stake in these public markets is not to have Veolia [NOTE:  a French transnational water, energy, and transport company with about $40bn in annual revenues.  --M.K.J.] find other markets in the United States, it's to work out an industrial policy in Europe.

* You want Paris to block negotiations, even if the other 26 member states are in favor of them, or are you calling for more time to clarify the mandate for negotiations?

YANNICK JADOT:  The priority is first to construct an industrial policy for Europe, and only then will we be able to negotiate with the Americans on norms.

When Europe negotiates with Peru (the agreement was negotiated in 2010 and is beginning to take effect -- Ed. note) that causes problems.  We defend those raising livestock, at the expense of Peruvian breeders.  But the norms of the Peruvian economy are not a danger for the European model.  Whereas if the negotiation with the United States is carried out, it'll be the extension of the American model of society.  That will clearly be a defeat for Europe.

* Defenders of the agreement see in it a way to harmonize international standards top-down. 

YANNICK JADOT:  I don't believe that for a second.  I don't believe in top-down harmonization, when I hear the Commission today.  Commissioner Karel de Gucht tells us we're going to have to be flexible.  We're pursuing the same free-trade and deregulation logic that has gotten us nowhere.  To get out of the crisis, which is a crisis of neoliberalism, they're proposing more neoliberalism.

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Phone: 253-535-7219
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.