September 02, 2016
Et tu Austria
In our coverage on the slow death of TTIP we focused on Germany and France. We are now hearing that the Austrian SPÖ, the majority partner in the governing grand coalition, is also opposed - and not only to TTIP but also to the CETA deal with Canada. Der Standard quotes Chancellor Christian Kern as questioning CETA just after vice-chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner from the ÖVP, the centre right coalition partner, questioned TTIP. Kern is planning to consult his party base before taking a formal decision but this procedure is certain to lead to the rejection of the project. He said TTIP constitutes a massive shift in power towards multinational companies and against democratic rule - and this is a fundamental design flaw of both TTIP and CETA. Mitterlehner was more nuanced than Kern, saying that it was a shame that the otherwise decent CETA deal was discredited by TTIP. He said if Austria rejected CETA it would most likely be outvoted in the council, where decisions on these matters are taken with a qualified majority vote.
Eric Frey has a comment in Der Standard in which he notes that the failure of TTIP is due to the cowardice of politicians. Not one, except perhaps Angela Merkel, has openly campaigned for it. Even Austria's ÖVP has not. The truth is that small export-driven economies would benefit enormously from this agreement, but the debate is entirely dominated by NGOs and critics of globalisation. The strongest argument against TTIP is the hostile public opinion. But this is the fault of politics.
We disagree with Frey fundamentally. We are living at a time when people are considering voting for extreme policies like Brexit, and extremist politicians like Trump, Le Pen, or various Austrian characters on the right. This is a response to the failures of the globalised economy since 2008. An intelligent response cannot consist of doubling down on what was done before then: more free trade, lower taxes for multinational companies, and more loss of democratic control. What we are seeing is not a flaw in democracy, but democracy in action: the system is rebelling.