Sunday, 22 June 2014

Here's a back-room deal for you

News is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.
Here's a WikiLeak well worth leaking. It's about The Trade In Services Agreement (TISA), which sounds too dry and boring for the average person to pay any attention to. Professor Jane Kelsey of the Faculty of Law, University of Auckland, New Zealand is not an average person and she cast an expert eye over the leaked material, trying to make sense of it. Her summary isn't far short of terrifying.  Five years on from ' the greatest regulatory failure in modern history', a Techdirt headline sums up what sounds like one of the worst ideas imaginable - 'Secret Global Treaty Will Force Countries To Further Deregulate Financial Sector':
...governments will have total freedom to legislate in any way they please provided it is compatible with TISA -- which means that it must be in favor of the financial industry, not the public. Another section that is written entirely for the benefit of the financial companies, not the public, concerns the protection of personal data:
nothing shall be construed to require a Party to disclose information regarding the affairs and accounts of individual consumers. That means TISA does not affect states' ability to require disclosure of information, presumably to the government, about individuals. It is not concerned with protecting personal privacy or preventing those who hold the personal data from abusing it for commercial or political purposes.
The spying bit is creepy, but it's the idea that, far from 'rebalancing' the economy after the last crisis, our rulers might just give us a further round of economy-destroying financial deregulation, without anybody getting the opportunity to vote for anything less suicidal, that really worries me.

It was only after the last almighty crash that most of us discovered that we were passengers in a car without airbags, but now the driver (who's definitely high on something), wants to rip out the passenger safety belts and take us for another pedal-to-the-metal spin on the autobahn in an unroadworthy vehicle.

Fortunately, there seems to be at least some push back
Given the sensitivity of data protection issues in Europe, this is likely to become a major stumbling block to the ratification of TISA by the European Parliament, assuming it gets that far. Indeed, it's significant that one of the leading German newspapers, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, used the headline "U.S. grab account data of European citizens" when reporting on the leak (original in German.) That underlines the fact that alongside the new information that the WikiLeaks document reveals about the secret negotiations, another important aspect of the leak is that the mainstream media in Europe are finally aware of TISA, and are likely now to start exploring critically its effect on key areas like privacy and public services.
Seen in the light of this massive attempted power-grab, the  industry's routine, shameless lobbying of compliant politicians, as reported by the BBC, seems like a mere sideshow:
... business leaders warn about EU financial curbs eroding "Britain's competitiveness".

Writing in the Sunday Times, 54 people - including Conservative donors and two former ministers Lord Lamont and Lord Flight - said they were "extremely concerned" about the government's "difficulties" in preventing the introduction of new EU financial measures.

They say the measures - including a financial transaction tax, bonus caps and bans on short selling - will hit the "unique global standing" of the City and the wider UK financial services industry.

"As we enter a period of EU reform and renegotiation, we urge political leaders to remember the significant contribution that our industry plays in Britain's economic success," they said.
The article seems to have been edited since I first cut 'n pasted this passage,* with the lobbying reference stripped of any mention of 'Conservative donors' and trimmed down to an anodyne 'Meanwhile, business leaders have warned about EU measures affecting the City' and it's tucked away in yet another piece about the endless saga of Cameron's attempts to block the Juncker presidency, on account of Juncker being insufficiently 'reform'-minded, etc, etc. A story which starts to look a lot more interesting if we assume  that 'reform' in this context mostly refers to aspects of a broad and deep deregulation agenda being pursued by a well-funded and potentially generous City lobby.

This assumption would make Cameron right on one count. There do seem to be vested interests who are pushing for a potentially disastrous 'back-room deal', but the parties to the deal aren't the voting blocs of the European Parliament, but the financial services industry and its tame politicians and institutions.


*Update - link to the version of the article I originally read (Version 3) added here.