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Thousands of people took to the streets of Amsterdam for a rally against TTIP, the trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the US, earlier this month. Farmers, small businesses, environmentalists and concerned citizens joined hands in a cheerful demo and march through the city center of Amsterdam.
The numbers stood in contrast to the 60 people who turned up to the TTIP demonstration last year – so what’s changed?
The ‘loose coalition’ working on the issue has grown steadily in the last year, with environmental organisations joining as well as farmers’ unions, small businesses and one of the largest trade unions in the Netherlands. We published articles in a few large national newspapers and organised public events, where the number of people attending kept growing.
The debate about TTIP really exploded, though, after a well-known comedian made a satirical show about it on national TV. Zondag met Lubach’s show about the ‘two terrible acronyms’ TTIP and ISDS (the part of TTIP that would let corporations sue states) did what none of us had done so far: make TTIP a mainstream topic to talk about, not just a ‘technical’ issue. He created a hashtag that started trending straight away: #TTIPalarm.
At the next public debate on TTIP in Amsterdam, the vast majority of people attending said they had never heard of TTIP before the Lubach show. Some of the organisations most active on TTIP coordinated #TTIPalarm Twitterstorms to keep the discussion alive in the weeks before the international days of action. The Facebook event created for the demonstration grew quickly and was picked up by the media. Many people volunteered to help, either at the event or by disseminating flyers and posters in their towns and cities, and a Facebook group was created for people to connect and share knowledge and experiences.
A few weeks before the demo we published an op-ed on how CETA is TTIP through the back door, and then Lubach aired a second show on TTIP and its ‘smaller sister’ CETA (the EU-Canada trade treaty). He also launched the results of a new survey, commissioned by Transnational Institute, Foodwatch, Milieudefensie and SOMO, which showed that the majority of Dutch citizens who know what TTIP is are against the trade deal.
This gave our mobilisation efforts the last push, and on 10 October between 7,000 and 10,000 came to a square that was almost too small for the amount of people attending. Laurens Ivens, Amsterdam city councilor, welcomed everyone to his ‘TTIP-free city’ and Ewald Engelen, professor in financial geography from the University of Amsterdam and well-known TTIP critic, gave a passionate speech telling people not to be fooled by the Dutch trade minister saying that all the critical elements have been removed from the deal. Speeches by representatives from trade unions, environmental organisations and prominent critical politicians where followed by a cheerful march through Amsterdam city centre. Some interesting participants were representatives from small enterprises, carrying billboards stating ‘TTIP = Old Economy’, and saying that we need a new economy where sustainability and social rights are key.
Since the adoption of a ‘referendum law’ in the Netherlands earlier this year, Dutch citizens can call for a referendum by collecting 300,000 signatures. Although the outcome of the referendum is not binding it would be very unwise for parliament not to follow up on it. Milieudefensie, Foodwatch, Meer Democratie and Transnational Institute have launched an initiative for a referendum on TTIP and CETA.
The Netherlands will have the EU presidency next year, and government officials have stated that TTIP will be one of their focal points for that period. Moreover, Frans Timmermans, first vice-president and responsible for ‘Better Regulation’ in the European Commission is Dutch, and the final decision on TTIP will lie with him.
The fact that people young and old, families, political activists, environmentalists, trade unionists, farmers and small businesses marched together gave a clear message to Dutch policymakers: our rights, our health and our planet are more important than corporate interests.
Hilde van der Pas is a researcher at the Transnational Institute