Commentary: Young people, take the floor for the TTIP!

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This essay was written as a collaboration between Wolfgang Petritsch, former United Nations high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Yale students Igor Mitschka ‘15 and Nils Metter ’18, in advance of the European Student Conference at Yale in order to initiate dialogue about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the future of the European Union.

Listening to the vocal campaigns on both sides of the Big Pond, one might think of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations as the Super Bowl of the Transatlantica. Standard-harmonizers, tariff-reductionists, consumer-protectionists, environmental-activists, and a few more are all fighting with mighty pens and moneybags to create the world’s largest free trade area.

According to geostrategists on both sides of the Atlantic, the negotiations are not merely driven by economic parameters. In their opinion, the negotiations revolve around setting norms for the 21st century and consolidating the rule-based institutional and economic set-up of the Global West. No wonder such ambitions bring critics from across the political spectrum to the scene. The agitation in all camps involved has gotten to the point where a conclusion of the negotiations seems far away. We propose that a new focus on what the agreement could bring for the young generation may be a conciliatory, and adequate, approach to the TTIP. 

Since TTIP will set rules for decades to come, it is our generation that has the biggest stakes in the game. Bringing together trade experts and political heavyweights such as Pascal Lamy, Ignacio-Garcia Bercero, David O’Sullivan, Wolfgang Petritsch, and Karl Schwarzenberg with young scholars from all across the United States, the “European Student Conference” (ESC) at Yale strives to develop policies for the future of the European Union — for its democracy, borders, economy, internal solidarity — and for a beneficial TTIP. Funded by the European Commission, the student-driven conference will have a sustainable impact as a novel think-tank based at Yale. We decided to name this think-tank “European Horizons,” as it will have university chapters spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific and will devote student thought to conceptualizing the future of the European project from a — productive — distance.

When discussing the parameters of the TTIP and the design of the EU at the ESC, we are thinking about the international order we want to live in during the next decades. In this discourse, the experience and perspective the ESC brings to the table are relevant in two aspects. First, students of our age represent the first generation of Europeans who have grown up in a Europe that has not only the vision but also the institutional framework to become an “ever closer Union.” The premises of the European project — peace, social market economy, democracy based on the charter of fundamental rights, and a certain shared “European”-ness — have become a reality for us, rather than just a mere aspiration. If one will, we are the first generation to have been raised in a European Union with a de-facto constitution. Second, as we bring with us the perspective of the “Generation Erasmus,” we also carry with us the perspective of the “Generation Uncle Sam.”

We came to the United States for our higher education and, through college, friendships, traveling and internships, familiarized ourselves with the values and opportunities under which this country operates. Our conference will harness both angles; 80 students from 46 American universities will present 20 concrete policy recommendations to the EU. Through “European Horizons,” we will establish a long-term discourse about our ideas with decision-makers from politics, diplomacy and business. Let’s get excited for young people taking the floor in questions that will affect them the most.  

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