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Jirˇí Šedivý, Brussels

The strategic significance of TTIP

(BSC/Jirˇ í Šedivý*) The theme of this year’s Berlin Security Conference “Euro-Atlantic partnership – firm anchor in a turbulent world” could not come at a more appropriate and critical moment. The West is facing the most volatile and dangerous security situation it has seen in decades. What is especially worrying is the fact that the numerous security crises, risks and threats are coming upon us simultaneously. Russia behaves as an aggressive revisionist power seeking to undermine the rules-based post-Cold War security order. Large parts of the Middle East and North Africa are effectively collapsing, with their political, social and economic fabric disappearing. The resilience of so-called Islamic State and its capacity to inspire extremists around the globe were gravely underestimated. This generates a multitude of serious challenges for us: failed states, humanitarian crises, Islamist radicalism, a new wave of terrorism, and mass migration. We truly need a “firm anchor.”

This essay deals with one of the main themes of the BCS 2015, i.e. the implications of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Yet the perspective from which this project is looked at in this text differs probably from how the Forum on Industrial Co-operation will address the issue on the first day of the conference. Be it as it may, the turbulent security context in which the Partnership is finalised should focus the minds of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic on the wider strategic implications or impetus this project might bring about.

As the negotiations between the European Union and United States about the TTIP enter a decisive phase, opposition to the project is getting progressively fiercer in Europe and, to a lesser extent, in the US as well. Yet the Partnership must be seen as potentially the most important initiative negotiated across the Atlantic since the Washington Treaty established the North Atlantic Alliance in 1949.

While the TTIP’s enemies try to scare the European public by painting the horror prospects of the lowering of standards concerning food safety, employment, social rights, public services, environment or intellectual property and cultural assets, their real concern lies elsewhere: in the Partnership’s strategic potential to boost – through mobilizing jointly the creative energy of Europe and North America, surging innovation and invigorating economic growth – the political weight and power of the West in the World. It is no coincidence that the transEuropean motley alliance of ultranationalists, populists, and protectionists opposing the treaty broadly overlap with those who are now siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military adventurism in Ukraine. Their shared concern is the further integration and strengthening of the West.

Today, North America and Europe produce close to a half of the global GDP. A common free trade zone is expected to generate about 100 billion Euros a year for each side of the Atlantic and millions of new jobs. The Partnership’s longer-term cumulative effect thus cannot be overstated. It may be useful to recall the integration of Europe launched about sixty years ago by pooling Western Europe’s coal and steel resources. Already then the founding fathers of what is now the European Union realized the long-term strategic potential of this initially technical step. History proved correct their assumption of a gradual spill-over of integration from heavy industry into freeing trade and creating a common market and, finally, ramifying into the political area.

Let us not shy away from seeking inspiration from the example of post-WWII Europe, however different the present context is. Yet the bottom-line vision – that more economic co-operation, free trade and open market stimulate a political co-ordination and, ultimately, enhance strategic unity, is as relevant now as it was then.

The only current credible and functioning transatlantic organisation – NATO, can benefit immensely from the TTIP. The Alliance’s raison d’être of keeping together nations that share values and can trust and defend each other will obtain a new meaning.

Given the sensitive character of defence procurement, both sides have – at least for the time being – agreed to exclude this sector from the negotiations. Nevertheless Europeans should pledge to use a part of the profit from the Partnership to prop up their investment in defence thus helping to redress the strong defence burden-sharing imbalance that exists between the US and European NATO Allies.

Quite understandably, the West’s main strategic competitors such as China or Russia are watching the emergence of this “The Partnership must be seen as potentially the most important initiative negotiated across the Atlantic since the Washington Treaty established the North Atlantic Alliance in 1949.”

potential global game changer with growing concern. If successful, the new configuration will thwart their efforts to divide us with their final objective of disrupting the liberal international order, its institutions, rules and norms. Their false narrative of an allegedly dysfunctional liberal order will be debunked. Last but not least, Europe will become less dependent on their economy and energy.

There are legitimate concerns in Europe, e.g. as to the competitiveness of her agricultural sector vis-à-vis the US one or the technical challenge of harmonising hosts of various standards and norms. Yet all this is solvable provided there exists enough political will on the part of main stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic. And the will seems to exist today by and large, unlike in the case of similar efforts in the past.

This political will can be further enhanced if we clearly and explicitly recognize the TTIP’s potential to become a decisive geopolitical instrument of the West. Consequently we must not allow the technical or tactical aspects of the negotiations or protectionist instincts on both sides of the Atlantic to eclipse the project’s strategic dimension. Exactly this happened to the initiative by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to re-launch the transatlantic free trade concept in 2006. An attempt to restart the strategic relationship between Europe and the US after the bitter cleavage over the war in Iraq was behind the Chancellor’s effort. Yet the trade talks stumbled quickly over the marginal issue of chicken imports to Europe.

This time we should not miss the train for trifles. Realizing the Partnership’s full potential should go hand in hand with grasping the seriousness of the cost of a failure for the transatlantic relations and the West. This is not only a historic chance; it is truly a civilizational opportunity. Losing it would be a colossal mistake, as it might not arise again anytime soon.

*Jirˇ í Šedivý, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to NATO, former Minister of Defence, and Congress President BSC 2015