Thursday, 20 November 2014

TTIP and ISDS - one good, one bad.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has hit a major stumbling block, with the announcement that France will not sign it in its current form and Germany has grave concerns over a section known as the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS).  
Minister of Foreign Trade, Matthais Fekl, told the French Senate that “France did not want the ISDS to be included in the negotiation mandate.  We have to preserve the right of the state to set and apply its own standards, to maintain the impartiality of the justice system and to allow the people of France, and the world, to assert their values,"  according to an article on the EurActiv website.

It is this very section, the ISDS that has also led critics of the project to claim that the NHS would be opened up further to corporation takeover, whether the government of the day welcomed it or not, for the ISDS would allow corporations to challenge legislation that they claim would be putting a brake upon profits.  The US is loath cut this section but it seems that Germany is not going to sign any agreement that contains ISDS. 

Quite right too in my opinion.  TTIP is more than a look at tariffs between trading nations: it is a massive unification of regulations across vast trading zones.  Although there is a lot of potential upside – for the UK alone this is estimated at £10 billion a year, it is important too that governments are able to keep control over their own legislation – this should not become a battlefield for lawyers.  Surrendering of sovereignty to corporations is unacceptable.

A lot depends on the TTIP negotiations: at this time in the UK economy an estimated 3.5 million jobs are linked to the EU, and that number will only increase if TTIP goes through.  I want to see that happen, but it is also correct for both Germany and France to highlight the threat to both sovereignty and therefore democracy that this contained within ISDS.

The TTIP negotiations also show how wrong-headed and muddled the views of UKIP and the Conservative right are on Europe.  Outside the EU, we would not be part of the negotiations and would have no influence upon their outcome.  Should a Britain outside the EU seek to join the TTIP group, it would be on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

My view is that the UK can benefit greatly if TTIP is secured, and that we should be backing the views of France and Germany on ISDS.  Trade is good: having corporations being able to dictate legislation, not so much.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

A Lidl Supermarket bans Polish

I don’t speak Portuguese.  Neither does my family.  So it was with relief that when in Lisbon last year that in the local supermarket that the people made an effort to communicate, even finding a member of  staff that spoke English if the pointing and sign language was not enough.

I don’t speak Swedish but do have a little Norwegian to my name.  No matter: if neither is enough in either Stockholm or Kristiansund, shop workers will instantly switch to English.  They don’t ask if I live there or just visiting; they just do it.

The question I have then is what on earth is going through the minds of the managers at the Lidl in Kirkaldy that have just banned their Polish employees not only speaking Polish between themselves, but have also ruled that they can no longer speak to Polish customers in their own language either?

It is certain that the workers there have better things to do than talk about their managers.  This move is both petty and racist.  It is not as if the Polish workers in Lidl refuse to speak in English to their Scottish customers.
More worryingly though is the many comments of support that the ban has solicited social media, such as The Scotsman’s Facebook page.  I would say that opinion is divided fifty : fifty.

To those people who support the ban I say this: next time you are abroad, in whatever capacity, and a store worker makes the effort to speak to you in English, you had better stop them right there, even if you are not able to speak the local language.  Anything else would be hypocritical.  


It has been drawn to my attention that some people are uncomfortable with a foreign language being spoken around them.  Perhaps of working in an international environment for the past eighteen years, I have lost any sympathy with such a view.  There are those which equate other speaking in foreign tongue in their presence with whispering in public.  Really?  The chances are that the people are talking about some other subject, as their body language will usually make clear.  If you are the subject of a discussion in front of you, the chances are you will know.  I see little difference between that and talking about somebody behind their back.  If people are going to be rude, it makes little difference what language they are going to be rude in.  In my experience, most people are neither stupid nor rude so being stressed about foreign languages is a matter of personal insecurity.