By Andrew Griffin on The Independent
Talks over the hugely controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement could be about to fail after France threatened to block the deal.
Paris officials have said negotiations between the US and EU are “likely to stop” amid significant disagreements between the two sides over the free-trade agreement.
President Hollande has said he will “never accept” the deal in its current guise because of the rules it enforces on France and the rest of Europe – particularly in relation to farming and culture – claiming they are too friendly to US business.
“We will never accept questioning essential principles for our agriculture, our culture and for the reciprocity of access to public [procurement] markets,” Hollande is reported as saying at a meeting of left-wing politicians in Paris. “At this stage [of the talks] France says ‘No.’”
The French foreign trade minister, Matthias Fekl, said it is likely that the deal is going to break down and talks be suspended. Mr Fekl had already said that France would bring a halt to the talks if no progress was achieved before September – but he has now said that is the most likely option.
Mr Hollande’s opposition comes amid a very weak position in public polls and ahead of a presidential election next year. Public opinion of the TTIP deal has been plunging in recent months and so it will likely serve as a way of winning around voters who remain suspicious about the agreement.
Supporters of the deal argue it gives useful help to business by harmonising the regulations that govern partnerships between the US and the EU. But campaigners against it argue that the partnership gives too much power to corporations and that it could have disastrous affects for consumer rights.
The comments came just days after Greenpeace leaked hundreds of pages of documents about the talks, showing the discussions had run into “irreconcilable” differences. The US and EU are locked in arguments about the ranging powers over European law that the deal would hand over to US companies.
Mr Fekl said those problems were likely to lead the deal to break down, “in view of the United States’ state of mind today”. He said that the deal as it is today “would be a bad deal” and that it could “unravel” the climate change agreement that was agreed in Paris and signed last month.
If France walked out of the deal, talks on the agreement between Europe and the US would almost certainly come to an end since it must be approved by each of the 28 countries in the EU. “It cannot be agreed without France and even less so against France,” Mr Fekl said.