Education International
Education International

Lifting the veil of secrecy blanketing education in free trade talks

published 6 March 2015 updated 12 March 2015

Calling for full transparency, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the Trade in Services Agreement negotiations has made it clear that public services, including education, are not for sale and must be taken off the table.

As discussions focused on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) intensify, Viviane Reding, the European Parliament’s (EP) rapporteur on the trade talks has stressed that any agreement should follow a less is more approach. She is suggesting a small, but strong TiSA, rather than including all issues under one umbrella; the latter she says will water down the trade pact.

In particular, Reding wants any talk of including public services, which include education, excluded from the negotiations. However, blocking the way of knowing what is and what is not included stands a lack of transparency and consultation with social partners and civil society.

During the EP’s first public hearing, What’s at stake for Europe, on 24 February in Brussels, Professor Markus Krajewski from the university of Erlangen-Nuremberg criticised the lack of transparency of the negotiations. Despite the fact that 11 rounds of negotiations have already been completed, the status of the negotiations remains a mystery to the public.

Krajewski highlighted that while TiSA is based on the General Agreement on Trade in Services, or GATS, it follows a hybrid approach comprised of a negative list for national treatment and a positive list for market access. As a result of these approaches, comparing what is being promised in the different agreements becomes difficult.

The professor of public and international lawalso discussed the impact on public services and emphasised the lack of definition regarding the public utilities reservation of the EU. For example, in its free trade agreement with Singapore the EU seems to exclude publicly-funded education as a public utility. This means that monopolies and exclusive service suppliers cannot be maintained in the sector.

A day after the public hearing, the ETUCE took part in the European Commission’s (EC) civil society dialogue meeting on the progress of the TiSA negotiations following the 11th round of negotiations, which took place from 9-13 February. The ETUCE raised the issue of potential serious problems faced by the education sector as a consequence of TiSA. In particular, the ETUCE expressed concern regarding the lack of definition of publicly-funded education in the EU’s services offer, as well as the education sector’s vulnerable situation due to it not being explicitly included in any of the mentioned examples of public utilities.

The EC gave a general update on the current state of the negotiations and stated that 17 chapters are currently under discussion. While the negotiations have reached an advanced stage, there remain a number of issues still to be agreed upon. As a consequence, the initial prospect of completing the negotiations by 2015 is no longer realistic. The next round of negotiations is planned for 13-17 April 2015, with Uruguay joining the talks, while China has yet to be accepted as a member.