ATTAC Summer University for the Social Movements: Challenging the Corporate Trade and Investment Agenda in Europe 19th – 23rd August 2014

By Thomas Mc Donagh and Manuel Pérez-Rocha*

“..I mentioned the great growth in their economic power, political influence and corrupting action. That is the reason for the alarm with which world opinion should react in the face of a reality of this kind. The power of these corporations is so great that it goes beyond all borders..”                    

At a time of multiple environmental and social crises and an unprecedented expansion in the power of transnational corporations (TNCs), it has never been more urgent to exert social controls over such powerful institutions.

Two of the strategic objectives of our work with the Network for Justice in Global Investment project are to prevent the expansion of the current investment rules regime in new trade and investment deals and to contribute to the global struggles to roll back the existing regime. To that end, we joined colleagues from Europe and around the world for the three-day European Summer University (ESU) organized by the ATTAC network in Paris from 19th-23rd August.

Both The Democracy Center and The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) participated in the cluster dedicated to trade and investment entitled: Challenging the Trade-Investment-Corporate Power nexus – the road to a good life for all.

Our three days were packed with seminars and workshops focused on education and analysis, as well as a series of thematic working group sessions focused on strengthening campaigns against the new trade and investment deals being negotiated by the EU, principally the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (also known as TAFTA) with the US, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada. Both names are nice euphemisms for what are fundamentally deregulatory free trade agreements.

Connecting Campaigns and Messaging

Our European colleagues highlighted the importance of connecting the campaigns against new trade and investment deals to existing international campaigns such as The Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power and end the Impunity of TNCs; The Permanent Peoples Tribunal that documents the impacts of TNCs by giving a voice to affected communities; and the Global Movement for a Binding Treaty for TNCs. Carrying the messages of other campaigns in our own work in order to enhance coherence and mutual support was one of the key messages from Brid Brennan at the Transnational Institute (TNI).

Nick Dearden, Director of the World Development Movement, highlighted the need to base the campaigns at national level on issues that really resonate with people. For campaigners in the UK, that has meant talking about the TTIP in terms of how it will affect the National Health Service. He spoke about the strategic importance of finding the issues that people really care about in the different member states and talking about how the TTIP will intersect with  these issues, whether that be on fracking, local food procurement, farming etc.

Other European colleagues reported on the actions being taken in their home country to resist the TTIP.  Initiatives such as ‘I am a Trade Barrier’ rallies in Germany and Austria have been quite effective at mobilizing citizens and shifting the narrative.

European-level Initiatives

At the European level, two major campaign actions stood out. The first will be the European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) launched in Brussels in July of this year.  The ECI seeks to gather one million signatures from across the EU within one year.  If successful, the initiative will force the European Commission to respond to the call to end TTIP and CETA negotiations and there will also be a full hearing and debate in the European Parliament. Of course, the ECI will also be an important opportunity to educate and mobilize in the months ahead.

Another European civil society campaign initiative is the Alternative Trade Mandate (ATM) sponsored by the Seattle To Brussels Network (S2B). Candidates for the European Parliament were asked to sign up to an alternative mandate for EU trade and investment policy in the run up to the parliament elections in May 2014.  193 candidates signed the initiative, 69 of which have now been elected.  Follow-up with the ATM signatories was encouraged at national level.

TTIP and the rest of the world

Given that the text of the CETA agreement with Canada was leaked just before the event in Paris and it included the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, there was also a call to pressure the Social Democrats in the European Parliament given that they have come out against ISDS.

Messaging and Investment Rules: from Abstract to Narrative

Thomas Mc Donagh from NJGI gave a presentation on investment rules and ISDS in one of the workshop sessions.  Our central message in the workshop was on the importance of translating an issue that can often feel abstract and technical into something that people can relate to. Thomas shared his experience from writing and promoting the Democracy Center’s 2013 report, Unfair, Unsustainable, and Under the Radar: How Corporations use Global Investment Rules to Undermine A Sustainable Future, of effectively communicating the issue of investment rules for groups working on environmental issues.  Participants were urged to begin to develop messaging strategies on ISDS in terms of how it will affect other important national issues in their home countries.

We also highlighted the growing challenges to the investment rules regime by governments, academics and civil society around the world and the importance of developing our own alternative proposals.

TTIP and the Rest of the World – Experience and Initiatives in the Americas

Manuel Perez-Rocha of IPS gave a presentation based on a joint project with TNI, the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation on the implications of the TTIP for the rest of the world. The TTIP would have massive implications for people and the environment on both sides of the Atlantic, but the

stakes are also high for communities elsewhere. He outlined the many ways that they would be affected by this agreement between the two ‘super powers of trade’, that aims to set the ‘gold standard’ for corporate rights into the future. The joint project aims to involve human rights, environmental, consumer advocate and other organizations all over the world already working against the corporate-led neoliberal dogma, in the struggle against the TTIP.

Luciana Ghiotto, our colleague from ATTAC Argentina and the Working Group on Investment in the Americas, shared the Ecuadorian experience of the national audit of ISDS cases and bilateral investment treaties. She highlighted the challenge of working in a context where the government of Ecuador is also signing new trade agreements. She emphasized the importance of finishing the work and “producing the best possible audit” in order to strengthen the hand of campaigners in Ecuador and then deciding on how to move forward with the government once the audit is complete.

Luciana also presented the Call for the Building of an Alternative Legal Framework to the International Investment Treaties – an initiative by the Americas Working Group to develop a common analysis, a set of principles for an alternative investment regime, and a common agenda for future action. The document was published in May 2014 and is open for suggestions and inputs from civil society organizations.

Call to Action

The final seminar session was moderated by John Hilary from War on Want in the UK. He shared a calendar of important upcoming dates regarding the TTIP and CETA negotiations.  One of the major events for European civil society groups is the October 11th European Day of Action to Reclaim Democracy, Roll Back corporate Power! People and the Planet before Profit!  Dozens of groups have already signed up to support the Day of Action by organizing events in their home countries.


Sat  behind our desks in Bolivia and North America, it can sometimes be unclear to what extent the social movements in other parts of the world still heed the warnings that Salvador Allende gave us in 1972. Attending the incredibly well-organized ATTAC University and witnessing just how well-informed and mobilized people are in relation to the global challenges we face today, and participating in dynamic social movement spaces dedicated to turning ideas in to action to face these challenges, left us in little doubt that Allende’s words still ring loud and clear.